Palm Firms Executives’ Arrest in Indonesia Worries SDI

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A view of oil palm plantation. (Photo: Takahashi of Aljazeera)

Sustainable Development Initiative (SDI), a civil society organization that monitors and records activities on the use of Liberian forests, has expressed fear over the arrest of some executives of oil palm firms in Indonesia, among who those of SinarMasAgro and Binasawit, subsidiaries of Agri-Resources Ltd is named.

SDI, dwelling on a report published by the Reuters News Agency, said those arrested are accused of bribing parliamentarians to avoid investigation into Binasawit’s plantation permits and palm processing waste near Semubuluh Lake on the Borneo Island.

Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) is also a subsidiary of Golden Agri-Resources Ltd based in Singapore.  It began operation in southeastern Liberia in 2010.

According to James Otto of SDI, news about the arrest of executives of those palm firms on allegation of bribery by the anti-graft agency of Indonesia is quite worrisome.

Though the SDI did not cast blame on GVL for the arrest in Singapore reported by Reuters News Agency, the forest watchdog fears that the signing of 65 bogus concession agreements out of 67 during sitting of the 52nd National Legislature leaves a room to doubt the credibility of GVL’s agreement when such a situation arises.

The two credible concessions out of the 67 agreements were not named by the World Bank and the African Development Bank during their panel discussion on “Resource curse” in Africa in 2016.

However, SDI in a statement said with the absence of information about the two credible agreements, uncertainties can loom when an investor of a company operating in Liberia is implicated in a corruption scandal.

In response to this concern, Randall Kaybee, GVL Communications Officer, denied the company having any connection with the alleged scandal for which those executives were arrested, although the management  is aware of what transpired in Indonesia, as well as their connection with Agri-Resources.

Mr. Kaybee said GVL remains consistent in the confines of its policy of transparent deal, and the Liberian Constitution without compromise, adding, “whatever that has happened in Indonesia has no reflection on GVL.

SDI’s concern and fear stemmed from the recent report by the Reuters News Agency on the arrest of seven people, including a senior executive of palm firm SinarMas Agro-Resources and Technology, by Indonesia’s anti-graft agency, in connection with a bribery case.

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (otherwise referred to as KPK), named vice president director of SinarMasAgro, Edy Saputra Suradja; chief executive of PT Binasawit AbadiPratama, Willy Agung Adipradhana; and some members of Central Kalimantan parliament as suspects in the case, KPK’s executive is quoted by Reuters.

The Golden-Agri is quoted, following the arrest, as saying that it will cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation in the bribery saga, with the hope that the issues can be resolved very soon. In addition to substantiating the report, Golden-Agri further indicated that the case is “gravely concerning and regrettable,” and stated that its Indonesian operations and subsidiaries must be managed in accordance with the law and regulations in the country.

Golden Veroleum Liberia has been implicated many times for bad labor practices and forceful grabbing of land from the people of Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties where it operates.

The SDI said considering the bribery allegation involving subsidiary partners of GVL and Indonesian parliamentarians, it is afraid that such should not be the case with Liberia as GVL has been resistant to the 2018 decision of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“This situation is very concerning and reinforces the many calls for robust and proactive engagement with investments in Liberia. The watchdog arms of the Government of Liberia should make sure that laws and regulations of Liberia are respected by palm oil companies such as Golden Veroleum Liberia, where Golden Agri-Resources is the main investor. Civil society organizations and communities should be alert and vigorous in their monitoring to prevent and expose any corruption by transnational corporations,” SDI’s statement said.

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