The Malaysian company, Sime Darby (SD), which has started an oil palm plantation in Liberia, last week broke ground for the building of a US$10 million oil palm mill that will add value to the palm oil it produces.
Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly hailed the company’s latest investment as just the kind of initiative President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is looking for–the production of goods, whether in the agricultural, forestry, mineral or oil sector, that will ADD VALUE to the raw materials produced.
The company’s general manager, Rosi Mohammed Taib, told Minister Dukuly and others assembled for the groundbreaking that SD has bigger plans: the company intends to build an oil palm refinery, which is expected to produce many more value added products from the palm oil they produce in Liberia.
We say Bravo to this, for Heaven knows it is about time that Liberia, after 167 years of existence, begins at long last entering the industrial age. BUT!
We hope Sime Darby is not another Buchanan Renewables company which, under the guardianship of National Investment Chairman Richard Tolbert, came here few years ago and promised Liberians the world, including rehabilitating all old Liberian rubber farms at no cost to rubber planters; AND a 10-megwatt power plant that would bring electricity to Margibi County and parts of Monrovia. All of this would be in return for wood chips from the cut rubber trees, to be used to power the 10-megawatt plant. Everybody embraced this plan.
But no sooner it turned out to be a complete hoax (fraud, deception), for the company started shipping out thousands of tons of wood chips to power electric plants in Holland and other parts of Europe!
We have no reason to suspect that Sime Darby would ever turn out to be another Buchanan Renewerables. However, we at the Daily Observer took keen note of the caveat (qualification, requirement) which SD general manager Taib carefully and smartly laid under his company’s plan to build an oil palm refinery. We paraphrase (reword, interpret) what he told Minister Dukuly: “We will build the refinery if only we are given at least 100 thousand hectares of land for our plantation.”
That is a lot of land even it is spread over three counties–Bomi, Grand Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu– whose people have been bitterly complaining against the company grabbing up all their farmland and sacred sites to plant oil palm. Fortunately, unlike the violent Nimba youths, who two weeks ago invaded the ArcelorMittal concession area and broke up parts of their infrastructure, the people of Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu have handled their grievances in a far more civilized and patient manner. Sime Darby, too, to their own credit, has been listening keenly and actively to the people, and made concessions, including extending social amenities, such as agricultural assistance for farming, health and medical facilities, improved housing, jobs, roads and schools, assuring the people that the company is not just there to take their land, but also to improve their lives. This is in a sense what the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau called “the social contract,” which typically posits that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.
That is all that the people in these concession areas, where ArcelorMittal, China Union, Western Cluster, Golden Veroleum, Calava River Company and Sime Darby, etc. are asking for and rightfully demanding.
It is our hope that SD is sincere and genuine in its initiative and promise to create not just an oil plantation but a modern oil palm industry in Liberia, using the Bomi-Grand Cape Mount-Gbarpolu corridor. Liberia has had more than enough Firestone Plantations that come 2016 would have been producing and shipping out of here, for 90 unbroken years, billions of tons of natural rubber to supply American factories to produce tires and other rubber products. And Liberia is yet unable to produce a rubber band!
We pray–but not only pray, but we must TOUGHLY NEGOTIATE, WORK HARD AND GET FROM THESE COMPANIES WHAT WE WANT: VALUE ADDED PRODUCTS that will transform Liberia from a raw materials producer into an industrial country, exporting value added products, creating highly technical and other jobs and earning more hard currency to accelerate our development and modernity.