21 January 2013

Liberia: GVL Accused of Ignoring RSPO's Stop Order, But...

The Informer has learnt that despite the halting order, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) is still clearing farmlands and primary forests in Butaw District, Sinoe County, but Jeff Benzin, GVL Manager stationed in Butaw, has denied the report.

GVL is not allowed to carry on any further clearing pending the outcome of investigation into complaint filed against it by citizens of the area of operations.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on December 13, 2012 instructed the company to cease all land clearing activities in Sinoe County, pending the resolution of the complaint.

The RSPO, a non-profit consortium of stakeholders from the palm oil industry, was set up with an aim to develop and implement global standards for producing palm oil sustainably in the world.

The closure of GVL has already brought mixed reaction in the public, and in Sinoe itself.

A group of citizens is supporting the stay order on the company's operation as a way of addressing the too many alleged excesses while another group is angered by the decision, noting it would put citizens out of jobs.

Some have blamed the advocacy group Green Advocates International of being the brain behind the noise and GVL, but the Advocacy group had denied inciting citizens, but said it was working in the best interest of the people of Liberia.

Green Advocates International, on behalf of local communities in Butaw District, complained that "GVL is in clear violation of the RSPO's new planting procedure" as it has not advertised its plans to clear and plant oil palms, as well as publicize a high conservation value assessment in advance of expanding its operations.

But reports from the region over the weekend disclosed that despite the restriction, GVL is allegedly massively clearing farmlands in total violation of the RSPO's December 13, 2012 mandate.

"Huge earth moving equipments are still bulldozing farmlands and primary forests in the district to make way for the planting of oil palm in there," a confidential source working with the company confided in this paper.

RSPO Secretary General Darrel Webber in a communication to GVL dated December 13, 2012 among others read: "We seek your co-operation in ceasing all land clearing activities pending the resolution of this complaint."

Mr. Webber indicated that the cessation of work however does not restrict the right of GVL from continuing their on-going program of socialization and dialogue with the communities with a view of obtaining free, prior inform consent.

"We ask Golden Veroleum Liberia to heed this instruction in keeping with your obligation as a member of the RSPO," Mr. Webber told GVL.

But our source said apart from the clearing of farmlands and primary forest, "the company is polluting drinking water sources including rivers and creeks. The company is also diverting creeks and rivers in violation to the Environmental Laws of Liberia."

Some Butaw District citizens claimed that GVL has also seized their gravesites and planted signs with inscription "GVL Cemetery".

The company is also allegedly harvesting timber products, amidst resentment and threats of resistance from local communities in Butaw District.

GVL Manager stationed in Butaw, Jeff Benzin has meanwhile rebuffed the allegations. He denied that the company is still clearing farmlands in violation to the RSPO's order. Investigation continues

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