Gov’t Intervenes In EPO-Bassa Land Crisis

By Alva M. Wolokolie

Justice Minister Christiana Tah has appealed to thousands of residents in Grand Bassa County District #4 to operate within the spirit of the 1965 concession agreement and 2007 ratification of the Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) Company concession, which authorizes the company to carry out its investment.

Minister Tah clarified to the citizens that the conduct of resurvey is not intended to deprive them of their land but to determine where the land begins and ends.

Addressing a group of citizens in the Port City of Buchanan during the weekend, Minister Tah advised the residents to remain calm while the government investigates and render decision on the matter.

Responding to a petition from the aggrieved citizens of the district who are already been threatened with eviction by LIBINCO/EPO’s ongoing resurvey, Minister Tah, also the Attorney General of Liberia promised that the various counts in the petition will be communicated to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who is out of the country and by yesterday, Monday, September 23, 2013 a decision would have been reached to resolve the land dispute between the management of EPO and the people of that area.

In the petition, the aggrieved citizens said they embrace development but the company has gone beyond its traditional limit (NewCess), and entered Kpoewin and Jogba Clans. They also pointed out that government should protect its dignity by living up to its own instrument(s) and law(s) to allow the word “NewCess” to prevail over the 34,500 acres.

The citizens want a team of surveyors supervised by an independent body to be mandated to re-survey the areas in which the company has its standing and felled palm trees.

Also in their petition, the citizens said if the need arises, government should find an additional area outside of the district to be an addendum to whatsoever acres the company is currently using.

It can be recalled few months ago, tension brewed between EPO and the citizens when the company attempted to conduct a resurvey of 34,500 acres of land being leased for oil palm development.

The resurvey when conducted, will give EPO an idea of the total land available for its operation. It is also aimed at locating towns and villages, safe drinking water sources, sacred places, grave sites and farm lands which are protected by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) regulation and government.

This pending process was however misunderstood and misinterpreted as a means of dispossessing the citizens of the district of their ancestral land.

As a result of this, the locals resisted the company’s resurvey and ordered the company to halt its expansion project. They also requested to directly interact with the investor, accused the Liberian National Police (LNP) officers of brutalizing them and stressed that they do not want traditional leaders to be involved with the issues.

During the dispute, the company incurred huge loss, as the palm seedlings on nursery over grew owing to the fact that there was no available land to transplant them. Within that period, the management laid off over 150 workers on grounds that its operation was halted and there was no work to be done by the former employees.