Liberia: Operations At Mano Oil Palm Halted Amid Government’s ‘Failure’ To Resolve Stalemate Between Residents, Company

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GBAH, Grand Cape Mount County – The Government of Liberia through its relevant agencies and ministries, has failed in its effort to amicably resolve the disagreement between the Mano Oil Palm Company and aggrieved residents of Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties.

Mano Palm Oil Industry (MPOI), a subsidiary of Mano Manufacturing Company (MANCO) took over the plantation from Sime Darby Liberia Plantation (SDPL) in 2020 following months of negotiation.

Sime Darby, which had operated one of the world’s largest oil palm companies by land size, left due to a series of challenges including a continued feud with residents of the affected communities which sometimes result in losses, similar to what is happening now.

Currently, all activities at the company have come to a standstill over demands from the Project Affected Communities (PACs).

The PAC, through its chairman, Mohammed Jaleiba, has been making a series of demands it says when not met, will lead the company to cease operation.

“The way forward is for the workers’ and the citizens’ demands to be met. There will be no work and operation in this plantation if our demands are not met,” said Jaliba.

What are the PAC’s Demands?

Among its 14-count demand, the PAC wants the company toremove the Human Resource Manager, head of Security, and Operations Manager from their respective positions.

They also want employment opportunities to be exclusively given to citizens from Cape Mount and Bomi Counties and pay more than US$2 million debt it is said the company inherited from Sime Darby.

The PAC Chairman, led by dozens of residents including workers blocked the company’s vehicles loaded with harvested palm from entering the processing area. One of the truck drivers fled after the citizens threatened to burn the car.

To safeguard the company’s properties, the Liberia National Police were called in; much to the annoyance of the residents who accused the police of brutalizing them. Though, reporters on the scene in Gbah did not witness any form of brutality meted out against the aggrieved residents. The Police, dressed in their anti-riot gear watched attentively as residents and employees vented their anger at them and the company’s management.

Government’s Intervention Failed

A mediation effort by the Government led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs has failed. During a mass meeting On Tuesday, October 11, it was announced that the PAC has agreed to call off the strike action and allowed workers return to work on October 12.

This was a sign of relief for the company and dozens of workers who have been off work for nearly 20 days.

But Jaliba said the Ministry failed to address the citizens’ plights raised in their petition and there was no resolution derived.

The PAC Chairman stated that although it was agreed that their plights will be addressed, a workable solution was not reached, and since that time, the Ministry has not made any follow-up.

The Ministry’s “lackaidasical action” led them to prevent the company from operating, he said.

“They have not said anything about our concerns. We held a meeting with our citizens and they agreed not to go to work until we sign up for a resolution.”

Continuing, he added:  “There was no resolution to attach signatures to. We never attached our signatures to anything.  If the Minister comes out with a resolution that we attached our signatures to for us to resume work, hold me and blame me for all that is going on. There was no agreement made. I told my people about it and they said they will not go to work. There will be no work here until those key things are addressed.”

On stalling the company’s operation, Jaliba vowed the PAC will continue its strikes until the end of this month and if their demands were not met, they would go beyond October.

When contacted, the head of the Conflict Resolution Department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Adama She did not respond to FPA’s inquiry. When called up, his phone did not ring. He did not respond to FPA’s text messages.

Management Denies Instigating Violence

Meanwhile, the management of Mano Palm Oil has distanced itself from a leaked audio making rounds on social media.

According to the management, the purported voice recording was doctored.

In a statement issued last week, it said “The Management of MANO Palm Oil Plantation wishes to dispel media reports that its CEO, Mr. Assad Fadel is instigating violence at the plantation.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            “It is unthinkable for a CEO of a company to promote violence at his own site. The CEO was responding to information from the proprietor of a private security firm contracted by the plantation on his briefing of how the people of Bomi County were totally against the actions of the Project Affected Communities (PAC).

A group of people was demanding, among other things, the dismissal of three employees as well as instructing the company to employ only citizens from the county.

MANO Palm Oil Plantation Company CEO is a peaceful person who values the dignity of every human being. Moreover, he believes in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

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