Furious With LAC -Over Citizens’ Complaints

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Concessionaires, particularly foreign moguls, whose capital is too precious to them to the extent that the often deny local landowners and Government their just entitlement need to now think twice. Because it looks like business as usual where concessionaires exploit landowners and government and spew mere peanuts in the name social corporate responsibility is on its deathbed. With intensified dialogue to extract commitment for improvement in relationship between government and host communities on the one hand and private companies on the other, President Weah is also not taking chances and not smiling when he finds stubborn disposition on the part of the company. While visiting communities of Grand Bassa County on his nationwide tour, he used to time to listen to citizens on their needs and challenges. And for most people of Districts #3 and #5, a giant rubber company, LAC, is a complete disaster and disappointment. As The Analyst reports, the Liberian leader got a whole basketful of criticisms and complaints against the company and he was totally angry.

The visit of President George Manneh Weah to rural communities, something has which characteristically put smiles on the faces of the locals and institutions on the ground, rather put frowns and shame on the face of the Liberia Agricultural Company.

As the President and entourage paraded from one community to community, one issue began the refrain—LAC is cruel, irresponsibility and extremely exploitative. Almost every community, and almost every speaker in Districts #3 and #4 the President visited has something to mention about LAC, and it was not pleasing to the ears at all.

The lamentations did not only come from ordinary people who said they have not been getting the slightest benefit of LAC’s presence in their communities. It has also come from eminent persons of the districts, including lawmakers that contend also that all that they get from LAC’s presence in the districts is meanness, pride and other anti-people tendencies.

They asked the President to bring LAC to its knees and submit itself to the people.

Mr. Thomas Goshua, a lawmaker representing District 5 also re-echoed what his colleague told the President earlier. He said LAC over the years has been exercising bad labor practices resulting in poor pay packages and subjecting the people to living in pitiful conditions.

Both lawmakers told the president on separate occasions that LAC has deliberately refused to abide by the agreement it has with the people, part of which bordered on fulfilling its corporate social responsibility, employment opportunities for the people, youth empowerment, etc.

“We have engaged them on several occasions to see reason to honor the agreement so that our people will have the benefit of their resources and communities, but they have been refusing. This does not show a good investment climate where one party is reaping bountifully and the other party, being the host, is suffering”, Representative Goshua explained.

To solve the problem once and for all, the two lawmakers called on the President to get involved with the process that will lead to reviewing and rectifying the said agreement as his office is the highest in the land and the last hope for such a decision to be made.

Mr. Thomas Goshua who gave a summary of all of what the various speakers talked about first started with what he called a reconciliation with the President for what the president may feel about him apparently from some misconception, disinformation and misinformation.

“We do not know what you may have heard, probably it may be due to misinformation and disinformation but I have come Mr. President to say to you, my own brother, the President of the Republic of Liberia to ask you for your pardon for the sake of our people , we ask for your forgiveness”, Mr. Goshua said.

He said District #5 in Grand Bassa County is the least in the whole county in terms of development but the people believe that with his visit, that will be the commencement of the transformation of the area.

The lawmaker said that contrary to what others may take it, Grand Bassa County is neither opposition to the government nor to development and it is willing to work with the government to bring the dividend of good governance to the people who in fact give over 70% of their votes to Mr. Weah in 2017 that ensured his overwhelming victory at the time.

“Mr. President, we are ready and willing to work with you in any aspect, in any aspect, in any undertaking, we are willing to push the agenda of the government. Our people have spoken and we can only buttress them”, he said

Re-echoing the plea of his people, the lawmaker said that there are four health facilities in the district most of which are inaccessible and need good roads and improvement physically to address the health challenges of the area.

On education, he said there are 21 elementary schools, two junior high schools and no high school. He said lamentably they were informed by the Ministry of Education that some of the elementary schools will be closed down due to lack of funding. He however said they were also informed by the Ministry of Education that one of the Junior high schools will be upgraded to a senior high school during the administration of Mr. Weah.

Representative Goshua also spoke about the lack of roads and if they ever exist, they are in a very deplorable condition making life difficult for the people. The level of infrastructural development, he said is something that is keeping the district backward.

“Mr. President, as you can see from the compound, we have the magisterial court right at the back of this compound, a police station with only one police officer, but we do not have residence in the compound due to insecurity. But we know that with your presence here today, your presidential projects you are going around with, will also reach us and this compound will have some housing units constructed here, “the lawmaker said.

The lawmaker ended his speech with a blueprint for the infrastructural development of the district presented to President Weah which included the construction of the administrative building for the district and other buildings to house the functions of the local authority.

President Weah was visibly angry following the narrations of the people, almost yelling on the top of his voice over the litany of complaints against the company and making a number of demands to improve its image and relations with the locals and by extension his government.

The President’s anger, sources close to his inner circle contend, led him to boycott invitation of the company for lunch.

It was said that the lunch prepared by LAC for the President and entourage was part of the day’s itinerary and part of the company’s hospitality. But to the surprise of the company and some members of the president’s entourage, he brushed aside the essence of the lunch and wended his way out of the rubber-forested area.

