An executive of a local natural resource rights advocate, Rights and Rice Foundation, has blamed the prevalence of violent attacks on foreign-owned companies operating in Liberia on what he described as, “unfair distribution of money paid as land rental fees.”
Pointing to the reasons for violent attacks on foreign-owned concessionaires; for example, on Golden Veroleum, ArcelorMittal Liberia, Sime Darby Plantation, by some residents of their respective operation areas, James Yarsiah said the situation is now so grave that, “if nothing is done to overturn such behaviors, we could see a repeat of violent confrontations across the country.”
Yarsiah made the observation over the weekend at a program marking the launch of “Engaging Policy Makers towards Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in Liberia” in Monrovia.
The program was launched under the theme, “Working Together towards a Better Future for Liberia.”
According to Mr. Yarsiah, there was no protection for citizens residing in the project affected communities of concession areas that have all witnessed conflicts, he said.
“I don’t need to remind you about the issues at Golden Veroleum, ArcelorMittal and even to the extent of the burning down of a portion of Sime Darby Oil Palm Farm,” Mr. Yarsiah stated.
He stressed that all of the incidents are dangerous in a country that has emerged from over a decade-long civil conflict.
Mr. Yarsiah said the 2006 Forestry Law stipulates that money collected as land rental fees from concession companies, 30 percent should go to the community, another 30 percent to the development of the county and 40 percent to the central government.
“With this law on the books, why would the central government get her fair share and the county gets its share, but when it comes to the community, they cannot get their 30 percent share?” , Mr. Yarsiah wondered.
“What then do you expect to happen?” he asked, adding, “When others are getting their share of the investment, there are no problems, but for the people who own the land, they are often deprived.” This, Mr. Yarsiah believes, is a recipe for violence.
He said there have been challenges in the implementation of benefit-sharing methods in the law.
“The prospect and the hopeful sign that we have today in the extractive industry is chaos, because many of those involved in the running of the concession agreements were members of the National Legislature and executives of political parties as well as civil society organizations.
“There are reforms in other sectors, but for the natural resources, there is still problem…especially when it comes to money sharing,” Yarsiah maintained.
In his remarks, Senator George Tengbeh of Lofa County and Representative Eugene Fallah Kparkar, of Lofa County Electoral District #1, lauded the launch of the program. The two Lofians promised to support the initiative.
Rep. Kparkar chairs the Committee on Concession and Investment at the National Legislature.
For him, Liberia’s economy solely depends on the extractive sector, and as such, there is the need to discuss diversifying it to include other actors.
“We have lots of legal instruments in place to guide the sector, but it seems that nothing is working at all to the extent that wastes and abuse have characterized the sector,” the Lofa County Lawmaker charged.
He added, “We need to work with you in solving some of those problems.”
For Senator Tengbeh, natural resources are a blessing for Liberia, but noted that it was becoming a curse, “because of the manner in which the sector has been managed by those in authority.”
“Due to poor management, our natural resources are no more benefiting our people, but we need to work together to resolve the issues associated with bad management,” he emphasized.