Friday, April 17, 2009

POLITICS

More Trouble Looms at Guthrie

Impact of Riot Grave

By M. Welemongai Ciapha, II

General situation at the Guthrie Rubber Plantation (GRP) in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties remains troubling in the aftermath of workers’ strike actions that effectively halted operations there.

Last month, hundreds of angry workers staged a strike action that left several persons severely wounded, properties ransacked and set ablaze.

Guns were allegedly fired during the protest at the rubber plantation with fingers being pointed at Bomi County Senator Lahai Lasana who the workers claimed, had opened fire on them, using two silver pistols.

Conversely Senator Lasana had dismissed claims of his involvement in any shooting.

However, there are other reports that the Senator was held hostage by the aggrieved workers when he visited the plantation during the demonstration but the workers too, had refuted the reports.

Amidst claims and counter-claims from both sides, a team of journalists from the Judicial Reporters Network (JRN), and Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), Wednesday, April 1,2009, visited the controversial plantation on a facts-finding mission.

The journalists were met upon arrival there by some of the plantation workers.

The workers narrated that they were seriously opposed to their dismissal or downsize by the transitional management team of Guthrie.

According to the workers, they were “downsized” on November 30, 2008, without being paid for services rendered they had the plantation’s interim management team.

The spokesman of the workers, Othello Washington, further explained that the management had not met its salary obligations to them.

According to him, of the 359 employees downsized, approximately 60 persons were from the Nursery Department, while 156 from the Monitor Department.

The monitors, he added, were also serving as security personnel on the plantation.

He alleged that one Teage, believed to be the General Manager of Guthrie Rubber Plantation (GRP) laid them off.

The workers further indicated that Dr. J. Christopher Toe, then, Minister of Agriculture had earlier informed him (Mr. Teage), that rubber stumps produced at the plantation were not productive. This assertion could not be independently confirmed from Dr. Toe who had already resigned his position from the government.

Washington further said the dismissal letters were issued them by one Zulu Seth, Production Manager of the company.

The dismissed workers alleged that they were denied their medical benefits and other arrears in line with the labor practices laws of the country.

According to labor law, for the two years we had worked here, we are entitled to US$ 300.00 each” he contended.

Mr. Washington further told journalists that the entity’s management had been “dribbling” them for their money.

He added that this delay in their payment warranted their strike action last month at the plantation.

He reiterated threats that if nothing was done to address their plight by the management team, more strike actions would be taken until they receive all of their “legitimate entitlements.”

Quoting Italian political Scientist and philosopher, Niccoolo Machiavelli, who, according to him, once said: “If peaceful negotiations cannot take place, let brutality take place.”

James S. Tamba, another downsized worker from the nursery beds, appealed to President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf to ensure that investors take over the management of the Guthrie Rubber Plantation.

Tamba recalled that in yesteryears when Guthrie was managed by “credible international investors, things were fine.” But, he said, the current management team cannot manage the farm as they lacked the necessary vision and professional focus.

One Joseph Clarke, who claimed to have used his pick-up marked TP- 0946 to take rubber to the weighing station at Guthrie claimed that he had not been paid by the plantation for his work.

In protest against the interim management team’s alleged failure to pay him, he set a road block with his pick-up to halt a Mack truck, TT- 1168 from leaving the station.

The truck, Clarke said, had gone to Guthrie to uplift rubber from the farm.

Clarke further reporters that he was hired by the management to, on a contractual basis, haul rubber with his pick-up from the bush.

Clarke who appeared disgruntled issued volumes of threats, saying if management did not settle his two months arrears, the truck, TT- 1168 could never leave with the consignment of rubber from the plantation as he could no more accept any delay.

He claims that management was indebted to him for January and February work amounting to a total sum of US$ 937.00.

When contacted for comment on the workers’ multiple allegations, Mr. Daoda V. Metzeer, personnel manager for Guthrie confirmed that the workers were downsized.

He justified the action, saying it was necessary because production at the plantation had declined.

Mr. Metzeer added that the plantation management had acted on the alleged advise of the Rubber Task Force of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

However, the Task Force could not be located for its reaction to the revelation by the Guthrie official.

He quoted the Task Force as saying the downsize was necessary because rubber price, on the global market had declined.

Mr. Metzeer further disclosed that most of the sacked workers were non- productive.

During the visit at the plantation, it was observed that educational, health and other basic social services were at their lowest ebb.

At a local ‘clinic’ at the plantation, a lady who had just given birth to a child, informed reporters that nurses only give them prescriptions for needy drugs and they have to go out to buy the drugs.

However, the clinic administrators refused to talk with the press when contacted for comment on the problems and other developments at the clinic.

Residents who lived in the 26 camps at Guthrie said, they lived on creek water, a situation they said was responsible for increasing rate of cholera in the area.

For his part, Emmanuel Raffell, Supervising Principal for 16 schools in Guthrie described the learning atmosphere there as pathetic.

Principal Raffell said some of the students have to walk for two or more hours to get to their schools.

Speaking on the recent riot at Guthrie, Mr. Reffell said the community school, which has a population of over 1,010 students, was massively looted.

The looters, according to him, brandished sticks and other deadly weapons during the looting.

“There was a complete state of anarchy, I risked my life to safe some of our school materials,” he added.

Mr. Raffell further told journalists that the looters broke into the school ware house and made away with 11 cartons of cooking oil, beans, microscope 58 bags of rice as well as one 5KVA generator.

Mr. Raffell further disclosed that the total population of students at Guthrie is approximately 3,446 and 94 teachers.

He is appealing to Government and the Ministry of Education to go their aid.

Another resident had disclosed that a depot belonging to the Liberia National Police was set ablaze. It is clear who burnt down the police station.


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