A two part Global Witness report accusing Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) of grabbing land from local residents and violating their sacred shrines could not be substantiated when local journalists paid a four-day visit to Greenville and interacted with the people in the areas mentioned.
Journalists who conducted independent investigations early last week gathered, after interviews with citizens in Tarjuowon and Butaw that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with GVL is effectively on course.
Butaw and Tarjuowon residents pointed out they are committed to uphold the terms and conditions of the MoU with GVL and to date there has been no disagreement or misunderstanding between the parties on any of the terms.
They told journalists at two town hall meetings held in two administrative districts in Sinoe County that GVL authorities have shown genuine commitment to all their corporate social responsibilities.
Commissioner of the Statutory District of Butaw, Togba Bestman, pointed out that the Global Witness reports do not reflect the current realities on the ground and are intended to sow seeds of disunity to retard progress in the district.
“We are in serious negotiations on the various drafted MOUs and the GVL managers and our government have recognized us as the custodians of the land since we started doing business with them in Butaw District in Sinoe County,” Mr. Bestman said.
Elder Dennis T.W. Jabbah of Butaw noted that statements published on their behalf in Monrovia by international organizations are far from the truth and do not represent the citizens on the ground.
The women’s president of Butaw District, Madam Martha Bloh, underscored the need for Butaw citizens living in Monrovia and other parts of the world to join them in actions that will bring development to the area.
“We are tired of living in poverty. GVL has brought some relief and sanity to underdeveloped communities in our districts and therefore we are against any form of division and cheap politics,” Madam Bloh stressed.
Paramount Chief Nehemiah W. Jabbah called on citizens who are against GVL’s operations in Sinoe to drop their protest and join the bandwagon for economic and social development.
“Our past dispute with GVL on the company’s operations in our district, Butaw, is finally over and we want to move ahead with our lives as we go through the MoU negotiations,” said Chief Jabbah.
For too long, he added, Butaw, Tarjuowon and Kpanyan districts have been neglected by successive Liberian governments in the areas of development and education.
A youth leader of Butaw in a brief statement called on youths of other districts to stay engaged with GVL in order to ensure that the company remains committed to all the MOUs under discussion in its three operational areas in Sinoe County.
“The government of Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has demonstrated to our districts in Sinoe County that we are part and parcel of our national development through GVL operations,” he noted.
In Tarjuowon District, the citizens, through some of their leaders, expressed indignation with the Global Witness reports and rejected claims by Global Witness that GVL violated their cultural shrines, noting that they are involved in all GVL land acquisitions through legal channels in Sinoe County.
“We want to emphasize that GVL has not forced any community to take their land and all discussions have been centered on how to implement our MoU and other critical socioeconomic matters,” Nathan Kateh, a senior citizen, asserted.
On the deployment of armed ERU police officers on Butaw oil palm plantation, citizens said when a violent protest occurred in the area about a year ago, the Liberian government deployed security personnel on the plantation to protect GVL’s investment in the district.
At a community town hall in Kilo in Kpanyan District, the Tartweh citizens outlined several development projects such as schools, clinics and roads aimed at benefiting their people that GVL has not yet completed.
Prior to GVL operations in their district, Kpanyan citizens claimed that their livelihood depended on fishing, hunting and cash crops; and now that GVL cleared their land for oil palm plantations, such business activities no longer exist.
In reaction, a GVL official told journalists that alternatives have been provided through the employment of several citizens of Kpanyan, especially those residing in Panama, Kilo and Tartweh Towns in Sinoe County.
Andrew Kluth, GVL’s principal technical advisor and Vice President for Sustainability, also told journalists that GVL has connected several towns and villages with farm to market roads in Kpanyan District.
“We do not carry out our oil palm plantation in disputed land areas and such disputes are left with the Liberian government and communities to resolve. And if there are genuine challenges and mistakes made during the course of negotiations, GVL will take the appropriate steps to correct same,” he said.
In Butaw, Kluth disclosed that a new school and clinic have been built to serve GVL employees and citizens of the district.
Mr. Kluth noted that the GVL agreement is signed for 65 years, adding that the company will not be in business to violate the rights of people they hope to be in partnership with over such a long period of time.