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What Is Green Scenery’s Problem?
One of the major problems Sierra Leone has been grappling with for many decades now is how the Government should attract more Direct Foreign Investments to change the economic narrative of the country which is naturally endowed with dozens of minerals many of which had never even been tapped yet. Over forty-four million hectares of arable lands have not been cultivated as Sierra Leone continues to import her staple food – rice to the tune of over US$2 million annually.
While His Excellency President Brig. (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio and his New Direction Government are globe-trotting in order to woo more foreign investors to invest in various sectors in the country, including agriculture, mining, tourism, marine among other sectors, there are some so-called Sierra Leonean environmental and human rights activists instigating gullible people to rebel against genuine investors that have made long-term investments in the country running into tens of millions of United States Dollars and creating employment for indigenes in their areas of operations, thereby changing their standards of life. A typical example of a foreign investment in the country that has had such bitter experience is the Socfin Agricultural Company operating in Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun District, Southern Region. Since the agricultural company went into legal land agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone, local authorities and the affected people in Sahn Malen Chiefdom whose Paramount Chief was Paramount Chief Member of Parliament for Pujehun District, the Director of an environmental organization called Green Scenery, Joseph Rahall, the Independent Member of Parliament from Sahn Malen Chiefdom, Hon. Siaka Sama and other organizations and individuals claiming to be fighting for the rights of the people have been and are still at the jugular of Socfin Agricultural Company despite the company is legally operating in the chiefdom, creating employment for the indigenes and fulfilling its corporate social responsibility.
Since Socfin Agricultural Company has the largest oil mill in West Africa and wanted to upgrade its production from 30 tons per hour to 60 tons per hour, it went into a US$15 million loan agreement with ING Bank in Brussels, Belgium to finish the project in Sahn Malen that could be very expensive.
The company and the bank had struck the loan deal and immediately the latter approved the loan, the Director of Green Scenery, Joseph Rahall went to Brussels with a woman called Margaret Fassia Vandy, whose land or bush at Banalleh Village was not even touched by the company, to block the loan deal. Both antagonists of the company told ING Bank not to release the money to Socfin Agricultural Company to expand its investment in Sahn Malen.
The so-called Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) including MALOA, Earth Netherlands and Green Scenery were very specific about the activities of Socfin that involves palm oil in Sahn Malen Chiefdom. They claim, among other things, that they support local communities in defending their rights, pointing out that the loans given by ING Bank to SocFin hurt them because their lands have been taken away from them through land grabs. The demonstrators called ING one of the “dirtiest banks in Europe,” saying that palm oil leads to deforestation, land grabbing and human rights violations and therefore urged ING Bank to stop financing palm oil.
An ING spokesman however wrote: “ING gives a lot of importance to the respect for human rights.
As a general rule, when ING is made aware of problems, we engage in a dialogue with our clients in order to find a solution. We really believe in exerting influence via engagement and dialogue rather than through exclusion. Exclusion cancels all influence that we could have on this topic. And stopping this relationship will not guarantee any changes. Engagement allows us to advance together, which takes time. If there is no engagement or changes with some of our clients or sectors, we end the relationship,” she added.
Consequently, ING Bank reportedly cancelled the loan deal with Socfin Agricultural Company because of the unpatriotic behaviour of Joseph Rahall and Margaret Fassia Vandy, who claim to be protecting the rights of the landowners despite they know that the operations of the company in Sahn Malen were endorsed by the Government of Sierra Leone, the local authorities of Pujehun District and the landowners of Sahn Malen Chiefdom. Why is Joseph Rahall destroying the country’s economic progress by blocking a loan that would lead to the upgrading of the company’s production and its eventual exportation of palm oil? If the US$15 million was released by the bank, it would have gone a long way to improve the company’s production and the eventual exportation of palm oil for foreign exchange. Now that Joseph Rahall has succeeded in blocking the release of the bank loan, it means that Socfin Agricultural Company will definitely go insolvent and the ramification is that thousands of people employed by the company will lose their jobs. If the Government of Sierra Leone that authorized the agricultural company to legally operate in Sahn Malen Chiefdom allows Joseph Rahall and other saboteurs to have their way, it will have itself to blame when hundreds of Sierra Leoneans would have lost their jobs amidst the current economic hardship in the country.
How would foreign investors interested in investing in the agricultural sector come and do business in Sierra Leone when our Government is allowing so-called environmental and human rights activists to disrupt the operations of the few foreign investors in the agricultural sector? How the Chinese investors the New Direction Government is talking about would invest in the agricultural sector if the so-called environmental and human rights activists are allowed to defy agreements between the Government of Sierra Leone and foreign investors?
By and large, the Government of Sierra Leone would be held responsible should the operations of Socfin Agricultural Company fail in Sahn Malen because of the unpatriotic behavior of Joseph Rahall and others. The company did not come into Sierra Leone and started operating on its own without going into agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone, the local authorities of Pujehun District, including the District Council, and stakeholders of Sahn Malen Chiefdom.
I believe with the intervention of the Government of Sierra Leone, the bank loan that has been unpatriotically blocked by Joseph Rahall and his cronies through demonstration in Brussels would be released to Socfin Agricultural Company to upgrade its production, thereby creating more jobs for Sierra Leoneans, living to its tax obligations and corporate social responsibility. Sierra Leoneans are listening and watching to see how the Bio administration, which has made agriculture as one of its priorities, can handle the problem between the agricultural company and the so-called environmental and human rights activists claiming to be protecting the rights of affected landowners.
I could be very pleased with the response of the ING spokesman following the demonstration: “ING gives a lot of importance to the respect for human rights.
As a general rule, when ING is made aware of problems, we engage in a dialogue with our clients in order to find a solution. We really believe in exerting influence via engagement and dialogue rather than through exclusion. Exclusion cancels all influence that we could have on this topic. And stopping this relationship will not guarantee any changes. Engagement allows us to advance together, which takes time. If there is no engagement or changes with some of our clients or sectors, we end the relationship.” This calls for the direct intervention of the Government of Sierra Leone to see how best it can engage the activists, ING Bank and Socfin Agricultural Company so that at the end of the day, all parties would be satisfied and Sierra Leone would certainly be the beneficiary.
Green Scenery and Joseph Rahall are also trying to get into undermining natural habitat investment in the country.
The statement by President Julius Maada Bio in Kenema recently urging residents that “Cocoa and Coffee are better than diamond,” President Bio explains. “Therefore, stop the mining and do agriculture, we as government are committed to support.
The above statement by President Bio is a clear manifestation that the New Direction will not allowed misguided organizations such as Green Scenery and Joseph Rahall to openly sabotage the government despite the call of President Bio in his overseas visit in wooing investors to help reshaping the economy.