Liberia: GOL Helps Sime Darby to Raid Plantation of Illegal Residents

Boegbor, a town in district four in Grand Bassa County, Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years (file photo).

The Government of Liberia (GoL) through the Liberia National Police (LNP) has started raiding the Sime Darby Plantation of illegal palm oil processing mills, and those suspected of illegally residing in some of the company's housing facilities.

In a release, Sime Darby management reported that security guards at the plantation are also refusing to undergo training reportedly conducted by the LNP in techniques for combating crimes.

Officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) on Monday, March, 25, 2019, staged a major raid at the plantation where they confiscated several illegal oil palm processing mills, and made a number of arrests of those allegedly connected to the illegal trade.

Police spokesman Moses Carter later confirmed that the exercise led to the arrest of more than 14 "illegal oil palm processing mills, single barrel guns, and huge consignment of fresh palm, which the suspected harvesters were preparing to process against the management."

Carter has also indicated that 13 suspects were arrested from the exercise. Police also seized from some the suspects several deadly weapons, including machetes, home-made single-barrel guns, etc.

Despite the LNP's efforts, one police source said they are disappointed in the company security guards for refusing to undergo training meant to improve their knowledge on combating palm theft and other crimes at the plantation.

The police source said before LNP started the raid at the plantation for illegal oil processing mills, the LNP proposed to management to conduct a special training exercise on combating crimes for the company's security guards.

According to the police source, experts from the National Police Training Academy after planning the training exercise along with the management, visited plantation to start the training, but majority of the company security guards failed to appear for the exercise.

The source also said the training was postponed to a later date, "but again, when the trainers arrived for the second time, the guards refused to show up for the exercise."

One police officer, on condition of anonymity, said such behavior by Sime Darby security undermines the government's efforts to help the company fight theft at the plantation.

The Malaysian company continues to complain that it management is sustaining losses due to increased palm theft at its plantation, and along with other challenges are likely to compel the company to sellout.

It can be recalled that President George Weah during a recent meeting with the management, promised that his government will do everything to protect all investors, including Sime Darby and ensure that they have the rightful environment to operate.

With that assurance, a police officer told the Daily Observer that the LNP decided to undertake the training for the company's security as part of the government's efforts to protect the investment.

"The Sime Darby security guards are always assigned here, so if they have the requisite training, it will be good, but majority of the guards have refused to be trained in combating theft. No matter how long you serve as security person, you must always be happy to get new training," one police officer said.

The police officer further said that it is strange for a security to refuse training, especially the one intended to help them perform the function for which they were employed.

Accordingly, during Monday raid, locals alleged that some security guards were allegedly involved in the illegal processing of mills.

Some community residents in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties also told this newspaper that some of the guards are in the habit of shielding theft at the plantation. Some Sime Darby security are accused of being owners of illegal oil palm processing mills, while others are aiding illegal harvesters.

The Daily Observer has learned that the defiant security guards stand the risk of suspension or dismissal for neglecting their duties in the wake of increased theft at the plantation, coupled with their refusal to get advanced training in combating crimes.

In recent time, communities have publicly voiced their concerns that Sime Darby Security are in cohort with illegal harvesters, something that is increasing theft at the plantation.

Recent statistics released by the management indicate that the company is losing up to US$800,000 annually in crop theft, and therefore, it is unable to harvest sufficient fresh fruits to meet the capacity of its oil palm processing mill constructed in Grand Cape Mount County.

It is not clear what action the management will take against its own security guards for their alleged refusal undergo new training, but as per the Decent Work Act of 2015, actions for such behavior range from suspension to dismissal.

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