The people of Sinoe County, after many months of conflict with the oil palm company, Golden Veroleum, have finally let it be known that they are satisfied with the company's operations and are now willing to work with GVL toward the achievement of its goals.
They gave this reassurance to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during her recent visit to the county.
They are now convinced, they said, that the GVL investment is beneficial and have therefore pledged to encourage the company's oil palm development.
Rev. D. Lasanna Seqeh told the President during her visit to GVL oil palm plantation that the realization of the true intent of the investment came from the President's detailed explanation, through the Ministry of Internal Affairs, of the benefits accruing to their communities, including their rights to their land and the company's rights to the concession area as contained in the Concession Agreement.
The detailed explanation from Internal Affairs' Deputy Minister Varney Sirleaf convinced to form a common front with government and GVL to realize its investment and development objectives. Rev. Seqeh emphasized that according to the Agreement, the company has the potential to change their lives as demonstrated by the thousands of their sons and daughters now being fully employed, enabling them to sustain their families.
Paramount Chief Johnnie Brown assured the Liberian leader of the citizens' fullest cooperation with the company. He referred to construction of schools and a health center which have been opened by the company as some of the benefits of the company's presence. The citizens were therefore prepared to protect the company's properties to demonstrate their appreciation for its work among them.
The Sinoe people have been in conflict with GVL since it started few years ago. Their first complaint was that they had no participation in the agreement with GVL. They also complained of the company invading their farmland and their sacred ancestral areas; and the lack of any social development to benefit the people.
These grievances seem now to be forgotten, as the people say they are now experiencing the company's real intentions–jobs for many of their people, the construction of a school, health center and other amenities.
We applaud the peace between Sinoeneans and GVL. We pray that government has learned a key lesson: before granting any land concessions to any foreign or local entity, make sure to INVOLVE the people because while the government may claim ownership to all the country's lands, the land really belongs to the people, and nothing can be accomplished without their consent.
There is one other lesson government must learn: pay close attention to the promises these companies make; involve the people in the negotiations; so that they KNOW what benefits should accrue to them. Why? Because they are on the ground with the companies, and are directly affected by whatever is done. If the people are not happy with what they see, they will scream–and that is what the Sinoe people have been doing all along, through their faithful, understanding and forthright attorney, Environmental Advocate Alfred Brownell.
One more thing: the government and the people should carefully monitor the value added developments the company promises–the refining of the oil, which should provide the people even greater employment opportunities and create more infrastructures that will bring further development to Sinoe.
Is it possible, for example, for GVL to produce cooking oil and limit the amount we import with our hard-earned foreign exchange.
What kind of cosmetics can we produce from palm oil? What use can the company make of palm nut "pummy"–the residue after the juice is drained from the palm nuts when, for example, we cook palm butter? We are told that while we in Liberia waste the pummy, in other places it is put to valuable use.
We foresee a number of small industries from palm oil. Liberians must do their own research, at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), and also at various universities as well as private research in people's homes.
Now is the time for Liberians to be more creative–and more hardworking, taking initiatives ourselves, rather than wait for others to come and do it for us.