With over 10 years elapsed under the Unity Party led government, the fate of the Cocopa Rubber Company in Nimba County remains in limbo, leaving the concession in deplorable state, with the continuing problem of salary arrears for the employees.
There have been repeated changes of management, since President Sirleaf took office in 2005, but the problem at the plantation appears to remain still unresolved.
In 2013, the Government of Liberia won a case against the Liberia Company, the legitimate owner of the company, and turned the plantation over to an interim management team known as Nimba Rubber Incorporated (NRI). However, again, the problem has not been resolved.
Presently, workers say they have gone over four months without pay and there is no plan for improving their living conditions on the plantation, as well as some of the infrastructures which lay in ruins.
Furthermore, workers say they are currently taking a go-slow action at the plantation due to the delay of the salary arrears and other benefits.
The situation in Cocopa is one of the most talked about issues Nimba presently, with many wondering what role the government is playing is resolving the labor problem in Cocopa once and for all.
However the plantation Manager, Mr. Benjamin Saye, denied any sign of go-slow action by the workers and added that the three months the management owed will soon be taken care of, along with all other benefits, including rice.
“It is the government that is in control of all the salary issues and any time soon, all financial issues will be settled,” he added. He did not specify when.
Mr. Saye said the government is anticipating paying off all the employees and recruiting a minimum number of employees to carry on the plantation work, but will be done in phases, beginning with about 400 employees.
The issue of the downsizing of employees and bringing on board a minimum workforce is yet to be delivered by the government, leaving the employees disappointed and miserable.
“We are bearing it, because, whenever we strike, they will blame us for being rude or outlaws,” said Jackson, an employee. “The same thing that was happening that made the government to take LIBCO to court and won the case, is still happening. Our pay is not coming on time, no rice, among other things,” he explained.
“I think, it will be better to pay us off, than to be here claiming to be working while we go without food for months,’ another tapper argued.
Cocopa remains a troubled spot in Nimba, as the surrounding communities and the workers have been in the area since the disarmament period.
Due to recurrent trouble within the plantation; especially between 2006 and 2011, the government was forced to deploy police at the plantation with backing from UNMIL armed police.
While going forward with plans to draw down its forces in Liberia, UNMIL is pressing on to ensure that there is stability in the plantation.
“The UNMIL officers have been having series of meetings with us concerning Cocopa, so as to make sure that we get our arrears and other benefits,” said Darius Mahn, Workers Union President of Cocopa, on a local radio station in Ganta on January 19, 2016.