By Simon Ndive Kalla
The General Manager of Pamol plantations Plc, Chief Mekanya Okon Charles, has revealed that the giant corporation shall be springing back to life in the days ahead.
Haven been badly hit by the crisis, with the loss of an estimated FCFA 40 billion, Chief Mekanya maintains that “There are fresh hopes for the company, there is no way Pamol can collapse”, the GM has stated.
Chief Mekanya and his team have just rounded-up a two weeks campaign in the Lobe Estate, where they continuously preached the gospel of hope to workers, stakeholders and collaborators.
“We will take off very soon; though each time we try to go out for work, there have been a lot of hostility from these armed groups who do not want us to start, why, because they are benefitting from our palms”, the GM pointed out to The SUN.
Activities at Pamol have been paralysed with her plantations and factory operations grounded due to insecurity in the North West and South West Regions. Unidentified armed men are said to have caused a lot of destruction on Pamol’s assets. The plantations are all overgrown and have developed into secondary forests, The SUN observed. For the company to effectively resume her operations, much is therefore expected to be done to rehabilitate the plantations and installations.
According to Chief Mekanya Charles Okon, the company needs FCFA 1.3 billion to restart. He also laments loss of FCFA 40 billion since crisis began. Chief Mekanya said workers are tired of waiting, “Everybody wants to go back to work”, he said.
Pamol boss however regretted that, invaders are harassing workers and chasing them away from their residence and work places. “The workers are being threatened with kidnappings and death, I have lost about five workers who were slained by unidentified armed men”, he narrated.
According to the GM, the government is taking measures to make sure that sooner than later the roads will be passable and they will be able to get their products out and start business again. He is optimistic that with the recent meeting with an army general in Lobe, there are brighter days ahead.
“He is going to put things in place so we will be able to carry our activity in total security; that is what we have been promised and we count so much on that because each time we are in difficulty they have been prompt to act, so we thank them so much for their presence” Chief Mekanya Charles said.
Being with Pamol plantations Management at Lobe Estate for two weeks, The SUN observed that, work is gradually resuming, as engineers were busy working on the company’s generator, caterpillars were busy cleaning the roads, there was cleaning of the head offices, and its environs.
After months of inactivity due to the current Anglophone crisis plaguing the South West region, the management of Pamol has vowed to imminently restart operations to bring the estate back to its feet. Although challenged by the loss of FCFA 40 billion since the crisis began and the fact that a whopping FCFA 1.3 billion is needed to restart activities, Pamol General Manager, HRH Chief Charles Makenya Okon remains positive that Pamol will soon spring back to life. He spoke to The Sun’s Simon Kalla Ndive, in the course of his two-weeks stay in the crisis hit Lobe village, in this in-depth exclusive interview. Read!
Are you satisfied how workers are responding to the message you brought back to them?
you said close to eight months, I will say no, because the whole of this problem started since 2016, and
Briefly paint the picture of how the situation has been since the crisis started?
Well we started having difficulties to operate since November 2017 and since then, things have not been easy with us. It’s at that time that we were unable to carry any activity because the road to Kumba from Lobe was blocked and that is the only route to evaluate our products from the production center to the market area, so we had it difficult to function; it ended up with blowing off our Lobe water dam which completely halted work in the mill in February 2018. So it has been difficult for the company to operate since then, and after haven been out of work for almost two years and this is running third year, we told ourselves we have to take the bull by the horn.
What prompted you to engage the restart of work at this time when the crisis is yet to be over?
We know that there is insecurity, especially when they hear I’m coming or I’m around, but someone has to take the risk, someone has to led the group, someone has to be bold enough to make things happen. So I decided to take the challenge and curiously there are so many persons who were waiting for this opportunity and when we came, we were heralded that people are so eager to work and we started by cleaning the compound and roads all around the Estate, because we want to start with Lobe first before going to other Estates; we have cleaned the living premises, head offices and the mill which we are working now. You could see people who are tired of waiting to start work.
Aside personnel and courage what other challenges are present and what else is needed to restart activities?
The only handicap we have now is enough funding to take off because we have to buy a lot of equipment or spare parts to restart the mill, you know to start the mill which has been shut-down for two years, you need to clean it and grease it and turn it gradually for things to take off. We have also, the subsidiaries machinery like the heavy equipment bulldozer and front end loader which we use frequently which have to be served before start. People are waiting and we have been very lucky again that, government promised us some funding. Little came, that we were able to pay some few months to workers and they are all very happy that despite the fact that the convention has it that, in cases like this when work is suspended, everybody is on technical leave, but government has been sympathetic to the plight of the people and have given some funding to cater for their salaries.
So there is high hopes that, we will take off very soon but you have been here with me for two weeks you have seen that each time we try to go out for work, there have been a lot of hostility from these armed groups who don’t want us to start why because there are three major groups of people who don’t want the company to restart; first the group that has taken the plantation as their farms, they have divided the whole plantation into portions and they are lords in their respective areas, they get people to harvest and they pay them and make money for themselves. The second group are those displaced people from neighboring villages who have occupied houses of workers who have left and gone to safer grounds, those people too don’t want peace to come back because they will be sent out of their homes. The third group are malicious and lazy workers who think that when they continue this way government will pay, but it’s a pity government doesn’t pay money like that, we are a private institution, we are there to generate our own income, we have to make money for ourselves and if we don’t make money for ourselves we can’t be paid.
So those are people who don’t want work to start, there are just a few groups of people but then they constitute a significant nuisance because if you are somewhere and someone comes and shoots a bullet, everybody runs away, that’s what has been happening. Each time we work in the mill, they come and shoot and run away because they know they will be attacked by the army that has been provided for our security. However, I think it has calm down, it is calming down because we too have been resistant to their hostility. I think things will take off very soon.
How come the management of Pamol kept the hospital running?
We had to keep the hospital running, we had to plead to the workers to stay on and again even though there are separatists, they are all children around, they know their own fathers, brothers and sisters will fall ill and this is their own reference hospital so it’s in their own interest too to make sure that the hospital functions so that’s why those areas have been left untouched and it cost us a lot of money. We run our generators with fuel and it is very expensive, but it is necessary to keep the hospitals in all our Estates functioning fully.
What is the way forward with all the palm oil in the tons?
When these terrorists, as I will like to call them started refusing our oil to move to Kumba and beyond for sale, we tried and brought in the army to help us take these products out for sale but it couldn’t work because first the road is not the best and it was towards the rains. Secondly two transporter tankers were burnt down, one driver and motor-boy were killed by these terrorists; from then on, all transporters stopped coming because nobody wanted to risk his life and the infrastructure for transporting our oil from Lobe to Kumba. That is why I say if we have to start we have to make sure the road between Kumba-Lobe is secured, as that is where the major challenge is.
What is the way forward?
I think the government is taking measures to make sure that sooner than later the roads will be passable and we will be able to get our products out and start business. We had a meeting with the army General whom we convinced to come here last week; we had discussions with him. He is going to put things in place so we will be able to carry our activity in total security that is what we have been promised and we count so much on that because each time we are in difficulty they have been prompt to act, so we thank them so much for their presence.
What message do you have for your workers?
All of them know that, we all wish for life to come back, people have suffered a lot, the endurance has been too much, in-fact, my worry is not those who have left here but, those who are living here. And the irony is that, those who are here are being harassed by those individuals for ransom, for people whom they have refused them from working and they are asking them for money, where do they expect them to get money and give them?