Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia staff in August 2019
The artisanal diamond miners in Weasua organized themselves into a multipurpose cooperative with the assistance of Diamonds for Peace Liberia (DFPL), but they are yet to gain the full-fledged cooperative status. Several cooperative members received training in cooperative formation by the Cooperative Development Agency (CDA) and training in smarter mining by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME). These trainings were provided under the Liberia forest conservation project sponsored by the World Bank. Also, DFPL provided training to the cooperative in “Team Building” to give them the skills needed to build a strong and successful team. CDA is the government agency responsible for the formation and supervision of all cooperative activities in Liberia; they provide the cooperative related training and award certificate to give the cooperative full-fledged status. When a cooperative receives the pre-cooperative training, CDA awards the pre-cooperative permit; this permit is valid for the period of six months, and during this period the cooperative is required to establish its office with visible signboard, develop a business plan and open a bank account in order to receive the full-fledged status.If the cooperative fails to satisfy these conditions at the end of the six months, and the certificate expires, it would no longer be recognized as a cooperative and therefore cannot operate as cooperative under the law.
The members of the cooperative started the process to establish the cooperative through the influence of DFPL in the early stages of 2018. Though they have not received the full-fledged status yet, they are formally organized after receiving the pre-cooperative training in January 2019. The cooperative developed its by-laws which set the rules for membership and operation. To become a member, one must be 18 years of age or above and should have at least one mining claim with a valid license or have one acre of farm land. Every member must be able to at least buy one share (share value is USD50) annually. To date, the cooperative has a membership of 28 persons (17 male and 11 female), of this number, 6 are farmers and 22 are miners. Since the establishment of the cooperative, the members have been working on a number of issues to strengthen the cooperative and to improve on its activities. They have made some progress, but are facing many challenges. DFPL through its coordinator has been visiting the cooperative and providing support in coaching and guidance to their activities.
The activities of the cooperative
As a cooperative which is yet to gain full-fledged status, and working within a time frame for this purpose, the cooperative’s activities have been centered on satisfying the requirements to become qualified as an accredited cooperative. They have been holding meetings and discussing issues; contributing membership dues and buying shares. Consistent with the qualification for the full-fledged cooperative status, they are working on the preparation of the office, the signboard, the business plan and the opening of bank account. The cooperative is engaged with a timber sales project in order to fundraise and support its activities.
The members of the cooperative have been working to make sure they obtain the legal status to operate as full-fledged cooperative; below are the activities they have been engaged in and the progress they have made so far as of the end of August 2019.
Holding regular meetings
The cooperative realizes that holding regular meetings is a key activity to their progress. They set up a schedule that allows them to meet twice every month. Aside from the regular meeting with the members, the leadership also meets to discuss issues when the need arises; however, there is no specific time for such meeting, they meet only when the need arises.
The cooperative has a democratically recognized leadership which was brought to power through democratic elections following the pre-cooperative training by CDA in January of 2019. The elected officials will serve for the period of 2 years after which time they will have another elections to bring into office a new set of leadership.The positions in the cooperative are: 1) Chairman, 2) Vice Chairman, 3) General Secretary, 4) Financial Secretary, 5) Treasurer, 6) Business Manager. The ratio of men to women in the leadership is 5 men to 1 woman.
The by-law is the legal document that spells out the practices that are allowed and those that are not in the cooperative. It is structured to guide the activities of the group; it explains the roles and responsibilities of the leaders and the members in the group. It sets the standard for membership in the cooperative. Therefore, as a democratic institution, they developed the by-laws in consultation with CDA to be used in the governance process of the cooperative. The by-laws was certified by CDA.
Finding office space
With the assistance of the community (Weasua Town), the cooperative secured a room in the community town hall for its office use; the room was incomplete and needed lots of renovation work. The cooperative renovated and cleaned up the room but it is not in use yet because they want to paint and have it furnished. For the office renovation work, the cooperative used some funds from the membership due collection and the share funds in order to pay for the needed materials. The members also contributed their labor during the process.
Fixing and erecting signboards
According to the requirement, the cooperative is supposed to make two signboards, one to be erected at the main junction leading to Weasua and the other at the place where the office is located. The cooperative hired the services of a local technician who also lives in Weasua to print the signboards; they bought the required materials and paid the technician workmanship from funds they collected from the membership dues and share purchase. They have completed the printing and erection of one signboard and the other is in progress. However, funding is a challenge.
Challenges they are facing
While the cooperative has made some progress, it also has challenges, mostly with funding. The cooperative is required to develop a standard business plan in order to qualify for the full-fledged cooperative status, but none of its members have the expertise in developing the plan. The development of business plan requires a special kind of skills which many educated persons don’t have. People go through special training to get the education in writing a standard business plan; however, because no one in the cooperative has this knowledge, the cooperative is forced to hire the service of a consultant to do the job.There have been negotiations between the cooperative and some consultants, but those negotiations have been stalled given that the cooperative cannot afford to pay the fees the consultants have charged for the service.
(Note: DFPL started providing support to the cooperative to develop the business plan after seeing this situation.)
The cooperative also needs to open its bank account in order to qualify for the full-fledged status. The bank requires the cooperative to submit its by-laws and constitution, the business registration certificate, the accreditation certificate and a notarized board resolution. With CDA’s guidance, they developed the by-laws and constitution; they have the pre-cooperative permit issued by CDA, the permit can substitute for the accreditation certificate since they have not got the full-fledged status yet. The board resolution has been developed and notarized; so what they need now is the business certificate. Therefore, the cooperative is currently working on the process to obtain the business registration certificate, and they are expected to get it soon, since it is not that expensive (LD3,500=USD17.5) and the process is not that difficult.
What are their hopes in the midst of all these challenges?
The members of the cooperative hope that they can succeed in getting the full-fledged cooperative status because they have strong desire to do so. They believe working individually has not helped them in the past and it is not going to help them now either. They believe only team/cooperative work can help them succeed, they are fighting to do everything possibly in their power to get the job done. They are frustrated that they cannot complete all the requirements for the full cooperative status within the stipulated time; however, they are hopeful CDA would grant them a period of grace.
The beginning of a new organization can be difficult in many instances, the cooperative is having many struggles simply because it is not strong yet, many of its members have not fully grasped the vision and have not really seen the benefits they will get should the cooperative succeed. This is apparently because they are not used to working together in a team and have not understood the concept of cooperative. People like these need to be supported in every ways (technically and financially) until they reach the point where they are fully established and can see the actual benefits of their works; otherwise, they would get frustrated and give up their vision. Consistently, DFPL is working closely with the cooperative and providing the technical support to help them achieve the full fledged status.
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Front photo: Meeting with the cooperative leaders