LIBERIA: Senator Johnson impressed with SDPL Exit strategy
Bomi County Senator and chairman on Concession at the upper house, Senate, Sando Johnson said he is impressed with the professional manner in which Sime Darby Liberia plantation carried out its exit plan.
Speaking to journalists recently at his office, he said, the strategy applied by SDPL showed its level of responsibility in dealing with business globally.
Recently, the company turned over all its properties to Mano Company after going through all the necessary requirements. The takeover plan has been in the pipeline for over a year now.
SDPL was not making profit on its Liberia investment and decided to pull out. A number of buyers went through rigorous selection process. Later, it was won by Mano Palm Oil Industry, a subsidiary of Mano company, which has been in Liberia for over 50 years.
“I think the decision by SDPL was a good idea. They had some challenges and decided to sell out. They decided to sell out to another Company-Mano. And I think they went through all of the processes legally and vigorously with the involvement of the government and other relevant institutions, “he said.
The company singed a-63-year concession agreement with the Liberian government during the regime of former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2009 to develop 220,000 hectares of land in Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Gbarpolu and Bong Counties into oil palm and rubber plantations. But it was not able to develop even half of it due to the unavailability of land and other technical problems. It was only able to develop 10,500 hectors.
Senator Johnson said, “It is a good thing and the transitional period is working. I m told that SDPL, some of their expatriates (technical people) will remain here to help the new company for, I think eight months or a year. And at the end of the time, is optional, either the company hires them or decides not to.”
No Mass Dismissal
He said, one of the things as investment chairman he was happy about is there will be no mass dismissal of employees. That was what I capture. That there was no redundancy. The black managers who are in their positions, will remain to where they are as the transitional period is on. Based on their work, they will either stay on their work or reassigned them.
Another one he commended SDPL was settling its liabilities. “I am told that SDPL will pay all of their liabilities. That is good. As soon as all their liabilities are paid, then we will look at the new company how it proceeds. But I think it is a good thing and a responsible way that SDPL carried out its exist from here.”
He is however working with the locals and the new company to see the incorporation of the Project Affected Communities(PAC). “I was in the county recently and I met with the Project Affected Communities. We are trying to talk with them to see how they can be incorporated as the PAC so they can have a smooth operations. The PAC leadership, we met with them, the other senator from Cape Mount, Watson.”
He said the new company was listening to them. “They are the one you are going to work with. You have to be in good rapport with them.
Agreement with former president Sirleaf:
He admitted that there were some fundamental issues with the concession agreement signed by former president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“The agreement with SDPL was not bad when It was signed during the regime of madam Sirleaf. That was an attempt to attract investment. The intent was not bad. It was a way to attract investment. If you look at that region, there is no major investment in that region at all. No big company was there. So, the coming of SDPL under madam Sirleaf was a way to take investment to the people from there. It created the atmosphere of employment where people were not running healthier skater.”
He said, the former BF Good ridge was mismanaged by ex-combatants, noting you cannot have ex- combatants situated at that place. You have to look at the political and security risk. I stand to be corrected. But because the anxiety for the investment, the people did not do proper due diligence regarding the land issue. I think because of the anxiety to have investment in the place they did not do due diligence.
According to him, the anxiety to create jobs and have investment there, there was no due diligence. People did not go back to sit down to look at where the land is and who has the land. So, they left most of that one undone. The concession agreement was done, but they did not meet the locals first; the government I mean,” he said.
The 220, 000 hectors, he said, the company was only able to develop 10,500 hectors. “That was just a drop in a bucket. So, if SDPL has invested over US80m to get where this investment is today, so what you expect. So, when people invest money, they expect returns from their investment. I think SDPL was operating and not getting profit. The land was not given and two, the housing, the ex-combatants occupied them. All of the the ex-combatants remain in the houses with the understanding that SDPL would employ them. So, they did not leave at all. They occupied the properties and refused to leave. They could not give the land and they could not employ all of them. Then the government did not have the political will to act.”
He said, SDPL complained about land. “So, even if you have given them 50,000 hectors, they would have done well, but what they developed was not good at all. They were constrained to employ a smaller number of people because of the land space they had.”
He said, he expects the new company to have good relationship with the locals. “We are saying that they need to have good relationship with the locals. Because government will not do all for them. They have to open corridors where they will have direct communication with the people and the community dwellers. Once they can find that peace , it will be good and then the government will come in. try to encourage them.”
“We want to be thankful to SDPL and the government to reach to this level we are today. It was a good decision to turn over to another company in a responsible way. That is good and we encourage them to provide the technical support to the new company until they can be on their own.”