Authorities at the Rubber Planters Association of Liberia (RPAL) have raised a red flag on what it considers to be the constant wave of theft in the rubber industry across the country.
RPAL executive director Simeon Zumo Woheel told reporters at a press conference Monday, February 3rd, that, “the major dilemma in the rubber sector is theft and what to do to minimize it. It is also a question of who should do what to combat this scourge affecting almost every rubber planter in the country.”
He explained, “The problem of rubber theft is an old problem in the industry. Theft occurs at every level, but is more pronounced at the production level; with illicit tapping, and collection of coagulated (syrupy, heavy) rubber.”
The problem, according to Mr. Woheel, has been intensified with the coming into existence of brokers and their activities.
“Theft in the industry,” he said, “was much more pronounced during the war years, because brokers were basically buying rubber from anybody willing to sell whether they were farmers or not.”
“As a result,” Mr. Woheel added, “many rubber farms were destroyed from bad tapping and burning of rubber trees for charcoal production.”
“This problem presently continues with reports of many brokers buying and selling rubber from those who are not rubber farmers. This is encouraging rubber theft at an alarming rate,” he said.
“As a result of theft and unregulated rubber brokerage,” Mr. Woheel said,” income generation of rubber farmers has become dramatically reduced to the extent that farmers are being victimized.
“Production of rubber at large plantations has also declined over the last few years, despite the promulgation of Executive Order #50 as issued by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” he explicated.
Section 9 of Executive Order #50, states “as of the effective date of this order, all broker activities relating to the purchase, sale, and trade of unprocessed rubber in Liberia shall cease. Agents shall be the only persons to act as on behalf of a processor or to act as intermediaries between farmers and processors in transacting the unprocessed natural rubber trade.”
According to Mr. Woheel, in contravention of Executive Order #50, a suspected privately owned business entity with a profit motive, allegedly aided by some members of law enforcement, reportedly set up road blocks along farm-to-market roads with the sole purpose of extorting money from rubber farmers as well as assaulting those resisting payment of their illegal rubber sale fees.
Already, RPAL says it has reportedly made representation of this matter to relevant government ministries and agencies for redress, but the expected actions have been delayed.
RPAL was established by an Act of the National Legislature in 1966 with a statutory mandate to “promote, foster and protect the planting and processing industry and the interest of the rubber planters in Liberia.”
As such, once a person has planted a rubber tree in Liberia for commercial purpose, automatically, that person is a part of the National Association in keeping with the law, because “the RPAL statutory mandates are being undermined by a private business that has injected itself into its Articles of Incorporation statutory functions.”