Can Newly Elected Senators Stand Up to the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) Land Grab?

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The recently ended senatorial elections had aroused so much public interest to the point where the news media appeared swamped by reports emanating from developments.

All other matters had appeared secondary as the attention of the nation became riveted to a singular issue-the election and the failed referendum.

But while the nation busied itself with elections matters, land grabbing by the Salala Rubber Corporation (SRC) in the Weala area quickened its pace.

Land grabbing by predatory rubber and oil palm corporations have succeeded in depriving thousands of Liberians of livelihood by effectively and forcibly displacing them from  their ancestral lands.

The coming of Firestone to Liberia in 1926 was driven by the need to break the British monopoly, especially during World War II, which depended on plantations in Malaysia, and other areas in the far east.

When Japanese imperial forces overran British colonies in the far east including Malaysia, Liberia presented a viable option where land could be secured cheaply from a weak and economically starved government with perennial dependence on US military power to secure its grip on power.

In addition to forcibly displacing thousands of Liberians from their ancestral lands without compensation, Firestone also engaged in forced labor where local chiefs were coerced by government officials to forcibly recruit labor for Firestone.

Nearly all the rubber, oil palm and forestry concession agreements were signed without consulting the people whose lands were taken from them without compensation.  That includes Firestone, LAC, SRC, Sime Darby, Golden Verroleum and a slew of logging companies.

Now locals are complaining about the encroachment of the SRC on their ancestral lands destroying shrines, burial grounds, etc.; yet, no one is listening.

Despite all the hype associated with the senatorial elections, none of the political parties appear interested in protecting and defending the rights of the people.

They have remained silent and there appears to be no sign of any expressed interest in the concerns of the people affected by the SRC land grab.

As it appears, Liberia belongs to Liberians in name only. This is because most of the country’s land area have been concessioned out to predatory foreign corporate interests under arrangements that fail to meet transparency benchmarks.

Virtually the entire southeast Liberia has been concessioned out to a fly-by-night company, Hummingbird Resources, in which Senate President Pro Tempore Albert Tugbe Chea is believed to be a shareholder. 

It must be mentioned, however, that most of these concession agreements were signed during the tenure of President Sirleaf.

What makes the situation worse is that those flawed concession agreements, done without consulting the people, cannot be undone by virtue of the fact that Liberia has now become a signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In view of this situation, any government, present or future is more likely than not to face stiff opposition from those predatory corporate interests determined to hold on to their illegal acquisitions and monopolistic domination of the economy.

The Firestone Plantations Company, for instance, has begun implementing a clever but exploitative scheme to acquire profit at all cost.  This means that Firestone has made a deliberate decision to abandon its corporate social responsibilities.

Its first move, unprecedented, was to transfer worker pension payments to the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation.

Its next move currently underway is to outsource the management of its divisions to private contractors, who will then hire workers on a daily basis without benefits such as housing, water, electricity etc.

Under the scheme, the school system, as well as the hospital, will be turned over to the government. In addition to these, hundreds of workers have already been laid off and more are expected to follow.

Suffice it to say, Firestone and other greedy foreign corporate interests get away easily with such predatory behavior largely because successive Liberian governments have proven to be very corrupt and malleable, spineless and completely incapable of standing up to those interests, largely for fear of being overthrown.

President Tolbert, according to Oxford Professor Dr. Niels Hahn, met his fate because his action to establish a crumb rubber plant in Gbarnga tended to undermine Firestone’s monopolistic interests in Liberia.

Also, because Tolbert’s establishment of public corporations seemed to run against very core ideals of neoliberal economics. It is what US Congress woman Angela Occasio Cortez calls “hyper capitalism” meaning profit at all costs.  

But, as time has shown, former President Sirleaf’s slavish embrace of neoliberal economic policies have wrought the nation by far greater harm than good.

The APM Terminal Concession agreement stands out as a classic example of a parasitic body feeding on the life blood of the National Port Authority.

With the help of a crooked British politician and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, encouraged by President Sirleaf and with the criminal connivance of members of the Legislature, the predatory APM Concession Agreement was signed.

It is interesting to note that the MAERSK Lines, a major user of the Port over many years, is the corporate body with which such a predatory agreement was signed. This newspaper is reliably informed that all the flowery promises made to transform the Port have come to naught.

Unlike yesteryears, the Port does not even have a shore crane today to offload heavy goods. APM’s long standing promise to install a shore crane have been all but mere empty promises.

Since the signing of the Concession Agreement, APM’s tariffs and fees have gone up every year without fail and the costs are being passed on to the public. It is not surprising therefore that Customs Brokers as well as Port workers have threatened a boycott and strike action.

The just-ended senatorial elections may have raised much hope that this newly elected crop of legislators will act to change things around for the better. But whether they can rise to these challenges remains unclear.

For now, Liberians may have to find answers in class action lawsuits, filed in US courts against predatory corporate behavior. Can newly elected Senators stand up to the SRC?

Only time will tell!  

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