Calm has now returned to Barrake, Maryland County, with the settlement of financial claims from aggrieved farmers in the Baraake (LIBSUCO) area. Protest action by aggrieved locals over compensation for resettlement had brought operations at the Cavalla Rubber Company(CRC) and the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation(MOPP) to a near halt.
But the chairman of the SIFCA Group of Companies and owner of the Cavalla Rubber Corporation (CRC) and the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) Allassane Doumbia last weekend brought smiles to the faces of aggrieved locals of the Baraake area, when he visited in person to observe the payment of monies to farmers whose structures were demolished in order to make way for the plantation.
The payment exercise on Friday had earlier been preceded by the payment of compensation for crops amounting to a little over US$3 million, according to CRC-MOPP General Manager John Barkemeni. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, represented by its Deputy Minister for Research and Development Planning Mr. Olayee Collins which had been closely involved in negotiations aimed at resolving the situation was also in attendance at the program.
In remarks Minister Collins thanked the citizens for remaining law-abiding even though they were aggrieved. He said the last few weeks had indeed been difficult, but thanks to the hard work of General Manager John Barkemeni and thanks also to the resolve of the SIFCA Group of Companies and CRC, MOPP under the leadership of Alasssane Doumbia, the impasse was finally broken and the matter is now resolved.
Thanking the people for their patience and understanding, Minister Collins pledged the commitment of the Government of Liberia to work with locals and the CRC-MOPP, to create a conducive environment for everyone’s benefit. He also thanked the people of Baraake for their patience and for agreeing to work with the company.
Also making remarks at ceremonies marking the beginning of the payment process, the Executive Chairman of the Board of the SIFCA Group of companies and owner of the Cavalla Rubber Corporation and the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation Mr. Alassane Doumbia said, he decided to take the challenge to invest in Maryland County. He said his company believes in investing in people they work with, noting that success can only be assured if concern for the well-being of the people is taken into account.
“We arrived here just 5 to 6 years ago to take over farmlands that had been abandoned and were lying dormant and took a bet that what other people left behind, we can revive. My father, myself and many members of our team were warmly received by the people of Pleebo-Sodoken District and the Government of Liberia. And because of that hospitality, warm friendship and your willingness to work with us, we decided to take the challenge and invest in Maryland. This was back in 2008-2009. We knew from the beginning that things will not be easy; but we also knew that if we hold hands and work hard together, you and us, not just the company, but all of us, can make this to work”.
He urged people to look at the bigger picture wherein prosperity can be assured for all. Mr. Doumbia said his company’s desire to create prosperity for all cannot be achieved if people are in confusion. This, according to him, was the primary reason behind his company’s decision to pay compensation to farmers rather than having to wait for the government to do so.
“For us, the big picture is to make prosperity available to everyone. We are a private company, we work to make profit; but we know that the only way we can get profit is when people work with us and that they gain something and feel part of the company. I invite all of you to feel part of MOPP CRC.”
He said the protest action has now come to an end with the decision to pay compensation for demolished structures belonging to people in the former LIBSUCO plantation area. It can be recalled that locals had been protesting against what they said was the destruction of their crops and structures without compensation, owing to their relocation from land proposed for the oil palm plantation.
The tense standoff that ensued was diffused by the management of the Maryland Oil Plantation (MOPP) when it decided to provide just compensation for the land to help enable resettlement of the affected farmers. “There have been some issues in the past few months, issues that could have escalated into a major crisis. I want to thank everyone in Pleebo and Maryland, the youth and their leaders, the elders and traditional chiefs, the women and everyone for making sure that whatever problems that are out there, we can resolve them in peace through dialogue,” Mr. Doumbia stressed.
Explaining further he said, “I was hoping to be present last time when the Minister of Internal Affairs Honorable Varney Sirleaf came here. But I was away on a mission. We heard all the issues that you raised with him and we have listened and will continue to listen. We want to thank you for being patient but now we must move on. IF CRC- MOPP are successful, you will benefit. Your children will go to good schools, the sick people will get medication, you will have enough money to take care of yourself and your family. That is what we all want and that is what we are making possible.
“We want to create prosperity, but this will not and cannot happen if we cannot operate in an atmosphere of peace, security and partnership with the community. When people threaten other people and create tension, no one benefits. So, I am here today to ask you to embrace these two companies as your own. I am sure someone you know works for CRC and MOPP and you want that person to continue to make money and support their family,” Doumbia said.
The Liberia Sugar Corporation (LIBSUCO) concession area was once the site of a prosperous sugarcane plantation and a sugar plant which produced sugar for the local market. However during the civil war, the the sugar plant was vandalized and the sugarcane plantation went into disuse as locals harvested the cane and began planting crops. Under the terms of the concession agreement with SIFCA, the Government of Liberia assumed responsibility to compensate local farmers for the use of the land and the loss of their structures.
But the Government of Liberia, owing to difficult economic constraints, found itself unable to compensate locals. This led to a spate of protest actions which affected the day-to-day operations of the company. The CRC-MOPP, which prides itself on the creation of shared prosperity for the company and local people, decided to underwrite the cost until at which time later the Government of Liberia would reimburse the company.
And this approach proved effective as the MOPP has to date paid a little over US$3 million to local farmers for their crops, according to CRC-MOPP General manager Mr. John Barkemeni. But as if this was not enough, locals embarked on a series of protest actions in demand of compensation for their structures, which were earmarked for destruction to make way for the plantation.
In an interview with the vice chairman of the Maryland County Civil Society Organization Norris Boketa, he outlined that locals had engaged in protest actions because they were not sure that they would have been compensated at all; secondly, because they did not know how much they would receive for their structures. According to him, the Liberia Revenue Authority(LRA) was invited to conduct an assessment of all structures in order to provide a basis for payment.
According to Boketa, there were noticeable errors which were detected in the assessment report by the LRA. He said locals in some cases were submitting more than one photo for the same structure but were making additional claims based on the photos submitted. Based on this, the MOPP requested a resurvey in 2016 as well as a reassessment by the LRA real estate tax division. The result of the resurvey and reassessment met the approval of all affected persons. Based on the results, the management of MOPP undertook to pay compensation to all affected individuals, Boketa observed.
He said this was the first time ever that civil society organizations had been invited to observe the negotiations and payment process as a way of ensuring transparency.
Meanwhile Mr. Doumbia has said a total of 154 beneficiaries were identified following the resurvey. 74 beneficiaries from the LIBSUCO area were identified while 46 individuals were identified as owners of new structures. 34 beneficiaries from the Cavalla Rubber Company whose properties were allegedly undervalued but later reassessed and revalued were identified for payment. Altogether, according to Mr. Doumbia, a total of US$133,287.21 is to be paid to 174 beneficiaries.