Responding to the requests promised the construction of the youth center and the market building and asked the local authority to provide land for the construction of the structures, the President amongst other things, said the area will benefit 100 housing units for Grand Bassa, and that the lawmaker and the local authority should discuss so that some of the structures will be allocated for the district.

The rumored cancellation of the President’s lunch at the premises of the Liberia Agricultural Company where he was also scheduled to hold discussions with the management triggered unconfirmed stories and theories emerging from all corners with those emanating from people who are familiar to the inner workings of the Liberian presidency.

Some suggested that the numerous complaints spelled out to Mr. Weah against the management of LAC as it relates to its failure to address its corporate social responsibility for the host communities might have appeared too weighty to dissuade the President from honoring the visit.

President Weah Boycott Lunch at LAC

According to the same sources, going to LAC might have been interpreted wrongly that the President was not enthusiastic about knowing the plights of the citizens and would not even be finding solutions to predicaments. Of the people.

“I can tell you that the President was categorically cautious and well advised that going to LAC, a company that the people are bitterly complaining about for being insensitive to their plights would have amounted to telling them that he was not bothered about all what they said and wanted him to do,” a source claiming to have studied the Liberian presidency for long said.

Mr. Maxwell Z M Juah, a retired civil servant who worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs for a long time told our reporters that normally when the President travels to a place, there are some people who are deployed around to get the reaction of situation and swiftly feed the protocol people for onward hearing of the President.

These briefings, according to him, can play some roles if the President is to make an instant decision like making promises, fulfilling or making special pronouncements.

You know the gravity of the bitterness that was expressed against LAC and you also saw all the enthusiasm in the people to welcome the President. You don’t expect him to go to LAC and have lunch with the management. The people might have been unhappy with him”, Mr. Juah said.

During the visit of the President to District # 4 and 5, one of the major issues brought before the president was the concession agreement LAC has with the local community which for some 60 years have not been fully implemented.

The people complained bitterly about the unfriendly nature of LAC to commit to the corporate social responsibility contract with the people that should have covered such areas like employment, undertaking of some development projects, youth empowerment etc.

Speaking on behalf of the Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus in Gborblee City, Mr. Vincent Willie, the lawmaker representing District 4, told the President about what the citizens are going through with the Liberia Agricultural Company, the oldest and largest concessionaire operating in the county. He complained about the unwillingness of LAC to honor the 1959 agreement signed with the people.

He spoke about how LAC has been exploiting the communities hosting her and cared less to do anything substantial to lift up the people.

Meanwhile, the President has asked the legislators from Grand Bassa to take firm position on the matter they and their citizens complained about.

“To be frank with you, this is not something we all can be happy with. I have heard your complaints against the company.  This has to do with the Legislature. As lawmakers, you can talk to your colleagues to review and rectify the agreement and you can bring it to me, when I look at it and concur with it, I can sign it and it becomes a law that must be respected by all parties,” Mr. Weah said.

President Weah also said that another way to solve the problem will be to convene a round table meeting involving the government, LAC, the legislative caucus of Grand Bassa County, and other the local county leadership including traditional and community leaders.

The President said the situation is delicate considering that the company is an investment group which is a strategic partner to the government on the one hand while the citizens’ rights must be respected as enshrined in the constitution of Liberia on the other hand. He stressed that these two parties have individual interests that they all want to protect and it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that both parties to this dilemma are protected.

Warming reception

In another development, President Weah had a splendid outing in Grand Bassa County as he was overwhelmed by the ovation he and his party received there.

One of such was in Gborblee City, Grand Bassa County where it was revealed that Mr. Weah spent some of his youthful days living with his late uncle Moses Kpeh, the story that was also corroborated by the President himself.

It was no wonder that a multitude of people from all walks of life thronged the streets, open

spaces, pathways to welcome the man who is being seen as a “son of the soil” returning to the cheering crowd of the people laying claim to him.

The welcome ceremonies were splendid; time and space may not be enough to give a count by count description of what happened there but speaker after speaker, the people were excited and very confident that their pleads presented will be favorably and expeditiously treated by the son.

The youth leader of the community welcomed and commended the President for his stewardship thus far since his ascendency to the leadership of the country in 2018. He made several requests to the President on behalf of the youth community among which was the renovation of the sports pitch to develop and improve the talents of the youth in the area just the same way Mr. Weah’s early exposure to football was done in Gorblee.

He also pleaded for the construction of a youth center and vocational training center to upgrade and enhance the level of human capital development in the area.

The youth leader ably presented the case of the District to the President about the unwillingness of the Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC), the largest and oldest concessionaire in the area, to positively respond to its corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the people. He said since 1959 when the company signed an agreement with the people, there has not been any significant benefit the people have enjoyed, and therefore called on the President to intervene for the agreement to be reviewed and rectified.

To the pleasant hearing of the President and his party, the youth ended his speech saying “We don’t want change in 2023, it is you we are going to vote for”, amid cheers from the people.

