May 31, 2017 By Joseph S. Margai
MAYODU’s Chairman, Mustapha Fofana (left) and SOCFIN’s Liaison Manager, Joseph Edward Belmoh (right)
Stakeholders of Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District, Southern Sierra Leone, have issued a 21-day ultimatum to the General Manager of SOCFIN Agricultural Company, Philip Tonks and his Plantation Manager, Gordon Paterson, to go.
The stakeholders demanded that both of them should go for what they referred to as their ‘failure’ to honour some of the agreements made before their lands were leased to the company, thus calling on all labourers of the company to down tool.
With the exception of wetlands, SOCFIN Agricultural Company has leased all lands and has planted oil palm in about 12.5 hectares, which is approximately 30,000 acres, thus leaving the people with no arable land to farm.
The stakeholders have written several letters to the officials of the company, demanding them to adhere to some of the agreements made before leasing their lands to them.
Chairman, Malen Youth Development Union (MAYODU), Mustapha Fofana, who also doubles as town chief of Jombolon Malen, told Concord Times in his village last Friday, that they formed MAYODU to develop the chiefdom through advocacy.
He said they have written several letters to the General Manager of SOCFIN, but has always refused to address concerns raised in those letters.
“In one of our letters dated 20th May, 2017, we told the General Manager, Philip Tonks that the task given to labourers per day is too tedious, and that they should reconsider it. They used to have transportation system in place to take labourers from their villages to the oil palm plantation, but all the vehicles have been withdrawn,” Chief Mustapha Fofana explained.
He claimed that there was an agreement that SOCFIN should provide water and sanitation (WATSAN) facilities in every village, solar lights for children to study at night, construct court barrays, repair roads, but noted the company has refused to adhere to all of the above.
MAYODU Chairman said SOCFIN promised to plough and cultivate the available wetlands (swamps) for use, so that they would suffer from food shortage.
“They have not done that this year. The three tractors that were allocated to plough the wetlands have been withdrawn by the company,” he said.
He said they have been ordered not to transport palm oil to Bo town without the permission of SOCFIN and that anyone caught in that act would be charged to court.
He further claimed that there was no indigene from Malen chiefdom holding management position in the company, adding that such has undermined development in the chiefdom.
“The surface rent is too small, and, if shared among landowners, the highest a person might receive is forty thousand Leones (Le40,000),while the least is five thousand Leones (L5,000),” he stated.
“We also told them to employ people of Sahn Malen chiefdom but the company’s officials have refused to do so. On Sunday 21st May, 2017, all the section chiefs of the nine sections in Sahn Malen chiefdom including town chiefs and other stakeholders met and took a unanimous decision that the General Manager, Philip Tonks and Plantation Manager, Gordon Paterson, must go out. We have given them a 21-day ultimatum and failing to do so, would attract serious mayhem in this chiefdom.”
Representing Paramount Chief of Sahn Malen, Chiefdom Speaker, Shemgbe R. Moiguah, said he was aware of the letter written by MAYODU to the Country Manager of SOCFIN in Brussels, demanding that the General Manager and the Plantation Manager in Sierra Leone must go.
“The establishment of MAYODU is endorsed by Sahn Malen chiefdom authorities. In their letter to the Country Manager, they claimed that the task for labourers is too tedious particularly for women. They also complained about the withdrawal of vehicles conveying workers from their villages to the assembly points every morning,” he said.
He admitted that it was not a secret that workers were maltreated at SOCFIN, hence MAYODU gave a 21-day ultimatum for the GM and his PM to go.
Chief Moiguah said what surprised him most, was that, three days into the 21-day ultimatum, MAYODU ordered the labourers to down tool, which they adhered to.
“I want to say that all the issues raised in the letter were correct but MAYODU should have waited for the period of time given before they could have reacted,” he said.
He recalled that on the day that MAYODU instructed labourers to down tool, all the authorities in Pujehun district came to Malen to mediate between the company and the workers.
“In that mediation meeting, we urged them to return to work and they did. The General Manager also agreed to address some of the issues in that letter,” he added.
He disclosed that the company has been doing its corporate social responsibility by paying school fees for pupils at senior secondary school level, noting that they also provide 5,000 litres of palm oil to be sold to inhabitants of the chiefdom at an affordable price.
Speaking on the permission of the General Manager, SOCFIN’s Liaison Manager, Joseph Edward Belmoh, said he could not tell why stakeholders of Malen wanted the General Manager and Plantation Manager out.
However, he said, they have been able to plough the required 600 acres of wetlands for them to cultivate crops. Earlier this year, he noted, they called master farmers together in order to give them their farming calendar.
“In that meeting, they told us that we should plough the wetlands for them in February, do the harrowing in April and do the seed harrowing in May. All of the above have been properly done,” he added.
With regards the smuggling of palm oil to Bo town, SOCFIN’s Liaison Manager said they did not stop people from selling their palm oil but told them that whenever they want to take few jerry cans of palm oil anywhere out of the chiefdom, they should obtain permission from their town chiefs.
He recalled that they used to provide transportation for workers but they misused the opportunity by overloading the trucks, creating chaos, adding that there were reported cases of road accidents.
“SOCFIN spends over one billion Leones yearly in the area of corporate social responsibility. First aid treatment is everywhere in the oil palm plantation,” he said.