24 December 2013

Liberia: Tension At Golden Veroleum

"We will shut the company down, if nothing is done in two weeks", an angry youth said during an interactive discussion with rights campaigner, Alfred Brownell in Butaw District last Week.

Some citizens, mostly youth of Butaw District last Wednesday engaged Brownell, Green Advocates Lead Campaigner to understand what has stall negotiation between their representatives and Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL).

Green Advocates, an environmental rights group provides legal services for local communities including Butaw District.

The group on behalf of the district filed a complaint to the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), about violations at GVL. GVL challenged the complaint and hired The Forest Trust (TFT) to do an independent investigation on the extent of damages done as the result of its operation.

Following the assessment, TFT in its report corroborated that creeks were damaged and diverted; shrines and burial grounds were desecrated in Butaw District and recommended that GVL engage the locals develop a roadmap to repair the damages.

Following the outcome of the group's report, GVL was halted and asked to repair the damages.

GVL accepted to fully implement recommendations obtained in an independent assessment carryout by The Forest Trust (TFT).

In an attempt to execute the recommendation, the oil palm grower commenced series of negotiations with the locals. The negotiations were facilitated by the Government of Liberia represented by Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf.

But Butaw District citizens are disappointed that the negotiation between GVL and their representatives, aim at resolving disagreement over the damming and diversion of creeks, the desecration of shrines, burial grounds and destruction of villages is not gaining any fruits.

"The negotiation is at a standstill. We are not aware of what is happening now. GVL has failed to implement the TFTs' recommendations," a grumbling youth said during the discussion with their lawyer, Brownell.

Many of the youth people who attended the forum were disenchanted. They didn't hide their frustration. Some of them accused the company of playing double games.

Stanley Nimley questioned the company's sincerity and said no serious investors will want to risk it financiers' investment.

He alleged that the company has employed a strategy to divide citizens affected by its operations.

According to him, the company has succeeded in cajoling some citizens of the district to put pressure on their representatives to abandon the cause of the community for jobs. Mr. Nimley also alleged that a recent worker's demonstration in Butaw was hatched by GVL to put pressure on Government and the community's representatives in the negotiations.

Another youth, Edward Tarpeh alleged that as part of the plan, GVL has threatened to dismiss workers from the Butaw tribe and shutdown its offices in the district, if the complaint filed against it to the RSPO was not

withdrawn.

This, according to him has installed fear among some of the company's workers who hail from Butaw District.

"These employees are also threatening their representatives negotiating with the company and have even asked them to abandon some of the things even agreed upon by the oil palm grower," he explained.

He disclosed that they were out of patience and that their last resort will be to shutdown the company's operation.

Green Advocates Lead Campaigner Brownell disclosed that the negotiation was being installed by GVL, but pleaded with the locals not to use violent means in getting the company to implement the recommendations.

Providing a text message sent to his phone by a top manager at GVL, Cllr. Brownell disclosed that the company has failed to provide its input on a draft memorandum of understanding sent to it. He indicated that as a legal representative of the locals, he provided input on the draft MOU and forwarded it to GVL, which is yet to come for the finalization.

In response to the claims, GBL said "the company has said that it respects the Liberian laws and will remain committed to the Concession Agreement signed with the Government of Liberia (GOL) following ratification by the 52nd National Legislature in September 2010." "As a responsible investor and true partner to economic growth and development here, GVL respects the rights and tradition of citizens dwelling in and around its area of operation."

GVL is not only committed to its long-term investment, but is keen on fully developing its concession, and improving the lives of citizens residing within and around our oil palm plantation. The company said also that over time and up to maturity, it will employ 40,000 Liberian citizens in a wide range of skilled and unskilled employment. GVL is also committed to investing in Liberia for a minimum of 65 years, during which time we look forward to mutually rewarding long term collaboration with our host communities

GVL is a commercial enterprise, which is at the same time committed to improving the Liberian rural economy and is working to improve the lives and livelihoods of its employees and the wider communities in which we work.

According to the company, it has already built schools, clinics, improved roads and provided new wells, as well as enhancing access to education, healthcare, transport and clean water for workers, their dependents and members of surrounding communities.

Through constructive engagement with communities, NGOs and other stakeholders, GVL will continue to work to improve all aspects of its operations.

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