Thomas vandi Gbow: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 November 2018:
Several unsubstantiated allegations have been made by certain people about Socfin Agriculture Company in Sierra Leone that need clarifications.
Socfin has 12,500 hectares out of the 27, 000 hectares of Sahn Malen Chiefdom in Pujehun District. The company has only planted about 40% of the entire hectares that comprised Malen.
In the leased area, there are a total of 11000 adults whose taxes are fully paid by Socfin, while the company also pays directly to the Government of Sierra Leone or Government agencies for the 18,000 hectares of the leased land, since the agricultural company only holds a sub-lease.
Socfin has no influence on payment of the aforesaid money and some of those bent on tarnishing the reputation of the company at all cost, are privy to this.
It must also be emphasized here that contrary to claims that “the company through its surveyors and the Paramount Chief cheated them during surveys,” Socfin did not take any piece of land without the owner agreeing or accepting the compensation money.
Besides, various plots of land are not utilised. Surveys were also done with the owner/user of the land, the Village Chief and Government Representative fully in attendance.
ALL records pertaining to these transactions are available to the public and can be obtained from both at the chiefdom authorities and Socfin, upon simple request.
But despite the availability of these records, some people would prefer to distort the facts in order to set the Malen indigenes against the company.
The 49,000 alleged to be the total population of Sahn Malen Chiefdom is a figment of the imagination of those promoting discord. Even Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats SL) that conducted the last Population and Housing Census (PHC) in December 2015 would disagree with that figure.
Anti-Socfin protesters must also be challenged to produce the names of Socfin employees earning below the minimum wage of Le500, 000.00 (Five hundred thousand Leones).
These pathological lies coupled with the so-called Shiaka Sama’s nonsensical remarks without checking has done serious disservice to the people of Malen in particular, and Sierra Leone in general.
Socfin is answerable to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security or the Sierra Leone Labour Congress (SLLC) in terms of employment, and not to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) or Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that have bad intentions for the company.
Those likening working in the palm oil plantation to “slave labour”, must stop spreading pathological lies about Socfin because such negativity would scare away foreign investors.
On the issue of human rights violations, they are only violated by individuals or institutions that deprive people of making ends meet.
How can Socfin violate people’s human rights when the company’s conditions of service for workers are in line with international best practice?
No one is forced to work on the plantation. All those working for the company are gainfully employed by the company.
The vice president of Sierra Leone and ministers are engaging with the community, the company and stakeholders, to find a lasting solution to the dispute and this process must be given a chance – not undermined.