SOCFIN WRITES NGO’s

01/07/2016
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN INCLUDING MEMBERS OF THE GLOBAL CONVERGENCE FOR LAND AND WATER SUPPLIES
C/o MR. MANUEL EGGEN
FIAN: Belgium (email: manu@fian.be)

I write on the instructions of Socfin Agricultural Company Limited, which is a registered Company in Sierra Leone that I serve as General Manger. Your letter dated 6th June, 2016 written to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Kioroma, which was disappointingly not copied to us, even though it made several unsubstantiated, defamatory, unfair and unjustified statements and comments about and against us, has been brought to our knowledge and attention.

Your said letter, which also comes in the form of recommendation to HE the President of Sierra Leone and his Government, was based on your subjective, one-sided perspective of SOCFIN and thus arrived at conclusions that were incorrect, misleading and misguided as they were either not investigated or unfairly reported to demean the good image of the company.

Thus, your recommendation to the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) that it should ensure that “Malen communities are not deprived (by SOCFIN) of their access to and control over land and related natural resources on which they rely to cultivate their own food and economic crops and to meet their basic needs” without investigating and pointing out that the land was first leased by the Government of Sierra Leone, is biased and bad reporting.

How can a sub-tenant (SOCFIN) deprive the Principal Landlords (the Malen Landholders) of their land to the exclusion of its immediate Tenant (GoSL), which has powers under the sub-lease to sanction the sub-tenant?

If the Principal Landlords (the Malen Landholders who acknowledged the sub-lease) and their immediate Tenant (GoSL) are at peace with each other over the operations of the Malen Plantations by SOCFIN (the sub-Tenant), and that SOCFIN is in turn at peace with both its immediate Landlord (GoSL) and the said Principal Landlords about its operations in Malen Chiefdom, where then is the ‘human rights of humanitarian land war’ that you tried to strenuously and deliberately craft in your letter?

The reality, which you failed to point out in your said letter, is that even though SOCFIN’s concession area is 17.724 hectares, the cultivated area upon which oil palms have been planted is only 12,557 hectares. In essence, only 70.8% is cultivated!

The rest of the arable land for which lease rents are paid by SOCFIC annually include roads, protected forests, wetland, and “green belt” left underdeveloped and preserved for community use, in accordance with Sierra Leone’s Environment Protection and Forestry Laws. In particular, the “Green Belts” around the community centers were established through consultations with community stakeholders. They also include areas preserved for use by the communities for subsistence farming and other activities.

An improved system of Community-Company relationship ensures that “green belts” and people’s livelihood are significant factors in Malen Chiefdom’s economical and social development.

Moreover, in advancing its Corporate Social Responsibilities, SOCFIN has, among several other community development projects, developed a Rice Cultivation Scheme of 190 hectares of “boli” land and 282 hectares of in-land valley swamp rice cultivation as well as fish ponds, and so forth.

Your coalition ‘footnote’ 2’ at page 2 of your said letter deceitfully acknowledges the above accomplishments without mentioning that it was done by SOCFIN! Furthermore SOCFIN’s Corporate Social Responsibilities projects include the construction of wells, public toilets, ‘court barrays’ (or community meeting points), roads, dumping sites, schools, electricity support systems etc. the above mentioned projects are proposed by the Community stakeholders themselves  to the Company officials.

In fact, if you had cared to investigate responsibly and report objectively, you would have found out that SOCFIN’s Corporate Social Responsibility achievements are transparently documented on the company’s face book page into which the members of the public and the community can log in.

Regarding the so-called “land grabbing”, the acquisition process was led by SOCFIN in direct negotiation with the Chiefdom leadership and landowners and was conducted in accordance to national law and coordinated with the government.  Land owners had the option to not lease land and there are instances where this occurred.

The surveys involved consultations with the land owners, the land users, the Chief of the Village and the Paramount Chief. Surface areas were calculated, GPS data recorded and all data was catalogued together with the land owners were undertaken by SAC’s teams, the government representatives and was closely followed and approved by the Town Chiefs and the land owners as well as land users and relatives. A mutual and final agreement was then made on the size of the land for compensation and rent. All GPS data are translated on maps, to enable landowners to take their land at the end of the lease period.

If necessary, the company has a community grievance mechanism in place to address issues related to land. In 2011, a social and grievance committee was founded. It meets every last Friday of the month and has continued to grow in importance.

Additionally, to the social and grievance committee, SAC created a Community Liaison Team, who is the main line of communication of the Company with the local communities. The team visits villages within the plantation area to disseminate information and to engage in dialogue in order to attend to any issues that may arise between the Company and local communities.

No gap has been identified regarding the compliance with IFC’s Performance Standard 5 “Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement”.

All this has been officially recorded by a neutral third party commissioned by the World Bank in its report dated 31 July 2015. In your letter, you regularly quote the “Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights”.

We have well noted that these Principles have been developed by some NGOs (www.etpcpnsortium.org) and are just self serving evidence, without any governmental validation.

Socfin noted that it is fully subject to the Laws of Sierra Leone as well as international laws, and has been operating on a very transparent, fair responsive and responsible basis through its visible corporate social engagements in Malen Chiefdom and its area of influence. Additionally, SOCFIN is aware that it is one of the very few multi-national corporations that stayed on and has continued to operate in Sierra Leone during her difficult and hard times, employing and providing for thousands of young Sierra Leoneans, paying huge corporate taxes and employees insurance contributions, supporting the country’s EBOLA eradication engagement, as well as contributing positively to the development of both Malen Chiefdom and the country.

It is disappointing that you have, in your quest for recognition and funding abroad, failed to focus on the human and humanitarian rights and conditions of the thousands of Sierra Leoneans who would go hungry, jobless and prone to criminality if SOCFIN where to cease operations on the unfounded ground of “depriving” the Malen Landholders of their livelihood.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the opinion leaders and representative stakeholders of the Malen Community recently condemned your calculated efforts to depreciate SOCFIN accomplishment in their widely circulated letter of 27th June 2016 addressed to your coalition and Green Scenery, Sierra Leone.

Consequently, not withstanding your negative, one-sided reporting and distortion of facts for creating confusion, SOCFIN shall continue its development and positive life-supporting activities and programs in the Malen Chiefdom and the entire Sierra Leone undisturbed by detractors and institutions who fail to properly and thoroughly investigate before reporting, or better still, report subjectively as, when and where its suits them.
Submitted

(SOCFIN’s General Manager)
Cc: The Chief of Staff of Sierra Leone (for the attention of
HE The President of Sierra Leone;
       The Attorney General and Minister of Justice
        The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security
         The Minister of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment
          The Chairman, Human Rights Commission
           The Chairman, Parliamentary Committee of Lands
            The Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture
            Paramount Chief BVS Kebbie
            The Chairman, Pujehun District Council
             The UN Resident Coordinator to Sierra Leone
             The Country Representative of FAO
           The Country Manager of the World Bank
           The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
              The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
              The Head of the EU Delegation to Sierra Leone
            The Ambassador of Ireland
               The Ambassador of Belgium
                 The Ambassador of Luxemburg
              The Ambassador of France

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