Sime Darby Embracing The Storm – A Story of Hurdles And Breakthroughs

By Paul Hunter |

A partial view of Matambo Estate

It remains an uncontestable fact that an enabling business environment is a sine-qua-non to the enhancement of greater investment opportunities in any society.

As a country badly in need of outpouring of foreign investments to open up its drained economy, it becomes imperative that Liberia and Liberians acted in good faith to accommodate huge concessionaires. The administration of former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, did well by attracting some top world class investment ; Sime Darby, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Arcelor Mittal, Western Cluster, Golden Veroleum among others.

However, unfolded developments against the interest of foreign investments like in the case of Sime Darby unraveled skepticism and nervousness.

The Company which relishes 63 years of tenure but renewable agreement with Liberia, experienced terrible hurdles attributable to the understanding “beginning of anything often goes without enormous challenges.” As Liberia’s pioneer oil palm company, other factors may have played into such repugnancy, but understandingly, it is largely because the company ventured into an ‘unchartered territory’ in the sense that little was Liberia or Liberians’ understanding and acceptance of such investment.

Visitation by UN team to SDPL factory

In the first few years, citizens of the Sime Daby’s operation areas principally and unreservedly resisted the company’s generosity and got jumpy with so many good things, some of which that might have been, by and large, stage-managed by people who were aware of the success of having a company of such nature, but tried to play evil due to different competing interests.

For example, acquiring lands and carrying on clearings proved confrontationally tetchy, let alone expanding beyond cleared lands, to other areas considered in its agreement. As records are concerned, acquiring people for employment, based on needs and terrains, became terrifying nightmare for a Company that had shown great deal of receptivity. Demonstrations, at some point in time, became the order of the day, in a way that overwhelmingly hampered the Company’s operations and progression. Important to mention, the initial stage of Sime Darby operations was without the destruction of facilities, including burning of planted palms by people who opposed progress, or chose evil over the good the company stands for. By this time, the Company had spent millions of dollars to support the Liberia project and keep it alive, to become a success story for the country’s emerging oil palm industry.

Those were impediments with the propensity to push the company toward a decision that would have been detrimental for the country, considering the economic benefits associated with its presence in Liberia, a country just emerged from a terrible civil war that left it economically bankrupt and socially disjointed.

Bomi County, Samuel Brown told reporters at some time last year that it was unfortunate that the citizens did not understand the golden opportunity they were sitting on.

“All those things happened I think, because some NGOs were somewhere misleading them to act. But today, the story is changing. My people now value this company, “ he said.

All were terribly destructive storms to embrace in a new business atmosphere; it was a risky venture to endure, yet it was a test of time and determination and perseverance. Notwithstanding these strenuous conditions of revulsion and resistance, the Company used objective reasonableness to remain engaged, open new frontiers of greater accessibility, greater openness and sociability

As an outcome of doggedness and uncompromising policies adoption and implementation, the hurdles are beginning to evaporate, giving way to good fortunes of breakthroughs, allowing new breeze of understanding and cooperation to blossom.

By this, a new sense of belonging seems to be taking roots and implanted into the citizens who once created a buffer of confusion and non-cooperation. Of course, the new wave of success is tied to Sime Darby’s consistent positive approaches in line with its social corporate responsibility portfolio, which it so priced in its operations across the world.

Having understood the positive nature of Sime Darby operations and presence in their localities, citizens are now beginning to show great depth of appreciation for the Company for the many contributions it has made and continue to make. For example, citizens of Operations areas continue to heap praises on the Company for opening new frontiers of positive developments, such as the provision of solar panels to light up communities, the first of its kind that citizens are sitting under lights at night to socialize and discuss issues beneficiary to their development.

Even, the company presence is needed in other counties. But now, citizens of the Bomi and Cape Mount are becoming overprotective because the dust of uncertainty which once covered their faces has been cleared.

 

The Company also provides buses to ease transportation burdens for students and employees. As part of the Company’s gesture, employees are benefiting from loan scheme, the first to be introduced by any of the post-war concessionaires.

These are welcoming undertakings that shed light on Sime Darby’s mission, its purpose and overall business interest, not only to make profit (the core of business), but to address and respond to the economic and social needs of needy Liberians. These fresh happenings serve as impetus for the citizens who insist the company should begin, without delay, to expand its operations to areas earmarked under the Agreement.

As a recognized and responsible global business conglomerate, Sime Darby conforms to all norms and standards of oil palm operations, and would do nothing to undermine these core values of international business principles.

“To be honest with you, when the company first came, many of our people did not know its intention. But today, they are getting to know. Even me, I gave them tough time from the onset. We are happy today to see the business grow. There is a factory presently,” Alex Balu, head of a local civil society organization in Cape Mount county once told reporters.

The company is bind by the international agreement on Carbon Forest Preservation, and until otherwise, it stands by the rules. This means, there are some areas which cannot be touched by the company due to the presence of High Carbon in certain areas.

Residents in such areas see the no operation there as denying them of their basic social rights.

“Why the company developed other areas like the estate in Matambo and Gbah, but when it reached to us, they are talking about Carbon Stock studies. We do think it is unfair for us and our children. So, how will this place be developed,” Samuel Semeh, a resident in Zodua, the area which is said to have high carbon stock presence.

However, after about seven years of operations in a post-war environment of different constraints, Sime Darby is embracing the storm and its story is changing from that of hurdles to that breakthroughs.

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About Cholo Brooks 11575 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.