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Sierra Leone New: Sierra Rutile Ltd responds to complaints from Foinda

Residents of Foinda village in the Imperi Chiefdom Bonthe District who were displeased with “Sierra Rutile’s forceful relocation” and broken promises have written a letter of complaint to President Julius Maada Bio. The letter, which was signed by Mustapha Koroma, the leader of the displeased Foinda residents, accused Iluka’s subsidiary Sierra Rutile Limited of “ill treatment.”  About two years ago an agreement was reached between residents of Foinda and Sierra Rutile to relocate the village, which has over a thousand residents, to Madina in Imperi Chiefdom. Further adding that after several engagements between the company and local leaders including our Paramount Chief Hawa Kpanabum, and town committee, they were merely informed by the resettlement committee that an agreement had been reached for the company among other things to create a new settlement with replacing every structure in the old settlement, including a resettlement package of standard modern houses built with concrete blocks, compensation for crops, creation of recreational facilities, provision of vocational facilities for especially women, creation of sustained livelihood activities, regular or monthly feeding programmed for a period of five years, resettlement or remove allowances, promise of special provisions for the aged and many more. Residents are complaining, “The company… completely deviated from key component of those promises and relocated us to a new settlement of houses not only with very tight rooms and parlours but substandard houses.” The residents are also complaining about the smell of their latrines, mosquitoes, and smelly water. Apparently, the company agreed to feed the village for five years, which has been reduced to nine months. The Foinda letter adds, “No recreational facility and vocational training centers for our capacity building programs were created. No single provision has been created for our aged to an extent that they have only be reduced to be as prisoners in a desert. To crown it all the company has connived with some of our local leaders to defraud us the people and keep us in total darkness. Even our District Officer, Bonthe District, has sided with the company to defraud us and often threatens us with police action each time we peacefully protest for our burning issues,” the letter noted. Amidst these complaints and allegations, the Human Resources and Corporate Affairs Director of SRL, Aminata Kamara, has responded with an email that presents contrary information. Kamara wrote “…since merging with Australian company Iluka Resources in 2016, Sierra Rutile resettlement activities are now aligned with international standards and best practice. This includes the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standard 5 on Land Acquisition and Resettlement, that informs Sierra Rutile’s Resettlement Policy Framework.” The Foinda Resettlement Management Plan was approved by the Sierra Leone Environment Protection Agency, and Iluka’s Human Rights Policy. With regards to forceful relocation, Kamara noted, “Several meetings were held with community stakeholders; affected residents including Town Chief of Foinda, who is the Chair of the Foinda village Relocation Committee; their Paramount Chief (PC) Hawa Kpanabom IV. Foinda residents agreed with their PC on choice of location. SRL had no direct influence on choice as the community themselves voluntarily chose the location and was endorsed by their PC.” With regards to claims about turning village into ocean, SRL Corporate Affairs Director said   “the site was constructed partly during the wet season and plans to construct drainage was approved and will be constructed immediately the rainy season ends. Nevertheless, the current status of the site does not support the community’s claim.” She also noted that the quality of the structures is of very high standard based on the design and construction materials. “All structures were constructed with sancrete blocks, concrete and good quality corrugated iron sheets. SRL and TUV (the contractor) agreed a 12 months’ defect liability to undertake any defect repairs. For example, the rainu season affected some of the painting work and the contractor is aware and has agreed to repaint houses. This was communicated to the affected community and stakeholders.” Rutile refuted the claim that they have no drinking water. “Four boreholes were constructed by EDAL drilling and each cost $14,500 USD,” Kamara said. Aminita further added that SRL paid compensation for crops and trees that are not even disturbed but would likely be at some point in the future. Some may never utilised by SRL. Foinda community were provided farmland of 12 acres in the new location with unrestricted access and reasonable distance to at least 60% of their existing farmland. To effectively utilise the available farmland for agriculture, SRL has contracted the services of Nianda Agriculture Organization, a partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in Bonthe district. World Hope International, is currently implementing Greenhouse vegetable projects in partnership with Foinda Community and fully funded by SRL. Both interventions have a duration of 3 years. She added “there is a field provided for the school which is of good size. We have agreed with the school authorities to erect goal posts, which was later declined by the stakeholders. Also, SRL offered to provide two sets of football vest and pants to Foinda and the host community of Madina respectively. Negotiation for the rehabilitation (brushing, erection of goalpost, and pavilion of the existing field is ongoing though delayed as the community are divided on this option.” “All 114 dwelling houses from the old village were replaced with better standard housing. SRL built an extra house, which makes it 115 and was handed over to the PC to be used as a Chiefdom facility. Secondary assets such as village hall, goat pens were compensated for in cash that was agreed with owners. SRL will not replace sticks pegged to the ground (claiming to be a structure) after the cut off date and was agreed with the Foinda Village Resettlement Committee.” She said SRL handed over dwelling facilities with unused toilets and sanitary facilities. As part of our malaria control intervention, all new dwelling structure windows were fitted with mesh to restrict mosquitos getting into the houses. In the last four weeks, All Terrain Services (ATS) which is SRL’s catering and hospitality contractor has undertaken two fumigation activities in the entire village. Mosquitoes are not unique to Foinda but SRL will wherever possible, complement the efforts of the local government in addressing the mosquito and malaria problems in the district.” SRL replaced a two-classroom school with a four-classroom school with a hall that can take two classrooms, plus a staff and head teacher’s office. She said there was no commitment of 5-years food support from SRL. The agreed support of rice and cash (plasas money) was for an initial period of nine months, thereafter a review will be conducted to understand how much progress their agricultural activities are making. Then a further three months will be considered thereafter to make it a 12-month programme. SRL is mindful about the existing risk of dependency and lack of commitment of the community to engage in meaningful livelihood activities Aminata concluded that SRL has and will always be committed to paying compensation in a fair and timely manner. SRL will not pay crop compensation were there are evidence of fraudulent claims that were identified wherein false names were presented without valid identification.

OG/27/10/18

By Ophaniel Gooding

Monday October 29, 2018.

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