Monrovia – The Societal Reform Initiative of Liberia said it detests the recent violent protest perpetrated against the plantations of the Sime Darby Oil palm oil Company by community dwellers on April 5, 2016.
The group, in a statement, indicated that immediately upon hearing of the violence, it moved in to ascertain the facts and circumstances that predicated the violence.
“Our inquisition established that the citizens were protesting on grounds that a lady had disappeared from the plantation’s hospital while seeking treatment. Even though there are fresh reports today that said lady has been found. They accused the plantation’s management of being knowledge able of the disappearance, hence the violent protest”, stated the group.
The group noted that while it does not support the mysterious disappearance of anyone, it equally disagrees with the violent approach adopted by community dwellers which led to the destruction of the Lofa and Bomi estates, two security booths and the burning of thousands of oil palm trees of the company.
“We insist that the use of violence to seek redress is illegal, primitive and counterproductive to the stability of the state; as such, we call on relevant state authorities to launch an immediate investigation into the matter with the aim of bring the perpetrators of said violence and destruction to justice”, the group added.
According to the group, the attitude of vandalizing the assets and facilities of concessions whenever group of persons feel aggrieved is totally unbecoming and if not addressed immediately, it could lead to investment’s apathy and subsequent withdrawal of investors from the country.
“We believe that Sime Darby’s Investment in Liberia has brought a new meaning to several Liberians who are either directly employed or being sustained from the company’s employment.
Hundreds of Liberian children living in and around the company’s facilities now have access to education and health care, while employees’ family members are benefitting free education and health services at the plantation’s school and hospital respectively. Do we want to rob ourselves off these opportunities by destroying such investment and driving our partners away?”
The group says it holds the view that anyone who comes in defiance of the law must be reprimanded, noting that Liberia has come too far with its recovery efforts and cannot afford to revert to the days where violence and destruction were the order of the day.
“The government of Liberia now has the burden of responsibility to speedily investigate this act of violence and destruction so as to penalize the perpetrators and set precedence moving forward. Anything on the contrary could undermine the stability of our business environment, thereby scaring away investors and other partners”, the group concluded.
Meanwhile, local authorities of Bomi County said on Monday that the arson attack on Sime Darby Plantation is a threat to the economy and the investment climate as a whole and are calling on government to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators.
The Superintendent of Bomi County, Samuel Browne, along with local authorities including, chiefs and elders told journalists that such act was anti-investment and wanted government to do all it can to help protect the company’s investment.
The demonstration took place last week after a lady who went to the company’s clinic went missing. Some citizens embarked on demonstration accusing the company of being responsible for the disappearance of the lady. After a day, the lady Kumba Fallah was seen with her boyfriend at a different location in one of the camps.
Taking the lead in the condemnation, Superintendent Samuel Browne of Bomi County said the people of the county want the law to take its course and whosoever found guilty should face the full weight of the law.
Superintendent Browne bewailed that such actions have the propensity to bring the country to a stopping point and potentially drive away investors.
“We regret this act, it is satanic, barbaric, naïve, and irresponsible. We regret this incident and it is not the doing of the people of Bomi County because a real Bomi citizen will not behave in such cruel manner. The law should take its course,” he said.
According to Superintendent Browne, the health, education and other important components provided by the company will be damaged if they cause the company to pull out of the country.
“Again, we regret this act and it is the work of the wicked people. We will stand by the company in whatsoever decisions through the legal means to ensure justice to the company,” he added.
For James K. Tarpeh, the District Commissioner of Senjeh District in Bomi County, he said, the local authority will continue to show solidarity to the company during its period of setback.
“We have evil people among us and we should do everything through the law to get them out. We are development friendly and the evil people are not citizens of Bomi County. Let central government ensure that this situation is investigated to the letter,” he indicated.
Madam Mary G. Varney, the President of rural women in Bomi County said the actions by the alleged perpetrators will make youth from the county who are benefiting from the company to suffer seriously.
“Let the government quickly come in to help. We are begging the government through the President to find solution before our foreign partners start to run away from us,” she noted.
Tension at the Malaysia owned palm Plantation Company, the Sime Darby in western Liberia came after a lady went who was reportedly returning from the company’s hospital after treatment went missing.
Sime Darby provides medical services to its employees and their families as well as other locals in the area. Sime Darby Management says it is still counting losses sustained as a result of the violent protest, while local chiefs and community leaders in the proximity of the company have reportedly regretted the incident.
A total of 113 hectares of palm were completely burnt down by the angry demonstrators who went ahead setting the large palm farms at ablaze.
At its Bomi County estate, the total of 80 hectares of palm were destroyed which totaled 13,032 palm trees. In Grand Cape Mount County estate, 25 hectares were destroyed, totaling 3902 palm trees and at its Lofa estate, 8 hectares of palm or 1440 palm trees were completely destroyed.
The cost of the damaged is not known, yet, but local it is said to be over several millions United States Dollars.
Speaking to reporters, the Estate Manager of Bomi County, Augustine S. Allie lamented that the damage done on the farm is hard to accept taking into consideration what the company has invested over the years.
In a disappointed mood while addressing the media, Allie said those palm trees destroyed were all ready for harvesting and were destroyed by the aggrieved citizens in a day.
“Those activities are not right because it scares away investors and send out a bad image of the country to the international community. Look at the mass destruction of those palm trees, this is totally embarrassing. We will be starting all over again,” he said.
He admitted that some arrests have been made and appealed to the government to ensure the speedy trial to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Allie said the company was really shocked for its properties to have been destroyed in what he termed such a ‘cruel and barbaric’ manner. The angry demonstrators went as far as destroying the security booths and other valuables belonging to the company.