Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) is claiming that oil palm company Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL’s) concession contract is inherently illegal, accusing the company in a new report of continuously damaging community water sources and violating human rights.
At the launch of a report titled: “High Risk in the Forest” on Monday, 2 July at Cape Hotel up Mamba Point in Monrovia, NDI’s Ms. Nora G. Bowier said SDI can estimate a few things that are responsible for GVL’s alleged continuous lack of compliance, saying “One of the reasons is that GVL’s contract itself is inherently illegal.”
“And we can boldly say that because even reports, government reports have revealed that GVL contract processes, allocation processes didn’t follow the law,” Ms. Bowier claims further.
But when contacted by this paper on Monday, 2 June at GVL’s office on 13 Street, Head of Communication and Legal Mr. Wilson Saye Garpeh, Sr. said his boss would speak to SDI’s report today, Tuesday, 3 July.
The new SDI report launched in collaboration with Friends of the Earth US and Friends of the Earth Netherlands claims that GVL’s 65 – year concession agreement contravenes Liberia’s Public Lands Law which states that no such lease shall exceed 50 years.
SDI notes that GVL in August 2010 signed an agricultural contract with Liberia covering 350,000 hectares, approximately 2.3 percent of the country’s land mass.
But according to SDI, GVL’s concession agreement allegedly allows the company to withhold tax payments for 65 years in violation of Liberian tax code.
Ms. Bowier claims that the land rights of rural communities are still in suspense, alleging further that what makes GVL’s contract illegal is that the company allegedly acquired land in violation of Liberia Community Land Rights Law and in violation of the current Land Rights Policies that recognize ownership and titled to their land.
She claims that these policies were by-passed in many of GVL’s processes, saying the community land right law states that before concessions are granted, there should be processes that drive towards getting communities’ consent.
According to Ms. Bowier, that hasn’t been applied many times within GVL concessions.But she also points to the alleged lack of effective monitoring by government, suggesting that government needs to do more to beef up monitoring process of GVL to ensure that the oil company complies with rules and norms of Liberia.
Earlier, SDI’s Ms. Gleadae Harmon – Hoskins also said GVL is allegedly not in compliance with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) principles and criteria that it signed up to and it has allegedly ignored national laws as well.
She believes that government can work with civil society to monitor how the company operates.Reading a summary of SDI’s findings on GVL’s concession in Sinoe County, southeast Liberia, Ms. Hoskins says GVL has consistently violated human rights through its alleged failure to implement adequate free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) procedures.
Ms. Hoskins also points to alleged destruction of sacred sites and ongoing development of disputed land as confirmed by a February 2018 RSPO Complaints Panel decision.
According to her, GVL continues to damage streams, wetlands and riparian buffer zones and has allegedly failed to provide compensation for previous damage to community water sources.
She observes that from 2010 to 2016, GVL cleared and planted some 15,000 hectares of land, some seven percent of its granted plantation are which consists of a mosaic landscape of forests, fallows and farmland.
SDI says GVL has not yet established any of the 40,000 hectares of outgrower plantations it is supposed to deliver.Based on a field sample in Kpanyan district, Sinoe County, SDI claims that since 2015 GVL has declared or fragmented at least 380 hectares of High Carbon Stock (HSC) forest patches of which some of the hectares were high priority patches for conservation.
According to SDI, GVL’s primary investor is Singapore – listed palm oil company Golden Agri – Resources (GAR), one of the world’s largest palm oil companies.
At the launch of the report, Agriculture Ministry Focal Person on Oil Palm Mr. Francis Mwah says there were lot of errors in the way the agreements were made because the people should have been consulted initially when the land was given out.
He says government recognizes that seriously, but what it is trying to do right now is to ensure that all of the processes that will lead to Liberia being RSPO certified are in place.
He says it is only the companies that are RSPO certified, but government is not. As such, he says government had a meeting with the civil society oil palm working group and other actors, having considered the need to complete the … process to have room to engage concession companies.
Also speaking, Lofa County Sen. George Tengbah says he is impressed by the report, and expresses hope that the Land Rights Act will be passed as soon as possible.
Sen. Tengab says after the passage the Act, all of these things will be vanished. According to him, it is in a good direction that government has called for the review of all concessions here.
By Winston W. Parley