The Cocopa Rubber Company concession agreement signed in the 1950s, is certain for renegotiation as the House’s joint committee on Agriculture and Judiciary has recommended to the Executive Branch of Government. The concession agreement was signed between the company and the Liberian government.
The Cocopa Rubber Company, otherwise known as Liberia Company (LIBCO), operating in Nimba, the north-eastern part of the country, is reportedly practicing modern slavery as the House’s Committee chaired by Montserrado County District #1, Josephine George-Francis reveals.
According to a report from the joint Committee on Agriculture and Judiciary, following a recent field trip to the plantation, tappers there are paid based on production.
In the report, the committee said for every 1,000 lbs, a worker is given US$90.00 while the total of US$180.00 is paid to an employee for a ton; something that an employee cannot easily get because of less latex put out from a tree due to over tapping.
The committee’s report also indicates that salaries of teachers at the plantation are far below what the Liberian Government offers teachers now, and dwelling houses inspected from camps 1,2,3,4, and 6 are all in dilapidated condition.
The House’s joint committee observes that this is unfair to employees at the plantation, stressing, “A ton of rubber is sold for over US$1,500 while our people are paid US$180; an amount a tapper cannot receive because of the unbearable difficulties he/she has to go through.”
Rubber tappers are said in the report to be tapping very old trees that do not produce more latex any longer. As such, it (committee) noted, it is very difficult for a tapper to meet up with the 1000 lbs a tapper is due to produce to receive US$90.00.
The committee in its findings also noted that since the company began operation in the 1950s, it has not provided social development funds to communities surrounding it or carries out any form of development in the county.
The committee’s report further indicates that the company has failed to raise capital abroad and is therefore exploring local options and that the capital needed to make the plantation viable and to enable it improve the social and working conditions of the workers and their dependents, is around ten million United States Dollars (US$10,000,000.00).
Stressing further on the company’s status, the House’s joint committee’s report reveals that the available 1952 Contract of the Company’s Concession Agreement expires in 2009.
However, the management in defense of the finding said they had an extension of the contract up to 2029 which the committee could not verify as a result of lacking documentation.
In reaction to this claim, the committee said the extension of the concession agreement in 1967 by former President William V.S. Tubman was done via Executive Order without going through constitutional channel of having the sitting legislature to ratify.
The committee found out that Liberia’s 25% share (equity) in the company was sold to LIBCO that now operates the company following the granting of the extension through an executive order.
The findings moreover implicate the management of not presenting a clear picture of an organized plan for the overall improvement of the plantation given their failure to raise credit abroad.
In its recommendation among other things, the committee said since the company could not raise capital to improvement the plantation and facilities, the government should nationalize the plantation and open it up for biding to attract investors.
In addition, the committee recommended that the President works with the Nimba Legislative Caucus and other stakeholders to identify competent local entrepreneurs who can obtain new capital and save jobs for Liberians.
It further recommended that Ministry of Justice views the extension of the concession agreement by former President William V. S. Tubman through and executive order to ensure equity for the foreign investor’s right under the law.
In a mobile conversation with the Plantation Manager of Cocopa, Joseph Boyea, he said though the joint legislative committee visited the plantation in recent times, they at Cocopa are yet to receive the committee’s report on its findings.
He said as they receive their copy of the report, they will appropriately respond to the committee’s findings.
Meanwhile, Nimba County District #8 Representative, Larry Younquio, has welcomed recommendations by the joint committee to bring the long existing problem between Cocopa and the local communities to rest.
Representative Younquoi however differed with recent report published by the Focus Newspaper the Cocopa is being ordered closed.
He said the duty of the Legislature is to make laws, advocate and recommend to the Executive for actions on a particular issue and not to make any decision in the confine of the Executive Branch.
“What we are saying is, Cocopa Agreement is ought for renegotiation, but are not saying the company is closed down. We do not make such a decision but the President,” he noted.
Recently Rep. Younquoi commented on the grant of US$500,000 the African Development Bank Legal Support Facility gave government to renegotiate five concession agreements which Cocopa is a part.
He said it was much welcoming because Cocopa has failed to provide funds for corporate social responsibility for local communities there.
Cocopa has long been a controversial and violent ground beginning from 2006 when the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led administration first took over.
It can be recalled that between 2006 and 2007 series of violent demonstrations were held for under payment of employees and failure to meet up with social responsibility.
Scores of people had sustained wounds as a result of the violent incidents on the plantation over the years-from gun shots and treated at the Ganta Hospital.
Some local dwellers in communities around the plantation were blamed for carrying on the act, but they attributed it to alleged bad labor practice on the part of the company and failing to provide basic necessities such as education and good health system, amongst others.