SOCFIN harasses land rights activists

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 Socfin GM: Philip Tonks

In what amounts to a blatant seizure of land, the Socfin Agricultural Company has continually applied rigid and obnoxious measures to indigenes in the Malen Chiefdom. In most cases when the locals raise their voices to advocate for the rights of owning land they are sometimes shot at by security forces.

 In one instance, the military opened fire on two locals who were left dead for protesting against the Socfin Agricultural Company.

 The level of violence and brutality meted out on locals by the biofuel palm oil company has attracted the attention of rights groups who are currently championing the cause of the Malen residents.

Green Scenery is one right group that has blatantly frowned at the land appropriation policy of the Socfin Agricultural Company.

Below is a press release issued by Green scenery to raise alarm and public attention on the burning issue in Pujehun District.

PRESS RELEASE 

Regarding Arbitrary harassment and criminalization of land activists in Malen Chiefdom, peacefully objecting to the RSPO certification of SOCFIN Members of the Malen Affected Land Owners and Users Association (MALOA) and signatories of a petition objecting to the certification of SOCFIN Agricultural Company by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have been a target of arbitrary harassment and criminalization.

 Green Scenery is concerned about the constriction of freedom of expression of land activists who peacefully advocate for their rights. Green Scenery urges the local authorities to refrain from limiting the civic space of Human Rights Defenders in Malen Chiefdom.

 On the 10th of March 2022, MALOA issued a petition signed by 1,475 of its members to object to the Certification of SOCFIN by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in January 2022.

 MALOA argues therein that the RSPO auditor lacked independence from the company and therefore assessed many issues wrongly in its report. MALOA has for over a decade been aggrieved about the fact that some landowners did not lease their lands willingly to SOCFIN, that their local traditional chiefs were appointed by the Paramount Chief instead of through elections, and that their organization is prevented to meet within the chiefdom.

 While the RSPO auditor, SCS Global Services has mentioned those issues in their reports, they nevertheless certified the company in total contradiction to the RSPO criteria, assuming without thorough engagement that only a handful of people belong to MALOA.

Since the petition was made available to the public, MALOA members and signatories of the petition have seen their freedom of expression threatened.

 Two petitioners have been summoned to the local court by the town chief of Hinnai, Imurana Koroma for “bad work done in my community”, while another has been called by the police for “inciting people against the SOCFIN company”.

 Announcements were also made to communities, that signatories to the petition would be judged by the local court and that employees of SOCFIN who signed the document would lose their employment. Furthermore, our sources have intimated to us that chiefs in villages that signed the petition in greater numbers have informed these villages that cultural activities will be suspended because of the signing. Green Scenery 42 Charles Street, P.O. Box 278, Freetown, Sierra Leone Tel/Fax: 232 22 226216. Cell: 232 76 601979. Email: [email protected] Web: www.greenscenery.org The Country’s Natural Resources Are Natures Gift To Us What We Make Of Them Are Our Gift To Posterity Green Scenery is concerned that a trend is observed in the nature of intimidation, harassment, and criminalization of MALOA members and citizens of Malen Chiefdom who are expressing their grievances through peaceful means such as a petition. They have been the serial target of harassment and criminalization. The right of expression as guaranteed by the Sierra Leone Constitution remains restricted in Malen Chiefdom.

 The chiefdom remains to be police chiefdom where citizens including the signatories of the petition are in perpetual fear of being targeted by the local authorities, which suppress aggrieved citizens from expressing their decade-long grievances. Green Scenery urges the authorities in Malen Chiefdom to refrain from arbitrarily harassing and criminalizing Human Rights Activists peacefully expressing their grievances over the operations of SOCFIN in Malen Chiefdom. We call on the central government to ensure that the constitutional rights of its citizens in Malen Chiefdom are not infringed and further call on the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone to investigate the matter and protect the rights of peaceful citizens.  

