Titus Boye-Thompson, Communications Expert
The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) Prof. Patrick Monty Jones, on Monday 9th May 2016, called on all sides to exercise patience and understanding in one of the longest run disputes between land owners, Paramount Chiefs and a local project at Mattru Jong, Bonthe District. In a heated debate over the issues, Prof. Monty Jones admonished all parties to be patient as Government seeks to bring what he called a lasting peace for progress and development in the Chiefdom.
Speaking at a packed meeting called for the purpose of finalizing the long running dispute which according to the Chief Agriculture Officer Mr Sankoh has spanned three Ministers with none coming this close to secure a lasting agreement between the parties. Announcing to the large gathering that he had first of all sought for and secured His Excellency Dr Ernest Bai Koroma’s approval for this matter to be decisively settled, Prof. Monty Jones made it clear that as he sees it, the solution, based on the clamour of the majority of the people was to invite private participation on the Oil Palm Project at Mattru Jong. In this regard, Prof. Monty Jones announced that he will start the process of privatization of the plantation and invite interested parties to bid for and manage the plantation. He however promised that after defraying the loan repayments and other costs undertaken by Government thus far, the local land owners, Paramount Chiefs and other stakeholders will benefit from a share of the residual proceeds from the sale of the plantation. Asking for assurances from the Paramount Chiefs and other stakeholders for their commitment to the peace that had been brokered between the parties, Prof. Monty Jones cautioned the people of Jong Chiefdom that there will be no development in any area if peace does not prevail. He advised that even with the call by the people for privatization of the plantation, no private sector company would be willing to invest in an area where the community does not act in harmony and with one accord.
Pandemonium broke out when Mr Syl Goba, a former Deputy Minister and local resident attempted to cake a commitment to the newly brokered peace. He was frustrated from addressing the gathering for what was largely seen as his role in protracting the dispute. The crowd was subsequently quietened by the Minister who maintained that the emphatic will of the people was for peace to prevail. In the event, the Minister delegated authority to the Project Coordinator Mr Alusine Kallon to continue in his present role but to be closely supervised by the District Agriculture Officer, Mr Musa Kandeh. They will report to the Chief Agriculturist at MAFFS head office in Freetown who in turn will report directly to the Minister on progress at the site. It is expected that the privatization process will take six to eight months and this interim management would remain in place for that period until a buyer is found for the plantation.
Earlier, Minister of State South, Mr Muktarr Conteh, noted that the responsibility for peace rests with every stakeholder in the District and with the Mattru Jong landowners and Chiefdom authorities in particular. He addressed the meeting with hope of good news on Government’s commitment to construct the Bo – Mattru Road as well as to complete the ongoing road works in the town within two years. This he said shows Government’s desire to attract private sector investment into Mattru and to secure more projects for the District but for this to happen, peace must prevail.
Dr Sheku G. Kamara, Adviser to the President on Agriculture confirmed that he had visited the Mattru Jong Chiefdom four times already simply to engage in discussions on this matter, He lamented that certain parties had not been truly committed to a lasting solution in the past but declared his support for the peace now brokered by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, saying that this was the best chance for the people to settle this matter that had been a bone of contention for such a long time.
Commending the people of Mattru Jong for their commitment to peace, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security informed the gathering that his Ministry remains focussed on the President’s post Ebola reconstruction directive to increase production and productivity of agriculture produce in the country. In that regard, there are already support available to farmers to diversify their crop production as well as to encourage farmers to increase the areas under cultivation. He enjoined the people of Mattru Jong to put all the difficult times behind them and to move on from a Plantation that was established over forty years ago and for which the people have suffered enough as a result of under achievement of their aspirations for their welfare. The Minister assured the gathering that he will closely monitor the progress of the interim management team and would seek to secure the best settlement for all concerned. In attendance at the meeting were Paramount Chief J. C. A. D. Sheriff and Paramount Chief D. C. Baryoh. Both Paramount Chiefs made statements recommending the peace for their people and committed to working with the interim management in smoothing over any residual matters that would need attention at the local level.