The Liberian leader speaking to citizens of Grand Cape Mount County, in Kon Town Garwula District on Saturday, 6 December at a called meeting, told the citizens that it was time to put aside any objections or bitterness they have against the operation of Sime Darby, for the future development of all Liberians.
“Lets us eat kola nuts, because when I eat kola with you, whatever thing we will reach here today is what everyone will agree with;” the President told the citizens, as she broke the kola nuts and passed it to the traditional leaders.
She blamed the citizens’ agitation on lack of proper information and consultation from the government on their rights and limitations. The President said it was not too late to correct what she called a collective ‘mistake’ from both the Executive and the Legislative Branches of the Liberian government.
“Now, something could have been done better when it comes to Sime Darby. More consultations and more talks with the people should have taken place. Like the Senator said, everyone made mistakes when it comes to that. But what we should do is to correct the mistakes; the ones we didn’t do that time we can still do now.” President Sirleaf further told the citizens in Grand Cape Mount.
President Sirleaf who was accompanied by several of her top cabinet ministers plus members of the Liberian Legislature from Grand Cape Mount, reminded the citizens that Liberia will not develop if the citizens are unfriendly to investors.
She said, back in 2005 prior to her elections as Liberia and Africa’s first female head of state, the citizens during her campaign in the county had asked her to bring back the investment companies that left following the heat of the war. The Liberian leader said by bringing Sime Darby and other multinational companies back to Liberia was the fulfillment of a promise she made to them. This, the Liberian leader maintained was intended to resuscitate the country’s shattered economy which was badly hit by the 14 years of civil war.
According to President Sirleaf, even though the citizens have the right to express the disenchantment over issues, it is not their place to nullify or attempt to undo any agreement reached by their government and a foreign investment company. She stressed that it is the sacred obligation of the government to honor all the terms of the concession signed with Sime Darby.
“When your government and the representatives sign any paper with a foreign country, the communities can’t change it. With that, the Constitution gives the government the authority to do so. Therefore if the government makes mistake, let us come back and talk it.” President Sirleaf told Citizens in Kon Town during the Saturday meeting.
The President further regretted the action of the citizens for allowing themselves to be manipulated by someone whom she did not name, to complain the investing company to a third party. She said the action of the citizens was undermining the work of the Liberian government.
“You are trying to undermine your own government. You can’t do that. If you do so all the foreign investors coming to Liberia will close their businesses and leave, then Liberian will go back to the old days.” The President Continued.
She, however, promised the citizens that some of their concerns would be addressed.
“The complaints that are justifiable and true, we will find a way to fix them. But the complaints that are unreasonable, like you say 1955 land business with Guthrie, we must not go back to 1955, this 2012 we can’t go back,” President Sirleaf told the citizens.
President Sirleaf then setup a Committee headed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs as Chair, the Ministry of Justice as Co-chair, Agriculture, Labor and the Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy as members. She also name the Chairman of the National Traditional Council, Chief Zanza Kawa and the Spokesperson of the affected communities Mr. Alfred Quayjandii to serve as members to expeditiously look into the citizens issues, as means of ending the long standing deadlock between the citizens and Sime Darby Plantations.
The Deputy Chairman of the National Traditional Council and Chief traditional leader of Grand Cape Mount County, Chief Sekou Balloh expressed regrets for their action. But said they were forced to do so because it had appeared that no one including the government was listening to their plights.
He promised President Sirleaf that, he will ensure that the complaint sent to the secretariat of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) will be recalled as the first step to having a good relationship with both the government and the Management of Sime Darby.
Speaking through an interpreter, the Chief Balloh said “We respect you Madam President, and we will do as you say.”