Liberia: Sime Darby ‘Dodging’ Liabilities Mano Oil Risk Incurring Undisclosed Debts

An investigation has gathered that there are dozens of legal cases in which some of them, Sime Darby lawyers have advised the company to settle those obligations to employees who took those matters to court and the Labour Ministry

Monrovia – Sime Darby Plantation Liberia, one of the first post-war investors in Liberia which signed a 220,000 hectares concession agreement with the Government of Liberia in 2009 to engage in production of Oil Palm in Liberia is today (January 15, 2010) officially turning over to a new management Mano Oil after bottlenecks in Sime Darby investment led to the decision to leave the Liberia.

Since the signing of the concession of the agreement, Sime Darby experienced obstacles in its expansion ranging from disputes with local communities over land ownership, international deforestation requirements and other conservation issues.

Following years of struggle to expand above its current 10,000 hectares, the Company international office based in Malaysia finally took the decision to sell the company assets to Mano Oil.

While Sime Darby was experiencing obstacles from locals and other conservation issues, inside sources hinted that the local management of the company sent from head office in Malaysia to manage the company operations in Liberia also had huge impact on the problems the company faced here in Liberia due to poor management and decision making skills which further compounded the numerous problems the company encountered in Liberia.

Ahead of the official take over by Mano Oil on Wednesday, a FrontPageAfrica investigation has gathered that the most recent Malaysian General Manager of Sime Darby, Ali Kamal Abu Hassan and the local expatriates have embarked on the process of dodging several liabilities of Sime Darby in a bid to make Mano Oil incur those liabilities after the takeover.

An investigation has gathered that there are dozens of legal cases in which some of them, Sime Darby lawyers have advised the company to settle those obligations to employees who took those matters to court and the Labour Ministry because from all indications the company will eventually have to get an unfavorable decision but General Manager Alikamal has refused to yield to legal advice and is delaying in order to shift those legal liabilities to Mano Oil when final decisions from the Labour Ministry and the Courts are made sometimes later this year.

A number of employees have taken Sime Darby to the Ministry of Labour for unfair Labour practices. 

Other employees have cases in court against the company which are still being adjudicated.

One of such cases, according to our investigation, is one including the former Head of Corporate Communications of Sime Darby, Samwar S. Fallah who has complained to the Labour Ministry for Constructive Dismissal and is seeking an amount of US$24,000 representing payments for the unexpired terms of his employment contract.

According to the complaint, Sime Darby since October 2019 stopped Fallah assigned vehicle from going to pick him for work after he complained that the company had assigned him a vehicle that was not road worthy and was posing serious risk to his life as the vehicle was in deplorable condition and exposed to accident due to constant breakdowns, lack of seat belts and other safety features.

Fallah in letter dated October 17 and addressed to Sime Darby General Manager Alikamal indicated that it was risky and life-threatening for him to continue to ride the old vehicle assigned to him and if there was no change of vehicle, the company had breached its legal duty to him as provided for in Chapter 25, General Duties of the Decent Work Act, 2015. Specifically Chapter 21.5, Section § 25.1 General Duties of Employers Subsection a to d which provides amongst others that “Every employer shall ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the safety and health at work of all workers they have engaged”

 VI) To provide and maintain a working environment for workers they have engaged that is safe and without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities for their welfare at work. “

Following Fallah’s letter of October 17, 2019, General Manager Alikamal ordered the company not to assign another vehicle to Fallah and refused to provide officially response to Fallah letter and at the same time stopped the payment of his salaries and other benefits.

In a letter of complaint to Labour Minister Moses Y. Kollie dated December 18, 2019 Fallah indicated that since he complained of the old and risky vehicle and that he could not ride such vehicle, Sime Darby failed to address his concern and the company also withdrew his assigned vehicle, thereby constructively dismissing him.

Fallah indicated in his letter of complaint that his employment contract provides that the company will provide an assigned vehicle to commute him to work and since the company withdrew the vehicle and also stopped payment of his salaries and benefits, without also addressing his concerns to the company as contained in the letter of October 17, the company actions amounted to constructive dismissal to which he is seeking payment of the unexpired terms of his contract.

Under Section 14.2 Termination of employment in general subsection (e) of the Decent Work Act, 2015, it provides that an employee seeking redress for Constructive Dismissal must prove that it took steps to address the issue with the employer but to no avail.

In his letter of complaint to Labour Minister Kollie, Fallah indicated that his letter of October 17, 2019 addressed to the General manager of Sime Darby was intended to address the issue of safety he had with Sime Darby but the company failed to address his concerns and took further steps by stopping the company vehicle from commuting him to work.

FrontPageAfrica has gathered that upon receiving the letter, Labour Minister Kollie attention it to his Deputy Atty. Phil-Tarpeh Dixon and the deputy Minister instructed that a conference be held between the company and the complainant to discuss the way forward.

On January 9, Daniel Sackie, Jr.  Administrative Assistant to Deputy Minister Dixon in a letter indicated that by directive of Deputy Minister Dixon, the Management of Sime Darby was invited to a conference on Thursday, January 16, 2020.

In an attempt to shift the liability to Mano Oil, Sime Darby did not response to Deputy Minister Dixon until late Wednesday, January 15, a day to the date set for the conference when the company lawyers indicated that the company will not be able to attend the conference due to the official takeover by Mano Oil.

Inside sources have hinted Sime Darby that there are several ongoing legal cases and Mano Oil risk incurring huge liabilities that might arise from the outcomes of these legal proceedings in the coming years.

In some of the legal proceedings, Sime Darby lawyers have said to have advised the company to make out of court settlements but Sime Darby Malaysian General Manager Alikamal knowing fully well that another company is taking over has accordingly refused to make out of court settlements, leaving Mano Oil to incur those liabilities after Court decisions.