Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Sime Darby $800 million contract, “another form of extortion”

By: Tolo Bonah Corfah and Sam K. Zinnah

The recently signed $800 million “United States dollars” Concession contract between the government of Liberia and the multinational conglomerate Sime Darby is raising questions in counties to be affected. Recently, the question of whether Sime Darby’s contract is development oriented or just another white wash development was raised by Son/daughters of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu Counties. One angry looking gentleman from Gbarpolu asked “what does this contract means to poor rice and other agric-farmers in the affected counties”?
In the early 1920s Harvey Firestone, “with help from the US government” signed a dubious leased agreement with the Liberian government to cultivate one million acres of land into natural Rubber. The agreement was signed between the government of Liberia and Firestone without any import or knowledge of the local inhabitants whose land was taken. Overnight the government of Liberia and Firestone had forcibly turned Rice and Cassava farmers into Rubber planters and tappers. At the time the local inhabitants whose land had been given to Firestone for Rubber cultivation were forced to become Rubber planters for Firestone at minimum wage pay of 2 cents per day. Today, after more than 80 years in operation, the Firestone rubber tapper makes less than $6.00 a day while Firestone makes millions of dollars profit at the expense of poor or voiceless Liberians. Beside the starvation wages paid to Firestone rubber tapers, working conditions at the plantation is like what the non-profit group in Liberia, “Save my future Foundation” called “The Mark of Modern Slavery”.

Last week, the chairman of the National Investment Commission, Mr. Richard Tolbert was up on Capital Hill trying to persuade the law makers in ratifying the just signed $800 million concession contract between the government of Liberia and the multinational conglomerate Sime Darby of Malaysia to cultivate rubber and Oil Palm on 220,000 hectors of land in Bomi, Grand cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties. This land is in addition to the concession rights to the renegotiated concession rights to the B.F. Goodrich rubber farm in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties; which was awarded to the Kumpulun Guthrie Sendirian Berhad or KGB, a subsidiary of Sime Darby (
Are these investment beneficiaries to the inhabitants of these counties or just another political white wash to present fake improvement to the international community? Where is the good political governance that was promised during the 2005 elections?, the main objective for political governance in post-war Liberia should be to secure democracy by instilling checks and balances, which have been absent throughout Liberia's long history. Such political system “in a way” would limit or reduce the president or group of people’s power to no longer usurp so much power and wield such extraordinary influence over the fate of the majority and by so doing provide the conditions for sustained growth and development - not white washing old buildings, putting black water on roads and referring to them as development. The first task of political democracy in Liberia should be aimed at ensuring equal and unhindered access for all to state power, which “as history has shown” had been the most contentious issue in Liberian political life that to a large extend fueled the violence that we witnessed in Liberia for 14 years. Liberian leaders have either lacked a vision or the political will to enforce whatsoever vision they had for the development of Liberia. The Constitution, which should provide the framework for governance was disregarded and treated with discontent by the very people who should have upheld it. Liberian politicians are more talkative than doers. They bark more than they bite. Most Liberians grew under the perception, which of course is now becoming unacceptable, that only "doctors/well learned people" could govern Liberia. This explains why all of Liberia's past and present leaders had spent their energies seeking out doctorate titles, even if honorary, in order to bolster their position and create the erroneous impression that they were the custodian of knowledge.

During the 2005 general elections, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf professed to be the best candidate for the job that was chased by more than 20 candidates. Today, the promises zero tolerance on corruption, good governance, accountability and many more are flying through the political windows as kids stand-bye and watch the reality.

While vigorously fighting to defend his job last week, the NIC chairman told law makers that Sime Darby would provide amongst other things “resettlement benefits to the locals in the concession areas and that farmers wanting to farm would seek permission from the company to operate in their area”.
The need to attract companies to Liberia that will provide jobs to the working masses of
Our people can not be overemphasized, but what Liberians need to know is; what are
the socio-economic benefits to the locals? Are the local inhabitants involved in the
Negotiations to rehabilitate them from their farm lands? What are the so-called resettlement benefits?
Are the locals going to be evacuated from their villages and resettled somewhere else?
We need to know what the environmental impact will be on the land; will it be
like Firestone rubber company that is not only exploiting the workers, but has
ignored every environmental law on the books.
It was the believed of many Liberians that this government would not take the road other Liberian governments have taken in the past, which is getting into contractual agreements that did not benefit the country or the working masses but few elite.

