Circuit Judge Hindering Investment?
….-Reportedly Stalling Sime Darby Eviction Process, Removal Of Illegal Occupant
When the local court Judge in Ghah, Bomi county, Gloria J. Reed of the Magistrate Court ruled in favor of Sime Darby plantation to evict illegal occupants from its houses, the lawyer representing the illegal occupants rushed to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Tubmanburg to put a halt to the ruling.
The case has been before His Honor William B. Sando for over two months to carry out determination. So far, the Judge is yet to take any action, thus making some employees, especially those who are expected to move into the houses to burst out their anger in frustration.
They are accusing the Judge of staling the eviction exercise.
According to some employees who spoke with some journalist last week, said the eviction was intended to help improve their housing conditions. “WE are renting every month and we have free house that we suppose to move in. Now, we are not getting it,” some remarked.
Some legal experts said, a Summary Proceeding is a resistance against the decision of a lower court Judge and the party taking Summary takes the matter to the higher judge to correct what it sees as error on the part of the lower judge before a final determination into the matter.
That was what the illegal occupants lawyer did. But the legal expert added, with normal legal practice in Liberia, in the case of a Summary, the Judge is to expeditiously deicide the matter within few days to enable the parties to the dispute have a conclusion to the matter.
But this is not the case with Judge Sando. They see him as the person staling the process and making them to spend unnecessarily.
According to some employees, the eviction exercise should have taken place last year.
The company has carried out all the necessary awareness programs in line with the eviction exercise of the non employees living in the houses. Some of the employees are expressing frustration over the delay.
One employee said he thinks the Judge could be seeking for, perhaps ‘brown envelope” before releasing the order. This paper was unable to authenticate his allegation on the Judge.
“The magistrate has been delaying in issuing the eviction notice. This is making it difficult for us to move it. The longer the non-employees remain there, the more difficult things become for us that suppose to occupy these properties,” one Kemokai, said.
“We think this is wrong on the part of the magistrate. We do not know what she wants. We are appealing to her to release the eviction notice so that some of us can move in,” they said.
Due to the current economic situation in the country and the global community, the management of Sime Darby Plantation Liberia has since taken a decision to improve the living conditions of its employees that will be in line with its operational budget.
The occupation has led to a sharp increase in the company’s monthly expenditure. “Do you know that the number of people taking free medical treatment at the SDPL clinic has increased from four hundred monthly to close to one thousand?”, one clinic staff said.
According to records, many of those who take free medical services there, are residents from the non-employees quarters. That has increased the expenditure of the company.
The workers said, the action of the magistrate is totally unacceptable and described it as a means to undermine government’s investment program.
“Already, this company is threatening to leave and government is talking with them to remain. But the action of the magistrate is not encouraging at all and sends a bad signal to business world,” one Abraham P. Zinah said.
According to employees, it is affecting the smooth operations of the company that is also facing enormous challenges from illegal occupants of its properties, illegal harvesting of its oil palm, series of attacks on its security officers among others.
The company signed a 63-year concession in 2009 to develop 220,000 hectares of land in northwest Liberia into oil palm and rubber plantations.
The concession makes up a fifth of Sime Darby Plantation’s total land bank, but so far only 10,000 hectares have been planted due to factors including an Ebola outbreak, severe environmental standards, unwillingness of locals to leave the land among others.
The company is reported to have spent over US$200 million on its operations in the country and have not been able to breakeven on this investment.
Sources close to the company told this paper that the reported move comes as the company’s return on investment in the country has been lower than expected due to disappointing planting activity amid sterner new international environmental standards among other domestic issues.
Although the company has remained tightlipped on these issues, but the latest actions by the Magistrate of the Magisterial Court might be another cause of worry for the company.
President George Manneh Weah recently said in a statement that the country could not afford to lose a major investor such as Sime Darby Plantation, and that the government was “committed to doing everything possible to ensure that this investment stays here”.
Court officers told our local reporter who had gone to verify the allegation that the Judge was indispose.TNR