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MALOA and SOCFIN land dispute…

CSOs write President Koroma

June 17, 2016 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

Civil Society Organisations in the country have written to President Ernest Bai Koroma asking for a re-animated dialogue between land owners and SOCFIN Palm Plantation Company.

Some six members of Malen Affected Land Owners in the Pujehun District were arrested and convicted to jail terms of six months each or pay the cumulative sum of Le210 million by the High Court in Bo. The men have since been released following a successful campaign that raised funds for their release.

However, there still remains tension between aggrieved land owners and the French industrial agricultural company, which the CSOs want the president to help mediate.

Reading the letter at Buxton Memorial Conference Hall on Charles Street in Freetown yesterday, Betty Alimamy Sesay, from Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law,  said the undersigned were citizens  of Sierra Leone and leaders of national Civil Society Organisations working on human rights and governance issues.

She said they had resolved to writing to the President to communicate critical human rights issues which they consider pertinent for his attention and action.

She said they were convinced that the President was aware that as organisations working to emancipate vulnerable Sierra Leoneans, they have been campaigning for the release from the prison and ultimate freedom of six executive members of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA), who were pronounced guilty by the High Court in Bo on 4th February, 2016 and to pay the sum of Le210 million or serve a jail term of six months each.

She said that the CSOs considered the fines as astronomical for people that are already very poor and living through basic subsistence farming. She said that they believe in the innocence of the six land rights activists and having in mind the conflicting situation that their imprisonment would have caused, they were calling on the President to look beyond the reasons why as national CSOs they had to galvanise efforts to get the six land rights activists out of prison.

She continued that it was no secret that judicial procedures are most often antagonistic and their outcomes, if not accepted by the parties concerned, could become proximate cause of conflict.

She said they strongly believe that keeping the MALOA Six in prison could also ignite communal tension with potential security implications.

She underscored that Malen Chiefdom has a chiefdom size of 34,370.9 hectares and that SOCFIN was laying claim to over 50% of the chiefdom with 18,481 hectares in their possession, including a cultivated area of some 12,500 hectares.

She revealed that only less than ten villages are not affected by what she described as SOCFIN’S land takeover.

She said Sierra Leoneans would be at risk of becoming tenants in their own lands, while foreign investors become the landlords, thus pleading with the government to seriously consider the matter and think of declaring a temporary moratorium on large scale land transaction and acquisition until all necessary safe guards, through appropriate laws, regulations and policies, have been put in place to ensure benefits for all.

She further stated that they would continue to draw the attention of the president to the fact that four land lease agreements have been acquired by SOCFIN, with only two of the four agreements available.

“As President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, and given your constitutional authority and recognised as father of the nation, we have great expectations that you would at all times demonstrate continued goodwill and interest in protecting the interests of all Sierra Leoneans by safeguarding their rights, safety and the work of civil society to foster good governance and democracy in the country,” reads the statement.

She recalled the statement made by President Koroma during his inauguration, in which he stated that his government was open to dialogue on land issues.

She therefore urged that dialogue be pursued urgently in settling any outstanding, pending and unattended issues concerning the huge SOCFIN investment.

Also speaking, former lawmaker, Shiaka Musa Sama, who is one of the six MALOA convicts, said they were grateful to CSOs for standing with them and ensuring that they gain their freedom, adding that they hold no personal grievances against any person.

He said their action was to purely secure their land because 70 percent of the people in that chiefdom get their livelihood from the land.

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