The need for decentralization in Liberia

In the wake of continuous extortion of county resources, decentralization of state management is high recommended. Giving more power to the regions to determine local policies and development priorities, including such areas as education, social infrastructure and human development, as well as the power to implement these policies such as forming their own budgets, financing developmental policies, collecting certain types of taxes etc.. Likewise local authorities should be held accountable for what happen in their regions and they should be made less reliant on central authorities. Local authorities should have a share in managing state assets on their territories and gaining incomes from it as well for financing projects. To avoid outright manipulation of local authorities, particularly Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs, article 56, clause B of the 1986 Constitution be revisited and the power of the President to remove these local officials be transferred to a credible and well scrutinized National Legislature acting upon
a specific number of signatures of the local population in the respective localities of these officials, certified by the national election commission as valid. In this way, we might not have town chiefs coming to bring resolutions of support to the president out of fear of losing their jobs. Given that Liberia is a small country of less than five million and that the level of illiteracy is high, and in view of the fact that power had been the root of all evils in Liberia in as much as incumbents had feared parting with power because it will not be gotten back again, a revisit of article 50 of chapter VI of the 1986 Constitution which states that " person shall serve as President for more than two terms is highly recommended. It should “however”, be re-emphasized, nationally accepted (under international monitored) that no person who have held office for more than 2 separate consecutive terms should be allowed to contest further. Efforts should be made to exploit the opportunity for amendment that is provided for in article 93 of chapter XII of the 1986 Constitution.

The danger of corruption in post-war Liberia

Corruption increases the marginalization of minority groups including women. It leads to contestation of the state’s monopoly of force or radicalizes opposition to the State and most times contributing to conflict, destabilization and failed State. Most recovery programs aim at restoration of peace and stabilizing the economy through sustainable economic programs.
Corruption posts a threat to these efforts hence the need to deal with corruption from the onset of recovery. In recent years, there has been increasing attention to the effects of corruption in post conflict and recovery environments. Various studious (by; UNDP, World Bank & Transparency international) confirm that about half of the post war countries revert to war within one decade and corruption can be considered as one of the major factors that contribute to fuelling a conflict and the return to violent. Therefore, overcoming corruption in post-war Liberia is essential to restoring the confident of Liberians at home and abroad.
Post conflict reconstruction is normally characterized by large scale injection of resources in an environment where the legal and institutional frameworks are weak, fragile or inexistent and the expertise scarce. Detection of crime is very low and enforcement difficult or ignored. The surviving governing structures are weak with financial, fiscal, administrative and regulatory capacities and limited oversight is informal and sometimes criminalized sectors. These institutions are often transitional in nature, carrying very little or no legitimacy, and therefore prone to capture by the privilege elite with access to power and resources. This lack of popular participation in reconstruction is vulnerable to hijacking by local elites, which leads to corruption, waste of available and scarce resources, lack of maintenance and monitoring by beneficiaries and eventual rejection in the long run.
The main purpose of zero tolerance on corruption in Liberia should be to assist post conflict Liberia in developing anti-corruption strategies. These strategies will be used to develop programs on anti-corruption in post-war Liberia and recovery process which will be a tool that will assist affected areas.
Development will never come to Liberia if Liberians continue to rely on foreign companies to do everything. History attests to this. The Indian, Ghanaian, Nigerian and Lebanese business communities in Liberia have never productively participated in Liberia's development. In fact, they have always tended to set themselves apart from Liberia. It is now up to the government and people of Liberia to build-up the credibility to attract investors to boost the Liberia’s economy.

About the Authors:
Tolo Bonah Corfah and Sam K. Zinnah are sons of Gbarpolu County. They currently reside in the United States. Tolo B. Corfah is reading Multicultural Urban Education at the Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN. Sam K. Zinnah holds Bachelors degree in Human Services from Springfield college of human services in Wilmington, Delaware.
Tolo Corfah can be reached at or 651-214-6204. Sam Zinnah can be reached at or

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


By: T.Q. Harris Jr

The general reaction of Liberians to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Final Report underscores the sensitivity, complexity and difficulty in crafting a workable plan to restore normalcy to our relatively small, yet volatile underdeveloped nation. And despite the fact the literacy rate is well below 20 percent, the vast majority of Liberians already has formulated opinions regarding the voluminous document recently released by the Truth Commission. The opinions are diverse as species in the Sapo National Forest. And passions are running high.

Considering the dreadful statistics, one cannot help but wonder; how many Liberians have actually read the TRC Final Report in its entirety – and of this number - how many fully understand its content? Based on the facts, it is safe to assume that the latter is an extremely small group, not unlike the few who met in Ghana and committed the entire nation to an unrealistic peace agenda. Yet, if level heads do not prevail, the TRC recommendations, particularly those related to prosecution and debarment could reignite violence.

The truth-telling approach to national healing adopted in Ghana and touted as the best way forward has been roundly rejected. Now its leading advocates, including Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, are unhappy because the Truth Commission which they overwhelmingly supported has favored accountability and the eradication of impunity. For this, it is being severely criticized and vilified.

