House Committee Investigating Sime Darby Recommends Prosecution for Torture Perpetrators

MONROVIA, Montserrado – A special committee of the House of Representatives has recommended for prosecution, individuals seen in a leaked video torturing a citizen at the Sime Darby Oil Palm Plantation.

John David was tortured for stealing a palm fruit bunch belonging to the company. The committee was also mandated to investigate whether the company was fully implementing its concession agreement signed with the government.

Following Sime Darby’s second appearance before the House’s plenary to clarify the video and other acts of manhandling and bad labor practices against Liberians, the body set up the eight-member special committee headed by Margibi’s first district representative, Tibelrosa Tarponweh, to carry out an independent investigation.

In its report to lawmakers on Tuesday, the committee disclosed that workers of the Malaysian oil palm company are living in deplorable housing facilities, and lack proper health care services.

According to the report, workers residing in all 24 camps of the company in both Bomi and Cape Mount get medical services from a single clinic, which is substandard. It says employees’ dependents are also prevented from receiving medical benefits at the clinic.

“Family members of teachers and other workers who are contractors do not get medication from the one and only clinic serving the entire concession communities,” the report revealed. “All of the camps have no water supply and latrine facilities in sharp contrast of facilities occupied by the expatriates.”

The committee’s report also reported that the senior high school operated by the company lacks safe drinking water and its latrines are unsanitary.

“The structure being used by students for defecation is in a dilapidated and unacceptable condition; most of the classrooms contain between 60 to 70 students, in violation of the Ministry of Education’s standard of 45 students per classroom,” the report read.

A Lofa representative, Francis Nyumalin, reported that a specific section of the concession agreement requires that at least 50 percent of the company’s senior staff should be citizens of Liberia after five years of the company’s operations, beginning in 2009.

However, the Tarponweh-led committee said although several Liberian were introduced on the company’s senior management team, including the human resource manager, the chief of security, and the warehouse manager, its investigation shows that only one Liberian was in a top management position. According to the committee, several of those presented by the company as senior managers are contractors.

“This falls short of the stipulation provided in the concession agreement that states that 50 percent of senior managerial posts be occupied by Liberian after five years and 75 percent in 10 years of the company’s operations in Liberia as provided for under section 12.1 of the concession agreement, under the caption Employment and Training,” it argued.

According to the lawmakers, except for Dao Metzger, a Liberian serving as the company’s industrial relations manager, all other managerial positions, including human resource manager, chief of security, and warehouse manager are all non-Liberians, despite the availability of qualified Liberians to perform those managerial roles.

Meanwhile, the committee recommended that Sime Darby improve sanitation in its senior high school, improved housing for workers, provide contractors and workers’ dependents with medical benefits, and address salaries disparities within 30 days.

The committee also wants Sime Darby Oil Palm Plantation to replace foreign workers with qualified Liberians in managerial positions within three months.

At the same time, the special committee recommended that those seen in the video torturing David be identified and prosecuted, to deter others who may want to commit such heinous crimes in the future. It asked that the company be made to submit copies of its annual reports for the last five years of operations to the House of Representatives.

Tarponweh reported that his committee’s recommendations were meant to set reasonable precedence and standards that would discourage abuses against citizens by foreign investors. He said his committee would, however, encourage responsible foreign investments and concessions that protect the national security of the country and the dignity of its people.

The reported was accepted by the House of Representatives which promised to summon the company’s management for the third time on Thursday, May 17 to formally charge them with the recommendations.

Following the release of the torture video, the Liberia National Police announced the arrest of the company’s chief of security and said it was investigating the matter.

Police Inspector General Patrick Sudue told journalists in Monrovia that he asked authorities of the oil palm plantation to produce the three other employees accused of participating in the torture. However, The Bush Chicken has not been able to get an update on the status of the police investigation.

Featured photo by David Stanley

Gbatemah Senah

Senah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. Between 2017 and 2019, he won six excellent reporting awards from the Press Union of Liberia. They include a three-time Land Rights Reporter of the Year, one time Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Human Rights Reporter of the Year.

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