The leader of the women group, Madam Rebecca Dunn, while welcoming the President and party also used the occasion to appeal to Mr. Weah for the pavement of the road from St. John to Buchanan as well as to empower the women financially so as to set up businesses which will help them raise income to alleviate the burden of taking care of their respective families and foot other expenses associated with daily conveniences.

Miss Comfort Ross, a 12th grade student of the Gorblee High School had the whole audience including the President spellbound when she spoke so eloquently while making a case for better education for the young people of the area. She complained about the lack of arm chairs, facilities and qualified teachers to enhance the learning condition of the area and also there is no janitor and security to clean and man the school.

A thunderous ovation greeted certain part of her of her speech when she said based on the performance of the president in the past three years, the student community was petitioning him to re-contest the 2023 Presidential and general election and be assured of the unflinching support of the student populace of the District.

A local chief who spoke after her told the President that for the students who have spoken to pledge their support for his re-election in 2023, they are the parents and what they said got their blessings.

He told a story about two friends who went in the bush and saw a ripe fruit, all finding ways to plug it and take it but only one succeeded to do so and used it to his advantage. Some people at the occasion interpreted it as calling on the President to look at the direction of the students because others who are also interested in becoming President in 2023 may want to entice them for their support.

He told President Weah that as far as the people of District #4 were concerned, there is no other head in this country but indeed Mr. Weah is the only head of the country.

Speaking on behalf of the Grand Bassa Legislative Caucus, District #4 Representative in Gborlee where the President also visited, Mr. Vincent Willie welcomed the President and his entourage and told the President specifically, that the good people of Gorblee are proud of one of their illustrious sons in the President. He said the unprecedented welcome and the enthusiasm shown by the people during the visit are clear testimonies that the people were very excited by the performance of their son.

He narrated about a series of impactful projects he has been undertaking since he became representative of District #4 among which are construction of roads, free literacy program for women in the area. He said while the president was undertaking meaningful projects on the national scene, he was domesticating the same at the level of his district.

“Mr. President, we are following in your footsteps. What we see you doing there, we come back home to do them at our level. You are lighting up streets in major cities and communities throughout the country; I am doing similar things here with lights provided in some streets and communities, we will appreciate where you can assist us make additional interventions to alleviate the problem of electricity in our area. Mr. President, our support to you is not a joke. If the student community who we represent petitioned you to re-contest in 2023, who I to refuse am,” the lawmaker said.

Mr. Vincent told the president about the age old concession agreement between the Liberia Agricultural Company and the people of the area but has not been fully respected by the company despite all the engagements they have had with it.  He called on President Weah to initiate a process for the review and rectification of the agreement so as to benefit the people.

The lawmaker also appealed to the President for the clinic to be elevated to a befitting health center and upgrade the Gorblee High School to be elevated to the Multilateral level so that in addition to the academic curriculum, students will acquire both vocational and technical education.

Then came the time for the President to respond but a music done by a local talent about the First Lady, Mrs. Clar Marie Weah and her exploits with her outreach projects that are benefiting the women folks of Liberia was played for which the audience including the President, his wife and others join the fray to dance gleefully to the music.

Pres. Weah awards a girl full scholarship

While responding to the many requests, the President first of all thanked the people for the support he got from them during the 2017 presidential elections in which he won massively. He said what moved him more was so many people went to them for support but they believed in him that he was up to the task and voted him.

“I can remember during the election, people were coming up with all kinds of stories about us that we are not up to the task; that we are not educated; that we are just footballers that will take the country backward. But you said no, you will vote for us and today we are the leader of this country”, Mr. Weah said.

He said the decision to vote him by the people will not be in vain and that he will do his best to justify the confidence reposed in him.

Turning to the women, Mr. Weah who was visibly moved by the brilliance of young Miss Comfort Ross who spoke on behalf of the students, said that he was awarding her his personal scholarship up to a Master’s degree at any higher institution in the country. He said he was touched by her output and there was no way he would have seen such an enterprising student and not do something to uplift her pursuit.

He also told the women about the empowerment project for women, especially the rural women his government has embarked upon starting with the launching of the $2 million dollars which he encouraged the women to access. He said it is meant to assist women who are into business as an occupation that will generate income for themselves, their families and offset some expenses for their own convenience.

The President who rated his officials high in performance said that his emphases have been placed on decentralizing governance so that Monrovia that is the seat of power will not be the area to attract government funding for development, but what is in Monrovia that makes life easier for the residents should also be taken to other parts of the country to promote development and open up the country.

While in District #5, Mr. Weah received numerous appeals from various groups including youths, students, elders, traditional leaders, women groups etc.

He also positively responded to an appeal from a young man for financial assistance to cultivate his 10 hectares of land by urging him to access part of the $16 million dollar earmarked for local farmers to support the government’s agenda for food security. He also disclosed that the local authority should liaise with the county authority to have the benefits of the 10 motor bikes and one pickup allocated to Grand Bassa County.

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