President Sirleaf, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Grand Cape Mount County officials.
by Keith Morris
The Government of Liberia (GOL) has admitted to frauds and consistent errors in negotiating the Sime Darby concession agreement in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties. The errors were not spelled out.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Senator Abel Massaley told a gathering of 18 aggrieved towns and communities in Garwular District, Grand Cape Mount County at the weekend, government made several mistakes in negotiating concession deal to manage one of Liberia’s largest rubber plantations, Guthrie, by Sime Darby.
Guthrie is a predominantly rubber plantation that occupied by ex-combatants who mismanaged the farm and created chaos for locals in the area.
Prior to the coming in of Sime Darby, Liberian Government managed the business through the Ministries of Agriculture and Justice for few years until the Malaysian company entered a US$3.6 billion deal for 66years.
The company is now engaged in cultivating the farm land to destroy existing rubbers trees to plant palm which is their concentration according to the contract.
But the company latest land clearing process has caused aggravation from the locals, prompting several protests in the both Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties.
These protests led to the seizure of the company’s equipment by the locals on 14 counts, something that prompted the personal intervention of President Johnson Sirleaf with a visit to the Grand Cape Mount County over the weekend.
Presenting their 14 count complaints to the President in Garwular District, at a town hall meeting; the 18 affected towns and communities called on the President to ensure that their concerns are properly addressed for a amicable solutions to the problems with the company.
On behalf of the affected communities, the spokesperson of the area Alfred Quayjandii, outlined among other things; the provision of safe drinking water and better sanitation to the affected areas.
“Preference for employment should be given to locals from the two counties in other to strike a balance in employment.
“Wetlands should be preserved for use by locals for the purpose of fishing and swamp land farming.
“We should have right to yes or no of the land for any purpose. Relocation of affected communities should be based on prior notice from the company.
“Sime Darby should identify alternative livelihood for locals that are not absorbed by the company,” Quayjandii said in his presentation.
He further said social benefits to the communities should be fast tracked to ensure that families improve their lives.
Quayjandii told the President that according to record, portion of the communities land was taken in 1954 and 1955 by previous company operating the farm, and as such, the communities’ want the land restored to their ownership.
Responding to demands from the 18 towns, Grand Cape Mount County, Senator Abel Massaley openly announced that the problems erupting from the concession agreement is a collective error from both, the Legislature, the Executive and chiefs and elders of the counties.
“I don’t take deception from people; we all should take the blame for this. This is no time to shift blame on one person because we all did not consult well during the contract preparation process.
“When Sime Darby was counting individual crops and paying for them, did you inform the legislature? We need to be serious about this and find a lasting solution to the problems,” he declared.
In responds, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asserted that more talks with the people are needed to settle the problems.
She noted that contracted entered into by government is banding on every citizen to honor. The Liberian leader called on the citizens to respect the agreement as it represents the consent of government.
“When your government signed agreement, no citizen can terminate it according to law. There were errors in the contract but what we can do now is to address those wrongs now, and this is the beginning. The NGOs are the ones creating problems because they want funding from their partners. We will start the process to address each of these complaints and those unreasonable ones will need to be left out. I asked the spokesperson Alfred Quayjandii, to serve on the committee to resolve these matters” the President declared.
Traditional chiefs and elders of the communities apologized to the President and assured her that they will redraw previous complaint filed to the Round Table Sustainable Palm Oil (RSTO), a conglomeration of palm oil producers of the world.
Madam Johnson Sirleaf visit took her to the Matambo Estate where several housing units and school building are being constructed by Sime Darby. She met with the company’s management and express satisfaction in the level of work done but called on the company to improve.
The President delegation included ministers of Justice, Labor, Agriculture and representative of the National Investment Commission.