The Management of the Golden Veroleum- Liberia or GVL has announced “force majeure” in the company’s operations in the Butaw community of Sinoe County in the southeast of Liberia, following a deadly riot staged by raging young people.
On 26 May, youths- under the banner of the Butaw Youth Association or BYA, executed a protest that subsequently resulted to a serious riot and alleged attacks on the company’s staff, holding hostage an unnamed managerial level personnel. The young people reportedly inflicted wounds on others and looted, among other violent actions.
They had persisted on meeting with the GVL’s visiting senior vice president on claims that the company had not granted them audience to address concerns of alleged slow progress in GVL’s development programs in Butaw.
But GVL Corporate Communication Manager Virgil Magee told reporters in Monrovia Thursday that police were conducting criminal investigation into the incident, and assessment was also being done to establish the value of the losses so far.
“Currently, operations in Butaw remain in a ‘force majeure’ situation. Otherwise GVL expects to provide workers payroll as normal, but will need to inspect the looted rice warehouse before provision can be assured,” said Mr. Magee Thursday.
According to him, about 20 to 25 members of the BYA blocked GVL’s farm site entrance, preventing workers from entering.
Upon arrival to Liberia on Wednesday, 27 May, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf strongly condemned the situation, warning that the Government of Liberia would not allow a few people to undermine the interest of the country by running investors away and making sure that government did not attract what it needs to achieve its development goals.
President Sirleaf emphasized that government cannot continue to go out and attract investments to create jobs, while others engage in violence that scares away investors.
“When I returned the last time, you may recall, I said to Liberians that we cannot continue to go out and attract investment- bring people to do business and create jobs, and then when you have these kinds of violence, it takes away from our effort and people run away from the country… Money only goes to the place where it’s safe. They [investors] don’t go where they’re frightened,” an Executive Mansion statement quoted President Sirleaf as stressing.
She cautioned that people cannot undermine the interest of the millions of people in the country in search for jobs and safety, as the government ensures progress for the country.
The incident at GVL in Sinoe County reportedly occurred at a time the company’s Senior Vice President had honored a request by Liberia’s Vice President Joseph N. Boakai to pay a visit here.
Liberia’s Information Ministry issued a statement on Thursday, expressing government’s regret over the “mayhem, looting and destruction which occurred at Golden Veroleum Oil Plantations in Butaw, Sinoe County, on Tuesday, May 26, 2015.”
The government, in the statement, assured that as expected, such act of violence, looting and the wanton destruction of properties will not go unpunished.
“The violence in Butaw does not only threaten our peace and security, it undermines our collective livelihood, and unfairly portrays our country as an unsafe destination for foreign investment,” the Ministry said.
The Government further indicated that the Liberia National Police or LNP has begun a search and seizure operation in Butaw for the looted properties of the GVL, adding: “Wherever they are properly identified and found, the home owners will be arrested and the looted properties retrieved, logged and returned to the company.”
The government noted that all persons said to be responsible for the Butaw Mayhem are being arrested and would be prosecuted in keeping with the law, authorities have said, further announcing that the Justice Ministry has also been instructed to pursue the additional charge of economic sabotage against such persons wherever applicable.
GVL’s Magee told reporters in Monrovia that two of the company’s employees were seriously injured and hospitalized, and houses of employees were broken into, vandalized and their properties stolen, saying the LNP declared the site a crime scene, while the GVL considers the Butaw farm to be a “Force Majeure” situation due to employees’ security and the damage. Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf was said to have also sustained injuries.
In reaction to claims of delayed development in Butaw, Mr. Magee told reporters that GVL has developed a plantation on a 2500 hectare of land that 900 people were employed from Butaw itself.
In wake of concerns over the crisis between GVL and Butaw youth, Mr. Magee clarified that GVL has no plans of leaving Liberia, but said several ‘things will have to be evaluated’ while the company remains here to operate.
He said there was a boundary dispute between a neighboring community and Butaw- a situation that will prevent GVL from extending operations until such dispute was settled.
He also denied reports that the damages incurred by the company were in millions, saying assessment has to be done before cost can be established. By Winston W. Parley – Edited by Georgia Barpeen