By Antoinette Sendolo
Golden Veroleum (VL) has strongly disproved the allegations contained in the Global Witness (GW) report recently released regarding its operations in Liberia on grounds that GW is not aware of GVL’s operations in the country.
According to GVL’s head of corporate communications, Mr. Virgil Magee, GVL recently met with Global Witness in London to respond to 20 draft assertions submitted to the institution for comments ahead of the report publication.
“We are highly transparent in all our operations and have repeatedly invited local and international NGOs to work with us. In the past few months, a number of prominent national NGOs have begun engagement with GVL, including developing agreements in principle for these NGOs to monitor our community engagement practices,” Mr. Magee said.
The Global Witness report alleged that GVL accelerated its conversion activity during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 but the head of GVL’s corporate communication said in a strong term that the allegation is wrong and misleading.
“These allegations are simply wrong. 70% of all land preparation activity in 2014 was undertaken prior to the major outbreak of Ebola in August, and from that point activity was significantly scaled back against our 2014 development plan, in response to the crisis. All activity that GVL did undertake during this period was done whilst taking necessary Ebola precautions, which included community briefings, providing latex gloves, protective gears, buckets and disinfectants, Ebola prevention posters and other appropriate literature,” Magee added.
Magee added that the institution is proud of the fact that as an early and active member of the Ebola Private Sector Mobilization Group (EPSMG) and also through its direct activities on the ground, none of those who lived in the communities where they operate and none of their 3,400 employees contracted Ebola.
Addressing a team of journalists in Monrovia, Mr. Magee stressed that Global Witness does not operate in Liberia so they are not aware of GVL’s works in the country noting that Global Witness has to come to Liberia instead of releasing report from London.
“The report also makes assertions of coercion and improper dealings by government officials and possibly by GVL employees. These assertions are historical in nature and were previously investigated and showed that GVL has not been a party to any coercion or improprieties and there is no evidence of such action. Our policies on these matters are publicly available on our website (http://goldenveroleumliberia.com/index.php/downloadable-content/policies).” Magee further explained.
Recently Global Witness released a report on GVL alleging that “State officials are said to be helping the palm oil company Golden Veroleum (GVL) harass communities into signing away their land and crush dissent. Global Witness revealed how GVL accelerated its operations at the peak of Liberia’s 2014 Ebola outbreak, holding meetings with hundreds of people and encouraging illiterate citizens to sign away their land rights when community support groups were staying home for risk of contagion. At this time GVL almost doubled the size of its plantation.”
The report also alleged that public meetings where landowners were encouraged to hand over their land to GVL were watched over by powerful local officials, and in at least one case armed police. Global Witness also documented several accounts of violent assaults and arbitrary arrests of those who voiced their concerns and benefits offered by GVL to communities in return have been negligible. Those willing to work for the company are promised access to free medical support and schools. For non-employees, the most tangible negotiated benefits Global Witness could find evidence of were six toilets.