UBA SL Excels in 2021 Audited Financial Statement

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Highlights: Income Statement 25% Year on Year (YoY) Growth in Gross Earnings to Le246.6 billion. 28% YoY Growth in Profit Before Tax and Profit After Tax to Le158.7 billion and Le118.7 billion respectively. Improved Cost-to-Income Ratio of 31.4%; compared to 33.8% in 2020FY. Return on Average Equity (RoAE): 39.3%; compared to 42.6%; in 2020FY. Increased Corporate Income Tax payment obligation from Le30.6 billion in 2020 FY to Le 40.1billion in 2021FY.

 Balance Sheet 46% YoY Growth in Total Assets to Le1.92 trillion. 170% YoY Growth in Net Loans to Le160.5 billion.

  65% YoY Growth in Customer Deposits to Le1.3 trillion.

 28% YoY Growth in Shareholders’ Funds to Le339 billion.

 UBA Sierra Leone recently received Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) “No Objection” approval to publish its Year 2021 Audited Financial Statement which was earlier approved by its Board of Directors on the 29th of March 2022. The Bank recorded a remarkable performance in the financial year with significant improvements across most parameters amidst the challenging year on a reassuring note despite the tumultuous impact and slow pace of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic globally. Specifically, on income performance, the bank recorded a remarkable Profit Before Tax (PBT) of Le158.7 billion and Profit After Tax (PAT) of Le118.7billion representing impressive year-on-year double digits growth of 28% in both cases. The 2021 PAT translates to a 39.3% post-tax return on average equity, 10.1% return on total assets and increase in our corporate tax payment obligation to Government from Le30.6 billion in 2020 to Le40.1 billion in 2021. Gross earnings increased by 25% for the year ended 2021 accounting for the year-on-year increase in net interest income by 15% from Le 141.9 billion to Le163.7 billion. The bank also leveraged on its transaction banking channels, digital banking products, trade and foreign exchange offerings to grow non-interest income to 24% of gross earnings. We remain optimistic that our investments in alternative channels will continue to support the growth of our non[1]interest income lines to continually increase our gross earnings in the medium term. While our operating expenses increased by 16% in 2021 due to increase in the volume of our operations and the general inflationary trend in the country, it is pleasing to note that that our cost-to-income ratio, one of our crucial key performance indicators, further improved to 31.4% from 33.8% in 2020 due to the incremental revenue from our expanded operation and business volume. We expect this to be sustained in the coming years as we leverage on increasing digitalisation of our products and service as well as various process improvement initiatives in the bank. UBA closed the year 2021 with a balance sheet size of Le1.92 Trillion a growth of Le607.9 Billion representing a 46% increase compared to Le1.32 trillion in 2020. This growth was largely driven by growth in deposits from customers. Despite the challenging market situation, the bank recorded growth of 65% in customer deposits to close at Le1.3 Trillion at the end of the year compared to Le787.4 billion in 2020 by leveraging on its digital prowess to provide 24/7 service to its customers via electronic channels to defy the Covid 19 constraints, the introduction of new deposit liability products like the Tier 1 and Tier 2 savings accounts, UBA Sharp-Sharp Savings Accounts, UBA Next Level Savings Account, UBA Extra, UBA Teens, UBA Dreams,UBA NextGen Savings Accounts and UBA Kiddies. The introduction of these new liability products made a significant increase in the number of accounts opened in 2021FY. We have doubled the total no of accounts in the bank in one year (2021) by 116%. Our primary strategy is to continue to focus on providing excellent services to our customers in line with our Customer First(C1st)Philosophy and strong commitment to delighting our customers at every point of interaction under our CX initiatives. Also, as part of the drive to widen our financial inclusion, bank the unbanked and underbanked in the country, the Bank rolled out three more branches one at the Western Area rural community at Adonkia, the 2nd at the Western Area Urban community at Wellington industrial estate and more recently the 3rd branch at Waterloo which increased the total number of our branches in the country to 10 (ten) plus 4 cash/ATM Centers. In area of risk assets, we created Le101.0 billion additional loans as we continued to support our customers and their businesses. The customer loan book inched up by 170% year-on-year to close at Le 160.5 billion compared to Le59.5 billion in 2020. UBA Sierra Leone remains very liquid and adequately capitalized, with capital adequacy ratio of 112.5% (2020: 112.7%) which is well above the regulatory minimum of 15%. As a global bank, we remain well capacitated and determined to successfully drive financial inclusion on the continent through our innovative products and vast network. Our capital buffer remains strong to support our business growth and branch expansion plan, particularly as we are also leveraging internally generated capital by way of prudent and pragmatic high level of earnings retention over the years. Outlook and strategic focus Despite the highly competitive operating environment, we leveraged our franchise and deepened our market share across our key focus sectors by increasing our share of existing customer’s wallet while also on-boarding new customers. We are particularly pleased with the growth in our retail and corporate deposits which is a testament to our investment in service channels, digital banking offerings and renewed focus on superior customer experience across all our contact points.

