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“Although they are doing well with employment Socfin needs to engage with the Community People in Sahn Malen” to address grievances and challenges

“Although they are doing well with employment Socfin needs to engage with the Community People in Sahn Malen” to address grievances and challenges

…Vice President Juldeh Jalloh says

 By Ishmael Kindama Dumbuya

The Land issues in the Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun is developing into another thing that is developing into a worrying situationwhereby if the government of Sierra Leone continue to look it with a doll-eye, it is set to escalate into a massive conflict that the state may hardly able to handle.

More than 30,000 acres of land (up to 95%) of the total area of Sahn Malen Chiefdom was grabbed (some illegally) by the Socfin Agricultural Company for their Palm Plantation almost seven years ago without proper negotiation with the community people and landowners in Sahn Malen Chiefdom.

Before the 2018 presidential and Parliamentary elections, there has been lots of resistance from the Community landowners but past government of former President Ernest Bai Koroma failed to heed to the demands of the people for amicable solutions. During the electioneering period, the current President of Sierra Leone, Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio promised the people of Sahn Malen and Pujehun District to settle their problems after he is elected president.

President Maada Bio instituted a committee to negotiate and solve the problems in the Chiefdom as well as proffer back recommendations that will see the peaceful coexistence of the people of Sahn Malen and the Socfin Agricultural Company. The Committee is headed by the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh. The Vice president has visited the Sahn Malen Chiefdom and the SAC for up to three times and as recent as in December, thwarted a planned 40 days’ ultimatum for a demonstration. 

While conducting an interview on the Sahn Malen issue at his residence in Freetown, the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh who was appointed by the President to head a mediation team in the Chiefdom said the “Sahn Malen issue is central to two challenges”. The first the VP said “is the failure of the previous government to address the mechanism for compensation for the land meaning that there was not a very clear, transparent functional mechanism to ensure the monies Socfin is giving to the communities reaches to the actual land owners”.

Vice President Jalloh remarked that “we need to ensure these monies that come from the company every years goes to the rightful owners. Because the compensation does not go to the people who owns the land, the only thing they can attack for that inadequacy and that challenge is the Socfin Company because it is the company that they see. They don’t see the government but the government need to take its responsibility from the initial stage the mistake was made. Our own government is going to worktowards correcting that mistake”.

The Vice President added that “everywhere around the world where you have companies and these companies are doing very well, the Communities around these companies think that the Companies owes them something big; i.e. the Corporate Social Responsibilities.  Most times, if these companies find themselves in regions where government have neglected and lacks the basic social services and other development projects, the people will see the lack of development in their communities and will blame it on the companies. At the end of the day you will see double anger by the communities against the company”.

After investigating about the problems and the visit of many Communities within where Socfin is operating, the Vice president said they will “now essentially establish a technical Committee that will go back to Sahn Malen to go into details and look at some of these issues and engage with the Communities and the Company and see what we can put as a potential package that will help to solve the problems”.

Speaking further on the elements that consists of the package, the Vice President said “our own government is going to correct the elements of inadequacy for compensation” that was not there in the past adding that the “government is going to ensure that the social services that is supposed to be provided by the government is fulfilled because that will reduce the tension of conflict in that area”. The Vice president added that “essentially, the technical Committee is going to look at water supply facilities and check how these communities are accessing water supply facilities and how we can produce additional water supply facilities such as boreholes for the communities”.

Still on the social services for the Community people, the Vice President reiterated that ‘we are going to establish an Agricultural Extension Office to support the community to go into Agricultural farmingin other to improve their livelihood because if they have given most of their lands to Socfin and are receiving monetary compensation which normally don’t reach them, it means they don’t have somewhere to farm. So it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the limited space they have is well taken care ofthrough access to fertilizers and other social responsibilities like effective schooling now that we have the free quality education and to ensure where there is no school we build schools there”.

Although most of the lands have been occupied and a little less than 500 meters left around the villages, the Vice president reiterated that they will be looking into a recommendation by the previous government for a perimeter land of 500m to be left around the villages to ensure the Communities are engaged in domestic farming for their livelihood in those villages.

Commenting further, the VP opined that the only way the Company can operate successfully in Sahn Malen is to operate in a total stable environment adding that “to operate within a total stable environment is not only geared at materials benefit, it’s not only about giving people hospitals, giving them money but it’s also giving them a total solid engagement with the Community that is key to Social Corporate Responsibilities although they have been doing very well in terms recruiting sons and Children of the Community, they can also do more by engaging with the Communities, i.e. to beyond the local traditional ruling families and local Chiefs and engage with the Communities directly“. He revealed that some workers in the Company complained that because the plantations are vast, they have difficulties with transportation from one place to another where they are suppose to go and work. He suggested that the Company can also do more by transporting people to their places of work because if you are working by foot, by the time you reach at your point of work you are tired and the energy is gone. “The Company also need to provide water for them while working as many had complained of contaminated water in swamps” the VP said.

While he was speaking on the harsh conditions and tasks workers are faced with in the Company, the Vice President stated that the “government should have been at the heart of negotiating for the Social Corporate Responsibilities that include respecting the minimum wage and also making sure that conditions such as health care are clearly stated for the Workers with proper monitoring by the government”. 

Speaking more on the lease document of a vast area that is hardly to be seen by either the Community land owners or any interested party, the Vice President said “we are going to review everything in the lease agreement and state the responsibility of the Company and that of the government”. He added that even if a government have the finest labor laws, if there is no monitoring, one will not blame the Company at the end of the day clearly opined that from his observation, it was government that was responsible to check and ensure the Company operate in the standard norm and treat people in best humane way.    

According to Vice President Jalloh, the Company must respect the environment because “as a government, we are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations with clear respect to the environment. We are expecting that any Company that Comes to operate here is in line with our development planning of which respect and protection of the environment is capital”.

Speaking on the demands and calls of a Civil Society organization like Green Scenery for an investigation commission into the underlying issues in Sahn Malen, the Vice President said “now that the government had established a mediation team headed by me and other four Ministers, we are going to see whether an investigation team is necessary. The whole idea of establishing an investigation team know about the problem but if you already know about the problems, I don’t think we need to establish an independent investigation team”. Including people from the Community and the Socfin Company, the VP said “this is why we are going to establish a technical team that will go to the Community and check all angles and will be able o advice the mediation team on the soil, the needs of the communities, the compensation mechanisms, whether the lease agreement pose some challenges etc and propose recommendations which we as a government will discuss with the Communities and Local Stakeholders and shared understanding with the Company and push for their implementation”.    

According to the VP, “sometimes when people talk about independent Commission they look it essentially from the Human rights perspective and I am telling you this is not more of a human rights perspective, it’s a developmental challenge, it’s a question of livelihood and Communities think they have given their land and they should be adequately compensated and at the same time government should support them to create alternative sources of livelihood which is to engage in alternative farming”.

Speaking further, the Vice President reiterated the fact that sometimes “it’s not that the Companies are bad, it’s because of the failures of the government to monitor the Companies that is causing people to see them as bad” adding that “the New Direction Government of retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio is serious about investment and is ready to protect investors and as well monitor their activities in the country.

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