31 March 2014

Liberia: 'Building Confidence' - Affected Towns Appreciate EPO Initiatives

The Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) prospect of carrying out its expansion and development activities received a remarkable boost when 12 affected towns expressed appreciation to the company for rehabilitating a major road which also links towns in Rivercess County with District Four, Grand Bassa County.

The company, which has faced stiff resistance from some locals who fear their anestrous land risk being grabbed by the palm oil company, experienced what has been described as a 'milestone' to a new beginning for both parties - EPO and the affected communities.

The 12 affected towns of District Four, Grand Bassa County collaborated with several other towns across the Timbo River - Number Five, Rivercess County - to ensure they express gratitude to EPO for the rehabilitation of a seven kilometer literate road that was abandoned for years.

"Even though we have some misunderstanding, but there are times we must appreciate the company," Daniel Henries, the community master stressed at the beginning of the program held in Gbar's Town on Saturday, March 29.

District #4 Representative, Robertson Siaway, with a token of appreciation

Mr. Henries and many other speakers assured the EPO of their willingness to work with the company in order to foster development of their people. District Four Senior Elder, Glagbor Paul, who spoke through an interpreter said: "What is actually our need, EPO just started it. EPO has done some but we want more... , right now we are all carrying the same road and we all agree."

The Elder, who on behalf of his people presented a white goat to the company as a token and sign of appreciation, requested that EPO helps build a Palava hut in Gbar's Town which he said will be a venue for future discussions between them and the company.

The residents heap praises at EPO especially for the road project; a resident of Number Five (Rivercess County) said the present good condition of the road will help make transporting their produce to markets easy adding that the road has now linked their part of Rivercess County to Grand Bassa County.

The apparent progress so far hints to the fact that the EPO's objective of occupying its 34,500 acres of land given it in concession by the Government of Liberia can become a reality if its social development attracts the entire affected town. Some of the residents are, however, aware that it will be impossible for the company to win the hearts of all but impacting the communities will be significant.

For now the affected towns have told the company to carry out social development through the provision of safe drinking water, improve the school system, road connection and health care delivery.

Speaking on behalf of EPO at the program, the Government Liaison Officer, Wisseh Weah Bestman said the event was a clear manifestation that the people of District Four are 'willing to own their own company', acknowledging that it was the first time for the people to show appreciation for what the company is doing.

Mr. Bestman said all affected towns stand to benefit from EPO's social development, while disclosing that seven towns will soon get hand pumps and that the company is still looking around for any existing school to help.

The company has recently said it is providing health care to several villagers through its mobile clinic program, but the sporadic patterns of towns in the district are a problem. "What we want you to take back is how to bring the towns together to help attract development," Mr. Bestman said.

The program was graced by several local chiefs and district authorities as well as the district representative at the National Legislature, Robertson Siaway and the President of the Bassa Citizens in the Americas (GBCAA), Jerome Gayman.

Mr. Gayman used the occasion to assure the affected towns that his association (GBCAA) is an eye for the people and will remain behind the town. He also called on the towns to request to the company the building of more schools to help prepare the youth for the future.

The 12-Town's appreciation has now created a new argument about the resistance of the affected towns against EPO's investment potential. In a recent FPA investigation into the land saga, some residents accused the company of failing to perform its social responsibility in the 1960s and evicted their forefathers without just compensation. But this the company says was the past and now assured it will employ a new approach.

Observers say, this confidence-building approach has the propensity of smoothing the ground for further discussions and possible agreement; especially with President Sirleaf's recent position on the issue appear to be in favor the affected communities.

Despite the odds, locals at the program alluded that EPO has their blessing to make some positive moves only if the potential moves are not thwarted by the rest of affected towns. Meanwhile, the program was climaxed with a friendly football game between EPO and the affected town.

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