Deficits Hit Cocopa! -Layoff Imminent

By: Fredrick P. W. Gaye & Gborontaye Gboron

Despite court ruling in favor of the Government to take over the Cocopa Rubber Plantation in Nimba County, situation at the plantation is said to be going from bad to worse; thus putting the workers at loggerheads with the caretaker company.

The Nimba Rubber Incorporated (NRI) was appointed by the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, to take care of the plantation after GOL sued LIBCO for not performing consistent with the GOL-LIBCO Agreement.

It can be recalled that recently, workers of the plantation threatened to go-slow in demand of their four-month salary arrears that management allegedly owes them.

Speaking to the In Profile Daily in Ganta recently, the President of Cocopa Workers Union, Sarpah B. Mah, alleged that for the past four months, the company has not paid their salaries; something he said is creating serious hardship on workers and families. Mah put the number of workers at 1, 165 and tappers alone at 492.

However, he said management paid them only one month salary during the July 26 Independence celebration.

When contacted at his Congo Town Office on Saturday, August 8, 2015, Nimba Rubber Incorporated (NRI) General Manager/Chief Executive Officer, Solomon S. W. Gaigaie, admitted that the company owes the employees four months’ salary arrears; but said management has paid one month, while the arrears of three months still outstanding. He named the remaining months as May, June and July of 2015. Gaigaie also said the NRI owes other vendors due to the situation.

He alleged that since the court ruled and turned the plantation over to the government, employees have been reluctant to work, thus affecting production.  “This reduction in production, coupled with the drop in rubber price on the world market, creates a condition where the company spends far beyond its sales, adding to accrued deficits,” Gaigaie explained.

According to him, NRI took over the company on October 1, 2013, at the time when previous company, LIBCO, had not paid employees for three months (July, August and September of 2013) and other vendors in the amount of US$1,180,057.00 (one million one hundred and eighty thousand fifty seven United States dollars).

The NRI head told this paper that negotiations are ongoing to settle the employees’ salary arrears by September 12, 2015.

He disclosed plans by management to pay off all employees due to overstaff in the face of drop in rubber price, coupled with reduction in production. For the payoff, he said it will be done in phases; though he did not mention how many phases.

Gaigaie claimed that the plantation was overstaffed by LIBCO when rubber price was high, but failed to reduce staff when rubber price started dropping on the world market; something he said has created serious problem for NRI.

He, however, said NRI will recruit manageable staff and employees following the payoff exercise in order to make the plantation profitable. “What we are doing now is like running an NGO. But we will recruit manageable staff and employees to make the plantation profitable,” he emphasized.

To keep the plantation from collapse, Gaigaie said government had intervened by paying US$411,087 to pay the inherited three-month salary arrears and supply rice to employees.

Since 2013 up to present, as indicated in its 16-month report made to the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in February 2015, Cocopa has not been able to pay employees and vendors, he said, adding, “So, as a management, we have always subsidized to settle salaries to employees and other operation expenses.”

In the report, which covered October 1, 2013 to January 31, 2015, Gaigaie explained that NRI, in collaboration with its partners, invested US$2,105,363.35 (two million one hundred five thousand three hundred and sixty three United States dollars thirty five cents), in addition to the US$1,588,554.00 (one million five hundred eighty eight thousand five hundred fifty four United States dollars) generated from rubber sales during the period under review.

The former, he said was a deficit after spending US$3,693,917.45 (three million six hundred ninety three thousand nine hundred and seventeen United States dollars forty five cents) on salaries, wages, benefits and other operation activities during the period under review.

Additionally, an NRI record covering February-July 23, 2015, indicates a down trend of monthly sales that were far less than salaries. NRI made a net sales of US$47,415.75 (forty seven thousand four hundred and fifteen United States dollars seventy five cents) in March 2015, with salary payment of US$128,884.60 (one hundred twenty eight thousand eight hundred eighty four United States dollars and sixty cents) in said month.

Forgery Suspect Charged & Detained

The Monrovia City Court has charged a 25-year-old man identified as Ben Sonni with forgery, counterfeiting and criminal conspiracy he reportedly committed against the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).

The City Court on Tuesday, August 4, 2015 charged suspect Ben Sonni and sent him to the Monrovia Central Prison, pending court trial, while his partner in crime only identified as Lawrence is on the run.

Sonni was charged for “knowingly, intentionally and criminally” conspiring with Lawrence and others to produce, print, and sell fake job forms purported to be from the Liberia Revenue Authority for their personal gains. Their action violates Section 15.70, Subchapter E and Section 10.4 of the Penal Code of Liberia.

Sonni, who is a casual worker at the National Port Authority, was arrested recently by the Liberia Seaport Police and authorities of the LRA following a tipoff.

The public is hereby advised that the LRA is not selling any job forms and will never sell any forms for jobs. The public is requested to please take note and be guided accordingly.