 In this area, On the 26th March 2022 at the Gigibonta Car Park, Freetown, we launched the UBA Digital Wan Pot Campaign geared towards enrolling all UBA customers on UBA’s digital platforms. The growth in retail deposits which is largely a stable, low-cost source of funding provides further stability to our balance sheet and reinforces a stronger outlook in the years ahead. In extension to the above, UBA Sierra Leone on Saturday 6th February 2021, launched its Saturday Banking initiative at Charlotte Street Branch in Freetown to cover all branches of the bank. This is part of the subsidiary’s direct response to the Bank’s Customer 1st Philosophy. The Saturday Banking Initiative introduced by UBA Sierra Leone seeks to meet the demand of the bank’s corporate, retail and wholesale customers that generate huge volume of cash transactions during the weekend to enable them make deposit and have access to their monies. “Our ability to significantly grow our customer deposits base, total assets, and profitability in such a competitive banking industry is a source of pride. We do not intend to rest on our oars. We will continue to explore opportunities for business growth in the marketplace, devote attention to the execution of several initiatives outlined in our Project Alpha Strategy, leverage on the expertise and strength of our parent company as a leading pan[1]African bank to drive the attainment of our industry leadership objectives across various parameters in the banking space. We will always strive to deliver superior services to our customers in a sustainable way in line with our C1st (Customer First) operating philosophy” said Usman Isiaka, MD/CEO UBA Sierra Leone. Deepen the local content of the Board The United Bank for Africa, Sierra Leone as part of the process of strengthening its position as a Global Bank with high local content appointed two (2) more Sierra Leonean as members of its Board of Directors, in the persons of Dr. Claudius Bart-Williams as Independent Non-Executive Director and Mohamed Alhajie Samoura as Executive Director, Business Development during the 2021 Financial Year. This appointment brings to nine (9) the number of the directors of the bank with seven (7), including the Chairman as Sierra Leonean. Following the exit of a foreign Director, the bank also appointed Mr. Desmond Gordon-Williams, a Sierra Leonean as an Independent Non-Executive Director in February 2022. The multitude of local directors on the Board of UBA Sierra Leone is part of the UBA Group’s strategic focus on domesticating the governance, products, and services of the bank to meet the local requirements of the host economy in all its 20 presence countries in Africa. Major Awards in 2021 UBA Sierra Leone was awarded The Banker’s “Bank of the Year for 2021” as the Best Bank in Sierra Leone. This award has further demonstrated our strong presence in the financial space in the country. We have consistently won this prestigious award for the third time in a row in 2021,2020 and 2019 in Sierra Leone. We also won the Best Innovative Bank for 2021 from the Concord Times Awards. UBA remains dedicated to using improved digital solutions to provide seamless banking experience to our valued customers. We want to use this opportunity to thank our esteemed customers for their continuous patronage that contributed significantly to this sterling performance and the Board for their unceasing support that is a source of encouragement to all staff and management of the bank in our journey towards making UBA Sierra Leone the undisputable leading and dominant financial service institution in the country.

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