Buchanan, Grand Bassa County - It’s less than a year since the famous energy renewable company, Buchanan Renewable Energy (BRE) shut down its operations in the country and many of its former workers are now expressing their frustration over the company’s closure.
Based in Buchanan city with most of its operations in Grand Bassa and Margibi Counties; BRE was credited for providing jobs for over 2,000 people before it closed . Much of the reasons associated with the company’s closure are centered on its failure to meet up with the concession agreement.
As per the contract, BRE was expected to collect and turn old and unproductive rubber trees into wood chips from rubber farms in Grand Bassa and Margibi counties.BRE was expected to then turn the wood chips into renewable energy to power up Monrovia, Margibi and other parts of the country. But the company shipped all of its wood chips to Europe and other parts of the world during the almost five years of operations. The Liberian legislature heavily criticized BRE for what was termed as ‘reneging on its promises’ as contained in the contract between the company and the government. While operating, BRE on many occasions was accused of changing ownership or illegally selling shares, thereby changing its name to: BRF, BRP and BR.
To cut a long story short BRE resolved to shutting down its operations after the company was termed by many as a ‘’419” company. Many of its former workers who are currently jobless insist that the government should have approached the BRE situation differently instead of causing the company to pulled-out. Their argument is seriously based on the number of jobs the company provided, which they say boasted the local economy and source of livelihood in the port city of Buchanan.
“Residents and citizens that were working with the company were enjoying; they had their houses, and their children were going to school but now everything has changed for these families. Even though we agree that they (government) say that BRE was not doing all that was in the agreement but it was a mistake for them to allow BRE to leave,” said Daniel Gbassagee a resident of Buchanan City.
Mix reactions in the county’s capital show how much impact the aftermath of BRE’s departure is having on communities. With little or no knowledge about the economic or political impact of BRE failure to implement their part of the bargain, these former BRE-workers’ expressions depict that the government is the villain in this episode.
Eddie Worjloh, a former BRE employee who now works with China Henan International Company (CHICO), a Chinese Engineering firm, told FrontPage Africa that he was among over 2000 people that petitioned the Liberian legislature in June 2012 to allow BRE stay in the country. According to him, the law makers paid ‘deaf ear’ to their cry and opted for the closing down of the company.
Two Grand Bassa lawmakers are consistently being criticized and widely blamed for the closure of the Buchanan Renewables. These critics assert that Representatives Gabriel Smith (Electoral district three) and Jeh Byron Browne (Electoral district four) massively advocated for the closure of the company. Fingers remain pointed at the two law makers based on their outspoken approaches to the BRE situation during the House of Representatives hearings on the company status about a year ago.
Responding to the allegation, Rep. Brown has emphatically said that the company’s operation was bogus and did not provide a decent working environment as well as job security for the Bassa people. The outspoken law maker clarified that the decision against BRE was decided by the government of Liberia and not he alone, but his critics claimed he advocated for the company’s shut-down instead of opening talks to correct the wrongs.
Some of the city residents told FrontPage Africa that reduction of jobs in Buchanan, mainly because of the closure of BRE has increased the crime rate in the city with burglary occurring most frequently over the past months.
“Just recently my house was burglarized in the night,” a resident of the Saypue hill community said. “I can’t blame the police, they are working and trying their best but the root cause is the high unemployment rate in the town,” he concluded.
The County Information Officer, Mr. Eddie Williams squarely agrees that the exit of Buchanan Renewables is having a trigger down effect on the county’s economy leaving many jobless, thus increasing the crime rate.
“What we actually wanted was for national government and the company to negotiate so as to prevent taking jobs from these people,” Mr. Williams said. ‘’ The crime rate is now going up and let’s agree that some of these guys involved were at least doing something before but now nothing is doing for them so they’ve gone back to the their old ways,” he added.
But Police in Grand Bassa County has denied the news of an increased in burglary in Buchanan. The Police insist that the ‘speculation of burglary’ is based on the perception of the public, adding that records of reported crimes at the police stations in the city don’t confirmed the speculation.
“This means either these criminal incidents are not reported to the police or the situation is being exacerbated,” the police source said.
As the county’s mouth piece, Mr. Eddie Williams view reflects the position of the county administration which is faced with the trouble of dealing with the everyday social, political and economic tension from people in the county. According to the Mr. Williams, the county administration has been involve with stakeholders meetings at the national level in other to attract job opportunities for Grand Bassa in the energy and petroleum sectors. This might take months if not years to fully create the number of jobs people in the county are desperate to have.
Recently over 25 men who were employees of the company confirmed they were paid-off by the company after it shut-down operations. This means any quarrel between the workers and the defunct-company has been carefully avoided, but some concern ex-workers are still hoping for the company to resurface. It might be a ‘miracle’ to see that illusion turned to reality especially with the sharp criticism the company received from mainly the legislative branch of the Liberian government. Credible sources hinted this paper that a probe is being carried out by some experts from abroad about BRE’s past operations. Some are insinuating that the experts are former partners of the company who have come to dig out the truth about the company’s ‘acrimonious’ exit from the country. At the same time, reports suggest that Green Advocates, an advocacy institution, planned and later cancelled a meeting with some former employees of the company. Opa Thomas who worked with the energy company for more than four years told FrontPage Africa that the meeting was postponed at the eleventh hour with the organizers giving no definite reason.
“BRE departure has visibly signaled a warning to investors who might want to take advantage of the government’s desperate need to provide jobs for its population,”a teacher at the Bassa High School claims.
The legislature rigorous dealings with the BRE scenario have somehow exhibited the power they have in making sure better investments are scouted for the country’s porous economy.
At an intellectual gathering on Thomas Street in Buchanan, men argued about the impact of the company’s exit and what the government should have done to prevent it. A man in his mid-forties begged for audience and when it was given, he cautioned his listeners that things might get tough in the county if a new company does not filled the void. Some agreed but bluntly said that credible companies are more rewarding to the county and the country then companies like BRE that ‘bent over’ on what they promised.
These conversations are not important for the over 50 jobless men who gathered on a daily basis at the Monrovia junction in lower Hardlandsville hoping to get a day’s meal or work to do. The Monrovia junction parking is the appropriate place to find the many drivers who hope have been dash after the famous BRE close-down, and all they await is another company to fill the void.
Crying over spill milk is obvious in this nation. For many who are affected by the BRE shut-down, it is hard to live with, while some spend most of the day blaming the lawmakers for their condition.
Meanwhile, police in Buchanan have arrested an undisclosed number of men on Thursday, May 23 for their connection to a burglary at the compound of AFCON, a construction company based in Buchanan. It is unclear whether these suspected criminals are some of the former workers of the defunct Buchanan Renewable Energy, BRE.