Heads of various commissions in the country and some of their key staff members last Friday visited the project area of Addax Bioenergy (SL) Limited in the village of Kontobie, Tonkolili District to acquaint themselves with development on the ground. The officials in attendance included head of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Joseph F. Kamara, Commissioner of the National Commission for Democracy (NCD) Dr. Abubakarr Kargbo, and Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRC-SL) Jamesina King, among others.
The Commissioners, alongside a cross section of the media, were also taken on a conducted tour of the factory site (currently under construction) at Robung Mabansar and various sugarcane plantation plots. Addax Bioenergy (SL) Limited is currently in the process of developing a Greenfield renewable energy and agricultural project in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone. This engagement of heads of commissions by the company comes almost a month after a similar engagement with various civil society organisations in the Bombali and Tonkolili districts on the progress being made in its sugarcane development/plantation project.
Giving a general update about the project, Manager of Health Safety Security Environment (HSSE), Derek Higgo, said Addax will be producing ethanol for export to Europe and other places and generating electricity of up to 50 megawatts that will be added to the national grid. He said 2,000 jobs are currently being offered by the company, a figure he said will more than double once the project commences full scale operation.
The HSSE Manager informed the Commissioners that the project pays US$3 million annually to the communities as lease payments/compensation, adding that the project has tried to avoid displacement and create what he referred to as a 'win-win situation' between the company and communities in their operational areas.
Reacting to land grabbing charges, Higgo said the project even underutilises the land they had leased to carry out their operations. "We are being labelled as land grabbers but this is not the case," he argued. "We only use land that is required. Addax acquired 47,000 hectares of land from the three chiefdoms we are operating but only 10,000 hectares is being utilised. The rest has been returned and being used for the benefit of the communities."
Speaking on environmental protection and mitigation, Environmental Affairs Manager - Addax, Lloyd Clark, said 14 environmental specialist studies were put together by the project to develop the ESHIA/SEMP documents, which he said are governing the operations of the project in terms of dealing with environmental issues.
He dismissed suggestions that the activities of the project are a recipe for environmental degradation, noting that they work strictly in line with EU standards. Philippe Lombard gave an update on the development of Addax's factory, which is expected to start full production by 2014.
However, several issues were raised by the Commissioners that border around human rights, employment, transparency and fairness in dealing with the landowners.
Reacting to the concerns, Higgo said the company can't provide employment for everybody. "Besides, we employ community people based on the job being carried out in their respective areas, and provided they have the necessary skills," he said.
On human resources and labour conditions, Higgo said they follow the labour laws of Sierra Leone and the ILO conventions, adding that they also follow gazetted collective agreements and show respect for workers' rights including the right to unionise, social security among others. It could be recalled that Addax has in recent months extended its engagement beyond the media to also involving educational institutions, civil society organisations, national commissions and the community people in the implementation of their project activities.