Health hazard looms at Sime Darby

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Residents of Sime Darby Plantation Liberia are decrying poor sanitation, lack of water supply and numerous alleged labor abuses faced by local employees of the company.

Residents within the operating areas of the company explain to a specialized committee constituted by the House of Representatives to investigate issues of manhandling of employees and poor living conditions, among others that they have been neglected by the government, evidenced by ill-treatment and poor living condition in the SDPL’s camps.

The team from the House toured the company’s facilities recently in both Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties. Members of the specialized committee include Representatives Tibelrosa Summoh Tarponweh (Margib Dist 1) Chairman, Rustolyn Suacoco Dennis (Montserrado District #4) Co-chair, Johnson Gwaikolo (Nimba Dist. #9) Matthew Zarzar (Sinoe Dist. #3), Beyan Howard Mensah (Lofa Dist. #5), Edwin Snowe (Bomi Dist. #2) as Advisors and Mabu Sonii Grand Cape Mount). Representatives Manah Bishop Johnson (Bomi Dist. 2) and Isaac Roland (Dist. 3, Maryland) were observers.

The visit was intended to get first-hand information from residents within the company’s areas of operations with respect to adherence to its cooperate social responsibilities as enshrined in the Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) signed between the Government of Liberia and Sime Darby Plantation Liberia.
The committee made a first stop at the Sime Darby Central High School in Senjeh District, Bomi County where students told the committee that the school lacks water supply, not even a hand pump has been constructed on the campus to provide water for over 1,000 students, as the same toilets condition on campus is deplorable.

“Just look on this entire campus, you will not see any pump or even well. We don’t have toilet facility, only the teachers, students have to go in the bushes to toilets.” A student (name withheld) explains to this paper.

As a mean of seeing the living conditions of the local workers, the committee toured most of the camps, with nearly all the camps faced with similar problems: lack of safe drinking water, lack of toilets facility and poor housing, among others.

Residents inside the camp narrate to the committee that due to lack of toilets, they are constrained to use the bushes to defecate, and rivers for drinking.Following the tour, the committee met with the management of the company and raised the conditions of local employees and their families.

During the meeting, the General Manager of SDPL, David Parker, admits to some of the counts raised by the committee, but indicates that lots of progress had been made in terms of human resource capacity.

According to him, the company has reached 60 percent of it desirables with 50 percent Liberians holding managerial posts. “We have met this requirement, but we have reached 33 percent.”

He said the company has provided scholarships to several of its local employees, adding that 52 persons were sent to Malaysia for advance training and some have come back and are in senior management posts. “Within the next two to three years, Liberians will take over from the expatriates”, he adds.

In response, Bomi County Representative Edwin M. Snowe, notes that he had previously met with the management on several occasions to address the poor living conditions of the residents, but the management continues to pay lip-service.

“Mr. Chairman, as Advisor to this committee, let me inform you that most of the things my good friend Mr. Parker has said are far from the truth; sometimes ago, I met them and raised the issue of water and toilet facilities; it is now 97 days since we met; the management has not even installed a single hand pump”, Rep. Snowe explains. The committee is expected to report findings from the tour to the Plenary of the House this week.

By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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