The police have arrested an Odikro of Gyabenkrom and two others for destroying more than 33,000 mature rubber trees on a plantation belonging to the Ghana Rubber Estate Limited (GREL) in the Ahanta West Municipality in the Western Region.
The destruction is estimated to cost the company €95,000, equivalent to GH¢1.14 million.
Police sources said the action of the Odikro identified as Nana Agyarko was allegedly informed by his desire to reclaim part of government land allocated to GREL for rubber plantation, rezone it and sell to private individuals for development.
The Takoradi Divisional Police Command which is handling the case has granted bail to the suspects while investigation continues.
Preliminary investigation by the police showed that the Odikro allegedly hired some young people from outside Gyabenkrom, the community where the plantation is located, to fell the trees.
The Odikro and his two accomplices are helping the police in further investigations.
The Chairman of the Association of Chiefs On Whose Land GREL Operates (ACLANGO), Nana Kwesi Agyeman IX, has subsequently led some chiefs to tour the destroyed plantation at Gyabenkrom to assess the extent of damage to the rubber trees.
At a press conference after the inspection tour, the chairman described the act by the perpetrators as a threat to national development because they did not consider the national interest, job security of the employees and the community.
“Since 1993, GREL and traditional rulers through the association have been working together and living peacefully,” Nana Agyeman said.
He further condemned the action by the perpetrators, saying it equally had the tendency to send wrong signals to the investor community.
The ACLANGO chairman, therefore, urged the police to thoroughly investigate, arrest all culprits involved in the act and prosecute them.
Benefits to community
Nana Agyeman stated that the company’s operations in the area provided about 4,500 direct jobs to the local communities in its catchment area and more than 50,000 additional ones through its out-grower project.
He further pointed out that GREL was one of the major economic actors in the region, providing livelihood support to more than 70,000 people and that it was wrong for the perpetrators to enter the state land allocated to it for plantation and destroy the trees.
These invasions of GREL lands, Nana Agyeman added, would directly affect the raw material base needed for the smooth functioning of the two factories the company operated, hence the need for all relevant state actors to take the necessary steps to protect GREL’s legally leased concessions to ensure the sustainable employment of the youth in the area.
Nana Agyeman stated that the current situation where some people encroached on GREL lands under the guise of community expansion and for galamsey could best be described as an act of illegality that needed to be condemned.
The chairman stressed that the association and all other traditional rulers were in support of any punitive action the police would take against the perpetrators within the confines of the law.
“Those who forcefully take over GREL lands in the name of community expansion without recourse to the Office of the Lands Commission, the agency mandated to manage all state lands, are violating the law and must be made to face the law.
“A country that is seeking partnerships for investments and development should not have its citizens taking the law into their own hands and destroying the investments of private investors,” Nana Agyeman stated.
The plantation started as a small private venture by R. T. Briscoe in 1957 at Dixcove, with a plantation size of 923 hectares.
The plantation was nationalised into the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) in 1960 and later, State Farms Corporation in 1962.
At that time, the Rubber plantation had expanded to Abura and Subri.
GREL became wholly state-owned in 1980 when Briscoe (Firestone) sold its interest to the government.
The government entered into a financing agreement with the then Caisse Française de Development (CFD), now Agence Française de Development, to rehabilitate and manage the company’s Rubber plantation and to build a new rubber processing plant at Apimenim.
After the rehabilitation in 1996, the French management company, Societe Internationale de Plantations d’ Heveas (SIPH), became the major shareholder of the company with the new renewable lease of 50 years.