10 December 2012

Liberia: SDI's Blackmail Scheme Backfires

The Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) has suffered a major blow as citizens of Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount counties have termed a declaration and a report done in their name as bogus, the New Dawn has learnt.

The declaration, "Our Future is now" and a report "Uncertain Futures" are the latest publications done by SDI that have come under serious criticisms from the local population of two counties.

SDI last week convened an awareness conference in Gbarpolu County, one of the three counties the multi-national diversified oil palm company Sime Darby is expected to move in, having gotten the blessing of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA), through the granting of a permit.

At the conference last week in Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County a 28-countmdeclaration was made on behalf of the citizens by SDI, accusing Sime Darby and Golden Veroleum of already affecting the local communities by their operation, thereby calling on the duo to discontinue operations as it was threatening the livelihood, indigenous and traditional land rights of the local population.

The citizens of the two counties have countered both the declaration and the report by SDI done in their name, because the two documents according to them do not represent their views as responsible counties who are craving for development initiatives through accelerated economic activities in their respective counties.

The New Dawn investigation has revealed that even though Sime Darby has received a permit from the EPA almost four months ago to carry on new development into Gbarpolu, the company has insisted it cannot move into the Northwestern County, until all of the elements of Free Prior Inform Consent are fully exhausted and completed.

In a Press Statement issued in Gbarpolu County at the weekend by local authorities in response to SDI's declaration, the citizens accused the institution of using their name to get huge donor funding and justify same by bringing the reputation of credible investment companies to questioning.

They said: "The So-called declaration which was made by SDI in the name of the people of Gbarpolu County does not represent the holistic views and expression of the peace loving and developmental oriented people of our county, as the idea to mislead the world and other developmental partners through such a malicious, selfish and felonious statement was conceived by SDI as a means of justifying their huge donor funding."

According to the statement, concession companies especially those in the agriculture sector are the driving force to achieving the overall success in the economic revitalization of their county and Liberia in general.

The Gbarpolu County citizens in their statement to the media on Saturday December 8, 2012 said therefore, "We wish to also state that Sime Darby or any other multi-national company operating in Liberia is welcomed to come to our county to carry on investment once it is within the confines of the laws that govern the Republic of Liberia."

"We believe that sustainable agriculture activities in Gbarpolu, such as the one that is being carried out our in sisterly County, Grand Cape Mount by Sime Darby would shift the economic trajectory of our county to a Nobel height and lift our people from abject poverty to economic freedom", they added.

It can be recalled, that SDI on September 3rd 2012 wrote a letter to residents of Sime Darby Project Affected Communities (PAC) in Lower Garwula District Grand Cape Mount County asking them to host the launch of a report on the 22nd of September 2012 on their behalf.

The PAC residents refused to participate in the launch of the report by SDI captioned "Uncertain Futures" and warned the Civil Society Outfit not to proceed with the launch of the report on grounds that they had no prior knowledge of the process leading to the formulation of such report which was done in their name.

In a letter responding to SDI on the 7th of September 2012 of which copy is in the possession of this paper, the PAC residents, in count five of their response to SDI said: "the community members want to advise you not to proceed with the launching of this report until we fully understand it."

"As a reminder, we are still involved in negotiation with Sime Darby. Therefore we are asking you to send us a copy of the report so that we can review it. We want to make sure the report does not carry anything that will harm us", the PAC letter to SDI warned. Additionally, the PAC residents said, "there has been a report that some NGOs are using the plight of the local communities to get money from donors."

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