PHC’s response to the of 04 April 2024

The company Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC) is participating in a mediation between the company and the communities surrounding its operational sites organized by the Independent Complaint Mechanism (ICM) of the European development banks DEG (Germany) and HMO (The Netherlands), following a complaint filed by the NGO RIAO on behalf of the communities of Boteka and Lokutu in 2018. At the time, these banks had lent money to Feronia which was then the majority shareholder of PHC.

The mediation meetings began in June 2022. At that time, Straight KKM2 had become the new majority shareholder of PHC and had paid off the debts of the European development banks. PHC was therefore no longer obligated to participate in the ICM mediation which is put in place for companies with debts to these banks. However, the new PHC management team, entirely Congolese, and set up by Straight KKM2 with the mission of pursuing the vision of creating shared prosperity through agribusiness, decided to voluntarily participate in this mediation, in order to benefit from this independent and neutral platform to lay the foundations for a new era of collaboration that respects the rights of communities and complies with the laws and regulations of the Democratic Republic of Congo to which the company is obliged to abide.

All the participants in the ICM mediation signed a code of conduct which they are required to respect. The ICM mediator’s report mentioned in the letter from some NGOs and published on the website on April 4, 2024 was not yet finalized by the ICM and is a first draft of a progress report sent to the parties involved in the mediation. Comments on this first draft should be sent to the ICM mediator who alone has the right to make his report public.

The PHC land title verification commission, set up in the context of the ICM mediation, did its job and confirmed that PHC had authentic land titles, consistent with the laws of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and for which PHC pays annual land charges in accordance with the land laws and regulations of the country.

The letter of April 4, 2024 refers to “a conflict between the directors and shareholders of PHC who are allegedly engaged in two major legal battles”. The allegations made in this letter are false and it is wise to await the conclusion of current legal proceedings before making a statement. What is true is that PHC’s new management has succeeded in increasing the productivity of PHC employees and that the company’s financial performance has significantly increased. In 3 years, the company’s production has increased by 78%. PHC has undertaken to carry out all the actions to which the company had committed in the social clauses that the company signed with the communities in 2017. In addition, the company established in September 2023 the PHC Foundation, a non-profit public interest institution which will further amplify the positive social impact of PHC’s actions towards communities.

Since the management of PHC was put under entirely Congolese leadership, the company has experienced a resounding success and its relations with communities have greatly improved. PHC today is pleased with the state of relations with its surrounding communities who, when they speak for themselves, appreciate what PHC is doing as per this link. In addition, PHC and the communities have set up a Social Clauses Monitoring Committee and a Conflict Management Committee, both chaired by community members, which facilitate the exchange of information on PHC’s social actions and the resolution of conflict situations that could possibly arise.

Between 2020 and 2024, PHC more than quadrupled the annual budget intended for the implementation of social clauses to speed up the implementation of its commitment to the communities in 2017. Thus, 18 schools were built after 2021 compared to only 4 before 2021; 12 health centers have been handed over to the communities and a thirteenth will be finished soon while none was built before 2021; 7 residence houses for community leaders were built after 2021, compared to only one before 2021; 6 guest houses and a warehouse were built and put into service for the benefit of the communities and under community management.

Beyond these achievements exclusively in favor of the communities, it should be noted that PHC continues to make its four hospitals which have more than 460 patient beds, 18 dispensaries and 4 health centers available to its workers and to community members. PHC hospitals provide more than 150,000 consultations per year and more than 2,000 children are born each year in PHC maternity wards. In addition, PHC has dug and maintains 70 boreholes that provide drinking water to residents of communities surrounding PHC.

The NGO letter published on April 4, 2024 on ignores these realities and is simply interested in exploiting political considerations dating from the colonial era and which are not in phase with today’s realities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an independent country for over 60 years. The challenges of the development of our communities and the conflicts between citizens of the same country and their public or private institutions must be resolved in the country, before the national institutions and in compliance with the laws and regulations of the country, as is done in any country in Europe or elsewhere.

PHC’s position on the NGO letter is that this letter exploits a not yet published interim report of the mediation between PHC and its surrounding communities, mediation that the NGO RIAO has attempted to block on several occasions. Our understanding is that this report was a first draft on which the stakeholders were called upon to comment before the mediator produced a final report. PHC has expressed its comments on this report to the mediator and is waiting for the mediator to produce a final report before publicly commenting on the mediation.

Furthermore, the letter mentions false allegations supposedly contained in charges that would be before the courts. PHC rejects all these allegations. For any matter before the court, it is wise to wait for the court’s verdict before making any statement.

On the other hand, PHC considers that the signatories of this letter do not have a mandate to represent the interests of the communities. These communities have their leaders and their own organizations which alone have the right to speak on behalf of the communities. PHC and its surrounding communities have set up two committees through which PHC’s social actions towards the communities are monitored by them and any disagreements can be resolved. As part of the ICM mediation, PHC has proposed establishing a high-level consultation committee, involving PHC senior management officials, community leaders and local government representatives in which major initiatives for community development would be discussed to guide the interventions proposed by PHC.

To our knowledge, none of the organizations that signed the letter of April 4, 2024 can show a single action they have accomplished for the development of the communities of Lokutu or Boteka. The leaders of these communities also reiterate that they had not mandated any organization or person to speak on their behalf.

Plantations et Huileries du Congo

Kinshasa, DR Congo

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