The widespread theft of oil palm at the Sime Darby Plantation (SDP)-Liberia continues unabated as the company security guards perform their daily patrols in extreme fear of attack from illicit harvesters, a reliable source has informed the Daily Observer.
In the wake of that upsurge in criminal activities, the company is prematurely harvesting fresh fruit bunches (FFB) that are found in what is now referred to as ‘Red Zone’ to avoid the palm being constantly harvested by marauding ‘illicit harvesters.’
According to a source close to the management, the premature harvest is also contributing to low yields as the unripe FFB produce low oil, which is sold below the standard market price.
In the latest attack, a patrolman of the security unit, Joseph K. Gissi, was on Friday, October 26, reportedly beaten by suspected criminals that went to harvest the palm bunches. While in their alleged criminal activities, they seized Gissi who was on patrol and beat him severely, inflicting wounds on all over his body.
The illicit harvesters are reportedly relying on the plantation to supply their illegal mills nearby. These activities are taking place without help from the government to curtail the illegal palm theft, despite a provision in the concession agreement that the government will protect the investor by ensuring that there is no processing mill within 60 kilometers of the concession area.
Section 5.4 of the Concession agreement states, “License to Third Party: Government represents and warrants that it shall not, throughout the Term of Concession Agreement, grant any license to any third parties to construct or to operate, any rubber buying stations within ten kilometers of the border of the Concession Area; that any oil processing plant or buying station within 60 kilometers of the border of the Concession Area, and that any rubber processing plant within 60 kilometers of the border of the Concession Area so as to ensure that the operations of investor are not interfered with or impeded.”
Despite this provision in the concession agreement, the management has reported the discovery of several illegal mills being operated within the proximity of the Sime Darby Concession area.
In the latest theft incident, Gissi and two other security guards reportedly arrested a woman who was caught was illegally hauling FFB on the plantation. Angered by the arrest of their member, a group of illicit harvesters, reportedly went on the rampage by beating Patrolman Gissi, and forcibly took him to Behsao Town, a nearby community, where he was turned over to the chairlady, who later ordered his release.
Gissi is at present nursing his wounds at one of the company’s clinics. The beating of Gissi by suspected criminals, who are reportedly constantly terrorizing the company’s facilities, is not the first in recent months, as Sime Darby security guards have been attacked on series of occasions from ‘illicit harvesters’, while inflicting severe injuries on the guards in the process.
“These attacks,” a source said, “have created huge burden to the company with high cost of medical bills for their injured security personnel, who dare to arrest those caught in the illicit harvest of the oil palm.”
Of recent, statistics has shown that the company continues to incur losses in thousands of United States dollars from the illegal harvesting of palm.
On August 28, a group of men armed with cutlasses and short single barrel guns, attacked five of the security officers, who were patrolling the facilities.
Although authorities of the Liberian National Police confirmed the August report, and have launched an investigation, up to press time last night, it is not clear as to what the police probe has established.