Though the Commission’s conclusions fall short in certain regards, they nevertheless have exposed the diabolical scheme to use reconciliation as a harmless weapon to bludgeon the truth. In its totality, the TRC Final Report confirms the recklessness as well as the unspeakable horrors visited upon defenseless men, women and children, including five innocent nuns. Now disappointment on the part of those who continue to deny these facts is manifesting as anger, resentment and - for some – speechlessness.

The notion that a truth commission is the best mechanism for healing this nation in the aftermath of the extremely brutal war is a fraud perpetrated by people unwilling to accept responsibility for acts so hideous it confounds the human mind. Therefore, those bearing the greatest responsibility for the carnage must be removed from decision-making. Their removal, however, is not necessarily an attempt to exact punishment. Rather, it creates a level of comfort for the victim and reduces anxiety; thereby eliminating fear, which oftentimes is mistakenly characterized as complacency or even stupidity.

The TRC Final Report is by no means perfect, nor a panacea. However, it is a courageous step on the long journey toward national healing, reconciliation and lasting peace. Thanks to the ubiquitous Internet; millions around the world have read the document. Now people are watching to see how Liberians are going to react.

Therefore, we must seize the moment and do what is right. Even in these darkest moments - you must believe - Liberia is being repositioned to lead Africa’s transformation. The challenges we face currently are mere opportunities to rebuild a new nation from the bottom up, embedding in its foundation rule of law and the tenets of democracy. Let us not pull back on account of lies, fear and intimidation. Because the atrocities committed in Liberia can never be forgotten; neither will the content of the TRC Final Report.

As the central and most prominent figures in the recent devastation, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Dr. Amos Sawyer must at this critical stage provide bold leadership in ending the prolonged nightmare. They must set the pace so that others may follow; because their names consistently appear at the top of every list of persons bearing the greatest responsibility for the 15-year carnage. Therefore, it is impossible to hold anyone else accountable without first getting Ellen and Sawyer to accept full responsibility for their actions.

The following are steps President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must take to ensure the TRC report does not further divide the nation, pitting brother against brother. Also, this should help in gaining the confidence of citizens as well as the international partners. Because, realistically, the current leadership should not be handling these extremely delicate matters.

1. The President must state without delay her unequivocal support for the TRC Final Report. Also, she must in the same breath offer her resignation or state categorically that at the conclusion of her current term she will not seek public office, in keeping with the TRC recommendation;

2. The President must not delay in establishing the Independent National Human Rights Commission (INHRC) so work may begin on the TRC recommendations.

Also, considering that officials within the three branches of government have been indicted in the TRC Final Report, the President going forward must emphasize transparency by appointing a team of observers comprising of 5 – 7 upstanding citizens who will work closely with the Executive and Legislative branches, focusing primarily on long-term contractual agreements involving the State. Civil society organizations among others will be asked to submit names; and the final selection will be made by random drawing;

3. The President must side with the Liberian people in demanding cooperation from the Legislature in advancing the TRC Final Report, so its implementation may begin in a timely manner; and,

4. The INHRC must at the earliest convene a series of national conferences at home and abroad where stakeholders shall determine how best to implement the TRC recommendations, taking into account issues critical to long-term stability. At these meetings, strategies will be formulated to deal effectively with individuals known to have committed war crimes as well as crimes against humanity, but whose names are not included in the TRC Final Report.

In conclusion, Liberia at the moment is held hostage by a few individuals, including Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who have refused to accept responsibility for the senseless violence that devastated the infrastructure, uprooted and forced tens of thousands into exile, and also took the lives of thousands more. Regrettably, the prevailing culture of impunity has made it extremely difficult to take legal action against the culprits, evidenced the threats and outright rejection of the TRC Final Report. As a people, we can no longer continue on this destructive path. With every passing day the cost of reconstruction increases while Liberians fall deeper into poverty. Failing to deal decisively with those who may have violated the social contract and broken the law only threatens the fragile peace we now enjoy.

Therefore, we call on the President to show leadership by accepting the recommendation of the TRC which she vigorously supported and promoted.

Madam Sirleaf, you are uniquely positioned to end the nightmare and restore hope to this broken nation. Saving your people from themselves does not require the might of an iron lady. Rather, success is with the woman who has a humble heart, steady hands and a clear vision. It’s time ‘This Child’ demonstrates her greatness by rallying the nation to a cause greater than any one individual.

Let the sycophants not mislead you as was the case with Presidents Tolbert, Doe and Taylor. And there is no need to defend against the TRC at the Supreme Court or in any other court for that matter. Would you rather be remembered for what you did or did not do in the past, or for how you seized this opportunity to bend the arc of destiny?

The Author: Mr. T. Q. Harris, Jr. is currently the General Chairman of Liberia Contemporees United Patriotic and Strong (Contemp UPS and CEO of the Movement STAND. He is a former vice presidential nominee of the Republic of Liberia. Call (562) 216-3177 / (562) 256-4271 or email him at For more about Mr. Harris log in to