by Edwin G. Genoway, Jr
Citizens of Kpanyan Statutory District in Sinoe County have given a one-month ultimatum to Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) to either meet their demands or leave the county.
“It is true that GVL is hijacking our land and when we try to engage them on the matter they will rather run to central government and the government in return comes to us and prevails on us.
This is how things are been done; so as an investor who had come to alleviate the people from poverty starts to act in such form and manner it tells us that you don’t worth to be on our land” - Sorboh S. Wesseh
The ultimatum ends December 15, 2016.
GVL is an Indonesian oil palm plantation company operating in southeastern Liberia, particularly in Sinoe County.
Citizens of Kpanyan Statutory said since the company started its operations in the district there has not been any developmental project in the district.
They described such as “wickedness” on the part of GVL.
Speaking to FrontPage Africa in Sinoe, the residents of Kpanyan confirmed the recent report released by London-based Global Witness GVL.
Global Witness report titled ‘Temper and Guns’ on the company revealed that company was forcibly grabbing the people’s land for their operations, damaging their traditional shrine and sacred sites and destroying their creeks, among others. In a meeting with a team of journalists from Monrovia last Wednesday, November 9, 2016, the citizens confirmed that the company was in the habit of forcibly grabbing their lands, destroying their crops and creeks and using armed men of the Liberian National Police (LNP), particularly of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and the Police Support Unit (PSU) to coerce them in entering into deals with the company against their will. “Since GVL been in the land of Numopoh, our land has been hijacked. It is true when Global Witness said ‘force’ was used to take our land. "
"For me, that is the right word because since GVL entered our land in 2011, we have not received a dime from them as land rental fees,” a member of the Numopoh Citizens Welfare Committee, Ourphy Jelleh Jelleh told journalist. Jelleh Jelleh alleged that GVL and the people of Numopoh signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), but since its signing, the company has failed to live up to the terms and conditions within the MOU – something he said was causing serious problems for the people of Numopoh Town.
He mentioned the lack of safe drinking water, schools, healthcare facilities and sanitation, among others that the company had failed to provide for the people.
Jelleh Jelleh warned that until the company revisits and begins to uphold all of the terms and conditions within the MOU, the town and its people are not willing to do business with GVL.
Sorboh S. Wesseh, chairman of Tartweh Estate said speaking to FrontPage Africa on the matter was a sign of relief for the people of the entire Kpanyan statutory district and Sinoe County at large.
Wesseh disclosed that since the operation of GVL within the Tartweh Town in 2014, the company had failed to implement projects highlighted within the MOU, adding that the company had refused to provide vehicle for the transportation of workers and is also yet to build a single office within the area.
According to him, the company was rather the porch of one of its employees as office effect payment of salaries at the end of each month.
Numopoh Concern Citizens Chairman, Dixon D. Gbalar, acknowledged the level of destruction the Liberian civil crisis cost the country and as such they were happy to see the coming of investors in their county for development purposes.
He, however, expressed dismay over the way in which GVL was operating in the county.
“We all are aware that for the past 16 years we passed through difficulties in this country and we are happy to see investors going into the rural areas of our country; but we are surprised with the action of Golden Veroleum."
"We happily and hungrily embraced GVL into our town because we know GVL operations are part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) plan through our central government but for us, the citizens of Numopoh, this company has increased our poverty,” Gbalar said.
GVL Principal Technical Advisor and Vice President for sustainability, Andrew Kluth, admitted that there were problems in Kpanyan District where GVL is currently operating, but said the company could not construct or carry out any major development in the area when there is dispute among the people.
He said GVL had never forced anyone out of their land as was claimed by the people in Kpanyan. He said the company followed all the rules in acquiring land for its operations.
Kluth noted that the representative group with which GVL was negotiating on possible offers of land for oil palm development must have be authorized by and on behalf of the community to open discussions with GVL about offering community land to GVL for oil palm development.
He said GVL would only develop on land which was freely offered by communities.
“Ideally, this will be by a letter of invitation from the community to GVL. Such a letter should be signed by all key sectors of the community, such as elders, leaders, women and youth.
If the community wishes to invite Monrovia-based citizens or other citizens to sign such a letter, that is their right.
However, GVL should not accept a letter as a legitimate letter of invitation which has not been signed by all key sectors of the local community,” he said.
According to GVL Guidance for community engagement, the land remained community land, the community authorizes GVL to develop oil palm on the land while in return, GVL typically offers employment to the community, free health care, free schooling for employees' children, monthly rice allowance, local infrastructure development and other benefits.
“The details of these will be discussed as part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that GVL will sign with communities. When the period of GVL involvement comes to an end, the use of the land will revert to the community,” the document states.
The document further states that GVL is a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) member and is bound by its RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) and Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Guidelines.
These two documents should always be available in meetings for reference. Hard copies must be provided to communities in advance of the first formal community consultation meetings,” the document contains.