Liberian Deputy Minister for Operations, Sam Russ on Development, PPP’s & Liberia’s Growth
Aspire Africa had the chance to do an exclusive on-site interview with Liberian Deputy Minister for Operations Sam Russ at the recent West Africa Mining Investment Summit (WAMIS) in London. Minister Russ gave us his thoughts on the development of the country, public-private partnerships, and the logistical issues facing Liberia’s growth.
Aspire Africa: During your talk today you outlined win-win relationships. Can you elaborate on what you mean by this?
Minister Russ: Quite clearly we need to recognize that investors are taking risks and they have expectations for a fair return. That can be in terms of direct flows from government to create an able environment to ensure that happens, or ensuring laws are put in place and enforced for access to land. We are working to facilitate investors in a number of different ways.
AA: Why should business consider investing in Liberia over a neighboring West African country?
Minister Russ: For a number of different reasons. First of all we know that we are very endowed, but virtually unexplored because of years of civil unrest. We’re disproportionally focused on iron ores because for 50 years we’ve had a lot of it.
What we’re seeing now is a significant increase in exploration activities. We see that industrial minerals are acting currencies, and it suggests to us that better opportunities are the upside for this type of investment. Let’s include the fact that we’ve built a regime with laws that are rational, that provide security of tenure for investors, and an environment that investors can look forward to.
AA: Tell us about the major highlights of your draft law that you were speaking about?
Minister Russ: It’s very, what we say “zero draft”, meaning we will be looking at all of the components of it. It was intended to address issues of gaps in the system, and the system was implemented in 2000; a lot of changes have occurred since then. So first of all we want to make sure we are linking an appropriate level of new institutions and new laws.
Second of all, we want to be sure that issues like land rights are done in a more rational way. We recognize that land owner rights and land user rights are key, but without frustrating investors access to land, and use of land. We want to be sure we have enough safeguards in process that when a conflict occurs there is cover to ensure a fair resolution to issues including licenses and so forth.
In addition we want to be sure local content is an important part of the process, that we have a structure and a rational local content plan. In effect, if we are processing locally, we are generating wealth within the country and in our communities.
AA: Talking land owner rights and partnerships, how do you promote opportunities for Liberian citizens?
Minister Russ: That’s really important as we review our regime. A key component of the whole strategy of the government is to look at and ensure that the inter-linkage between the mine development of the resources and all the communities is very clear. Local procurement is an important part. Employment, specifically local employment of our nationals is very important, including training, and capacity building. We will have a structure to ensure benefits are flowing to the communities.
AA: How will you address the infrastructure issues you spoke of earlier today?
Minister Russ: There are a number of different things. On the energy side, we are talking to the concessionaires, but because a lot of capital investment is involved, we are putting our transmission lines close to generate capacity where we are close to strategic areas for service distribution.
We have to create an environment where the concessionaire has confidence that the service level that they expect for the project will be given to them. It includes dialogue with government. It includes good management to ensure the project is on time, not disrupted, and that pricing arrangements are fair and rational.
In terms of rail issues, each investor has a right to rail, but with the case of ArcelorMittal rail, we’re hoping we can begin talking of partnerships and making sure that the investors get firm collaborations with other concessionaires.
AA: Can you give us your thoughts on using hydropower as a renewable resource in the country?
Minister Russ: It’s a huge part of our national strategy. We’re trying to rebuild an earlier hydro dam that was broken during the war. As you know, the cost for hydro is significantly lower. It will bring down our costs to use it as part of the power mix. We have small villages using micro hydro to supply power, so we’ll continue to use that strategy.
AA: What about your initiatives to use unconventional energy resources?
Minister Russ: We’re looking at other ways to generate energy, including solar. We increasingly see solar as a very valuable resource.
AA: Are there any tender auctions for solar projects in the near future?
Minister Russ: That’s a really good question. In our regime if we have the value of the resource, we have a law required to auction it. If solar comes along, we have to form a proper partnership (PPP). So we need to build the framework so that investors coming into solar have confidence they will get paid. It’s an arrangement we continue to look at.
AA: How West African states work together for growth through a symbiotic relationship?
Minister Russ: The time is very interesting because we can see for the first time convergence at the highest levels. Presidents are talking, and the discussions are at a technical, and tactical level.
We’re talking about how we can collaborate on a number of different issues: infrastructure, power, and so forth. So I think we’re seeing a movement to be excited about, and once we get one or two projects underway, others will follow suit, showing the benefit of these collaborations.
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