The Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA) over the weekend concluded a day-long stakeholders’ consultation in favour of the National Investment Commission (NIC) for the establishment of a special agro-industrial processing zone in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
Organized by Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA)’s Technical Review Committee headed by Assistant Manager, Daoda Socrates Carlon. The stakeholders’ consultation sought to get project affected communities’ inputs on the ESIA report submitted to the EPA by an EPA-certified independent environmental consultant firm named Planet Resources Management, Inc.
The meeting attracted elders, chiefs, youth and women heads representatives from the 12 communities identified to be within the project area which is about 200ha of land out of a total of 631ha of land allotted for the Buchanan Special Economic Industrial Zone.
Representatives of several line government Ministries, Agencies and Commissions, including the Ministries of Agriculture, Labour, Commerce and Industry, Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and National Investment Commission.
The African Development Bank has already committed an initial US$ 15M for the project, which is expected to commence next January.
The project cannot start without an environmental permit from the EPA, Assistant Manager Socrates Carlon said.
Mr. Carlon said the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia (EPML) obligates private citizens, businesses, and investors to acquire an environmental permit before commencing any project, and the EPA is committed to ensuring that everyone, including other government-related project adhere to this process, in order to promote sustainable development.
“This is why we are here today to get your views on a project the NIC wants to undertake in your communities.” They want to establish a special agro-industrial processing zone on a 200 ha of land in your communities,” he told residents.
According to Assistant Manager Carlon, the ESIA Report prepared by Planet Resources Management for NIC established that 12 communities are around or within the 200 ha of land.
“This is why we have invited leaders, elders and other representatives of the 12 communities here to authenticate this information.” We want to corroborate what is written by the independent consultant with the actual story on the ground,” he said.
Assistant Manager Carlon also noted that the forum is intended to get the inputs of local residents so that it can inform EPA’s decision in granting the permit, which according to him is usually granted with conditions.
Mr. Carlon explained that the consultation is intended to avert future land conflict, noting “we don’t want to make mistakes as a government”.
Mr. Carlon further noted that the stakeholders’ consultation is the final stage of the ESIA process.
For his part, the Management for Compliant and Enforcement at the EPA, John K. Jallah lauded the citizens, representatives of government’s entities and civil society groups representatives for turning out at the forum.
Providing the historicity of the special agro-industrial processing zone, Manager Jallah explained that the government has established the Liberia Economic Zone Authority to manage the Buchanan Special Economic Zone.
He disclosed that the project is funded by the African Development Bank and it has two phases.
“The first phase is to ensure that everything that supposed to make the Agro-Industrial Processing Zone functional is why we are here while the second phase would help with the development of agriculture transformation centres across the country,” Manager Jallah said.
Eddie L. Williams, Grand Bassa County Information and Protocol Officer lauded the EPA for the dialogue and said the local administration welcomes the development but cautioned that it considers the safety and wellbeing of the people.
Civil society and youth Representative, Samuel G. Wilson was concern about the manner in which the land was acquired by the government for the establishment of the Agro-Industrial Processing Zone.
The communities embraced the idea, but urged that government considers their customary land right, since they already begun the process of get a deed. The communities also asked that they be given preference for job opportunities, training and benefits when it comes to the implementation of the project.
Liberia Land Authority Chairman, Atty. J. Adams Manobah, Sr. corroborated that the Land Authority has received the deed fees from the communities requesting customary land, and advised that the communities meet with the LLA and NIC to resolve this matter.
But, he pleaded with the residents to allow the establishment of the Agro-Industrial Processing Zone in their area because it would bring the enormous benefits it would bring to them and their communities.
Atty. Manobah wants government negotiates and avoid relocation of the communities and provides financial compensation to the affected communities.
Also speaking, Andrew Anderson Project Director for the Agro-Industrial Processing Zone said the project would provide jobs, electricity to local communities and training for some residents.
Anderson disclosed that a stretch of road in the area would also be paved.