By Alvin Worzi
Community dwellers of various concession areas in Liberia have resolved to channel their grievances through their leaderships organized by the National Bureau of Concessions (NBC), promising not to use violence to solve any future problems.
According to recommendations made at the end of a 2-day national multi-stakeholder meeting at the Monrovia City Hall under the theme “Improving Citizen’s Engagement in Concessions Management,” they pledged to work with concessionaires to avoid conflict.
The conference brought together four major concession communities, including Sinoe, Grand Cape Mount, Maryland and Nimba counties, with some communities having 16 representatives.
The participating concession communities in their recommendations said, “We want the passage of the Land Rights Bill with urgency because it gives the rights of owning land and community dwellers will have something to protect them at the community level. It will also serve as reliance for all communities in Liberia.”
They said: “Community dwellers should be involved in the discussions, whether mining or agriculture, including the appropriate government ministries whenever the National Investment Commission identifies an investor in order to avoid conflict. Telling the people what to do and having them agree will be unique to avoid conflict.
“We are totally against the old model of concession agreements where the government and investor will sit on the table and leave out the community, thereby causing a problem between community dwellers and concessionaires. Therefore, we want the people (community) at the top, the investor in the middle and lastly, the government at the bottom, because we want the investment to be in the hands of the government and the people.”
The concession communities also recommended uninterrupted engagements with residents to ensure that the youth and unborn generations understand the agreement between the investor and the government of Liberia.
“There will be no conflict between community dwellers and the concessionaires if we can continue to have such engagements to inform the people about the benefits and how to channel grievances whenever an investor fails to adhere to his or her social responsibilities,” the participating communities recommended.
Celesta K. Toby, co-chairperson of the United Community Initiative (UCI), lauded the organizing committee, promising to inform the people of Sinoe about the community’s role and how to channel grievances without conflict or disagreement.
She said: “We have been educated about who to engage whenever there is a problem between the community and the concession company. We also stated that if any concession happens to come in the country, community dwellers should first be engaged in any further discussion and not to use the old model, which only brings the government and the investor to discuss.”
According to her, carrying out violent acts in concession areas will not be the solution to any of the issues or problems, but rather finding common ground from bringing all the parties involved to a dialogue.
“I believe that we are getting there because the government and partners are now bringing affected concession communities to discuss issues within concession areas. Interestingly, we have someone from the concession company to work in the community,” Madam Toby told the Daily Observer at the end of the conference.
Bai A. Sembeh, the chairperson of the Zoeda Land Management Committee, said he was delighted that the government and partners have decided to bring concession communities together to work as a team and also to understand the importance of concessions within a community as well as their impacts.
As a chairperson of the committee, Sembeh said, “The government cannot do all for the people and so there is a need for the community and the concession company to work together for the development of the community. We have the land and the people [have] the money as well, so we need them and they need us.”
He said it is time to avoid violence within concession areas and create a level playing field that would help in supporting development initiatives, adding “We want to see our land developed and at the same time, call concessionaires to account for things that are done within the community that are not in the interest of the community.”
Ciatta Bishop, director general of the National Bureau of Concessions (NBC), said the two-day meeting resulted from NBC’s concern to see citizens participate in dialogue instead of engaging in violence in concession areas.
“It is important for the citizens to understand what is in the agreement, and what their roles are, and how they can interact with concessionaires and the government without using violence. When people don’t understand what is in the agreement and don’t have a place to go in order to resolve grievances, then, they take their frustrations out on the concession,” she said.
The National Bureau of Concessions was created specifically to provide monitoring and evaluation as well as to find a way to ensure that concessionaires, the government, and the people meet their side of the bargain.
“We hear from the concessionaires that the communities are problematic and hear from the communities as well that the concessionaires are problematic, but this is the NBC’s role or the executive to mediate, while the legislators are there to communicate to the people or community and so we want them to understand what’s in the agreement and who is doing what,” she clarified.
According to director Bishop, the NBC has been working with some of the concession communities to educate them about their roles and benefits as well as how to avoid conflict in concession areas.
“We have a situation that there exist three groups of people, which includes communities that were in the concession areas before the war and after the war…And the third group are those on the outskirt of the concession agreement. How the NBC can bring all the three parties together, because all are communities and all fall on land issue and agreement,” Madam Bishop said.
She said the NBC is more concerned with integrating the three groups of communities into project-affected communities, thereby benefiting from the agreement as a community and people, adding that “I visited all the major concession communities recently, including Sinoe, Nimba, Grand Cape Mount, Maryland and Grand Bassa, among, others to discuss the way forward to avoid conflict.”
According to her, the NBC has organized a committee in each of the concession areas to help the concessionaires both in terms of identifying projects and being focal persons for a peaceful relationship, adding: “All of us both at the community and the concession companies need to work as one.”