Reports gathered by this paper revealed that Grand Bassa County Legislative Caucus, residents of administrative district #4 and its district administration are currently at loggerheads owing to divergent opinions expressed in the operation of Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) in the county.
Months ago, few citizens of district #4 halted the EPO survey team which should have begun the resurvey process of the 34, 500 acres of land as mandated in their amended concession agreement of 2008, which states that the company is obligated to conduct a resurvey to safeguard the interests of the people. The citizens acted upon an instruction from a few lawmakers of the county.
The resurvey is intended to inform the company about the quantity of land available at its disposal, and the total acres being used by citizens for farming, including sacred sites, towns and grave sites.
Following the resurvey, EPO is obligated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) regulation to conduct a free prior informed consent (FPIC), thus engaging the citizens in a palava hut discussion as to their stance on the implementation of the concession agreement, and to determine just compensation and benefits thereof.
However, three of the county lawmakers in persons of newly elected Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, Representative Jeh Byron Brown and Representative Gabriel B. Smith have warned the people against allowing the EPO to carry on the resurvey as mandated by the concession agreement which some of them signed.
The trio's interpretation of the resurvey is a forcible takeover of the local people land, including towns, farms, sacred places and safe drinking water facilities. The trio, all ranking members of Liberty Party (LP) has halted the Oil Palm concessionaire's operations, resulting to the redundancy of over 150 employees and the possible closure of the EPO's operations in Liberia.
On the other hand, Superintendent Etweda Cooper, Representative Robertson Siaway of District # 4, the county's traditional chiefs and zoes, line ministries and agencies represented in Grand Bassa County and 80% of district #4 citizens are asserting every possible available means to remedy the stalemate and see some progress in the process.
As Senator Gbehzohngar Findley, Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue and Representative Mary Karwor, have so far not commented on the situation choosing to watch unfolding events, EPO's investment is threatened, along with the lives and livelihood of hundreds of Liberian employees; whilst the county's poverty reduction and security stability take a downward trend.
Giving the people's burning desire to see their underdeveloped towns and villages transformed into a modern city-compare to Butaw and Matamo in Sinoe and Grand Cape Mount counties respectively, seven out of 13 towns within Kpowein Administrative district #4, who attended a mass meeting on Monday, August 19, 2013, voted to allow EPO carry on its resurvey.
The towns include, Ziamman, Tarr, Gbah,Gbennie, Weslesayma, Tardoe,Blayah and Wesseh town voted yes. Thomson Geesay, Zukone and Sammie towns and villages voted no, as representatives of Xwrakpoyedea, Morr and Deebeh towns, whose lands are adjacent the area in question served as witnesses to proceedings during the meeting.
In a five count resolution reached at the end of the mass meeting held in Blaybeh Town last week Monday, the citizens agreed that EPO conducts the resurvey-noting that they will convene no other meeting on this issue until after the resurvey. The citizens also promised that they will not obstruct the operations of EPO, but rather inform the county administration in the instance of any eventuality or disagreement.
Last week Monday's forum was aimed at affording the affected communities, their district Representative Honorable Siaway and officials of the County and government, an opportunity to meet with Equatorial Palm Oil Management to resolve whatever problem(s) they have with the resurvey process.
The decision of the communities which was officially agreed upon and echoed by the Chairman of Grand Bassa Traditional Council, Chief Chio Johnson-who is a resident citizen of the district, has strangely been opposed by the newly elected Senator Nyonblee Lawrence who is currently the loudest voice opposing to the citizens' recent decision.
In violation of the concession agreement and sharply opposing the decision of the people newly elected Senator Lawrence wants the company to first resurvey the land they currently occupy before resurveying the balance of the 34, 500 acres of land given to the company by the Government of Liberia in 2008 can commence.
Nonetheless, Representative Siaway, the direct representative of citizens of the disputed area has vowed to resist any opposing view to his people's decision as was announced on August 19, 2013, citing his desire and the overwhelming mandate and support of the people for development.