The Liberian government says it will not annul nor renegotiate a concession agreement signed this month with the Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC), the second rubber plantation in Liberia besides Firestone. The agreement gave the company new land to expand its facilities and to evict those who live there. But the citizens of the area say they were not consulted.
Earlier this month, a Belgian national who was to become the new manager of the company was assassinated. On Tuesday, opposition leader Charles Brumskine of the Liberty Party, who is a former senator from Grand Bassa County, called on the Liberian government to annul and renegotiate the agreement.
J. Chris Toe is Liberia?s Agriculture Minister and chief signatory to the agreement. He told VOA the Liberian government will not renegotiate the concession agreement.
?The government of Liberia believes in free speech. Counselor Brumskine, like any other of the 3.5, 3.6 Liberians, has the right to free speech. The government has made its decision following months of discussion with the people of Grand Bassa, and the government intends to stand by its position on this matter,? he said.
Opposition leader Brumskine told a news conference Tuesday in the Liberian capital that the Liberian government should not appropriate a single acre of the disputed land because the agreement did not serve the interest of the citizens.
But Agriculture Minister Toe said the agreement was reached with the consensus of the citizens of Grand Bassa County.
?If you look at the agreement itself, the senior senator from Grand Bassa signed the agreement, the superintendent signed the agreement, youth groups signed the agreement, elders and women from the district signed the agreement. The only that did not sign the agreement, that walked out of the discussion, was the group of which Counselor Brumskine is a part, and that is the Resilient Counselor of Elders, including Counselor Brumskine and Byron Tarr. So they are not indispensable to making progress on matters of deepest concern to the people of Grand Bassa,? Toe said.
In August 2006, then Justice Minister Frances Johnson-Morris sent a letter to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf advising against the expansion of the company and the eviction of the citizens from their villages because the agreement was arbitrary.
Toe, who said he needed to see the justice minister?s letter, said it might have been taken out of context.
?If someone were asked to do a review, did the justice ministry actually go out to LAC to determine whether LAC had surveyed the land or not? Did the ministry of justice asked LAC for evidence? If someone is just asked to give an opinion on a peace law, they do give that opinion. But as to whether they have gone to the field to gather the necessary evidence to determine whether in effect someone had complied, that is a different issue. So let us not take that review out of context. And again I also need to read it,? Toe said.
Opposition leader Brumskine, a former senator from Grand Bassa, also said the agreement was not attested to by the Liberian justice minister.
Toe said if Counselor Brumskine believes that the LAC agreement is illegal, he should go to court, he should go to court to make his case.
?The president of the Republic of Liberia has the right to designate parties who will represent government?s interests in every matter. The justice ministry has its own jurisdiction, which is to represent the government of Liberia in court and to administer justice. It does not have the authority, neither has it been said anywhere that unless the ministry of justice attest to everything that an official government signs on behalf of the government of Liberia that that is not legal. If Counselor Brumskine believes that this is illegal, let him go to court,? Toe said.