EDITORIAL: Protecting Investors, A Matter Of Necessity For Liberia

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FOR MORE THAN A DECADE now, major concessionaires operating in the palm oil business in Liberia have been complaining about the lack of protection from the government and people.

IN JUNE 2015, Police charged 23 people over riots at the Golden Veroleum palm oil plantation in which a senior company official was taken hostage and a government minister wounded.

DURING THAT ATTACK, Protesters with machetes broke into the Golden GVL facility in Sinoe County, looted equipment and workers’ property.

IN JUNE 2014, ARCELORMITTAL, another major concessionaire endured a riot of its own when some 12 youths were accused of looting and vandalizing the company’s facilities at Mount Tokadeh in Yekepa, Nimba County.

QUITE RECENTLY, FRONTPAGEAFRICA reported that Sime Darby, another major concessionaire is on the verge of abandoning its investment in Liberia over similar concerns.

THE COMPANY HAS in fact, put up its oil plantation in Liberia on sale after failing to acquire all 220,000 hectares of land the government promised it as stated in a concession agreement signed about a decade ago.

THE COMPANY IS LISTED as SIME.KL on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange and has several investments across the world including palm oil plantation in Liberia.

THE MOVE TO SELL OUT ITS investment in Liberia has created pessimism about the Malaysian trading conglomerate profitability in the west Africa nation. The country is also struggling to recover from its economic woes since the end of the Ebola outbreak.

THE SIME DARBY situation has become even more troubling in the wake of recent wave of attacks of its own.

LAST WEEKEND, one of the company’s security guard at its Bomi plantation came under attack. Harry Pewee, was attacked by illegal harvesters who used machetes to cause him bodily harm. Eyewitnesses explain that a group of illegal harvesters came into the plantation to steal palm but when the security went after them, they used machetes to chase them causing serious injuries.

A SIMILAR INCIDENT TOOK place last October, Joseph K. Gissi, another security guard fell prey to illicit harvesters who severely wounded him. Gissi met this untimely situation after he and others arrested a lady in the plantation hauling Fresh Fruits Branch (FFB). The group of illicit harvesters angered by the arrest of their member went on the rampage by beating Patrolman Gissi and forcibly taking him to a nearby town, Bessao Town where he was turned over to the chairlady. He was later released by the chairlady after already suffering severe beating which left bruises to his eye and other parts of his part.

LAST AUGUST, Preston Nunuh, another Sime Darby Plantation security officer in Madina, Grand Cape Mount County was shot at and wounded on the leg with single barrel gun.

ALL THREE ATTACKS ARE worrisome for a post-war country still trying to restore economic sanity after more than a decade of war. 

DESPITE A SUCCESSUL Democratic transition from one government to the next, Liberia remains fragile. 

IT HAS NOT HELPED matters that those in authority consistently engage in signing contracts with concessionaires without getting any input whatsoever from residents in these concession areas.

AT THE SIME DARBY Plantation for example, despite a buffer zone between the plantation and surrounding towns and villages, incidents involving attacks on security guards are frequent and are becoming so much a concern that major concessionaires contributing to the country’s economy are contemplating leaving.

THESE ATTACKS SLOW down company’s operations in these violent-prune areas and scare investors away.

IN A MEETING WITH president George Manneh Weah last week, Sime Darby executives were assured by the President and government that the matter would be looked into. But the attacks are continuing with apparently no light seemingly at the end of the tunnel.

WHILE WE URGE GOVERNMENT to do all it can to protect concessionaires operating in the country, it is also important to encourage those at the helm of power to always include representatives of these areas when negotiating these concessions.

AS MUCH AS BUSINESSES want to engage in exploring our minerals, we must ensure that the environment in which they come to operate is safe for them to carry out their operations. 

THE ECONOMY, AS BAD as it is, does not need any more side distractions to keep it from being restored to full strength.

THIS IS WHY we are pressing those at the helm of power to work toward securing strong security presence and assist these concessionaires in curbing wave of attacks on the space allot them to operate.

IF THEY LOSE MONEY, Liberia loses. If they make profit, Liberia benefits. It is a simply logic that requires a strong will by government to do the right thing for those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT

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