By: Moses R. Quollin, Environmental Reporter/Talk-Show Host (0770922412/0880922412 firstname.lastname@example.org )
Greenville, Sinoe County: Even though all is not yet resolve as some aggrieve citizens (protesters) continue to threaten others, vowed to seriously deal with anyone [opposing party] or who-be-operators dare enter their forest, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) have confirmed the endorsement of Atlantic Resources Limited/Delta Development Corporation to carry on logging activities in Tartweh Drapoh Community Forest, Sinoe County in what it said is accordance with the forestry law.
According to the FDA’s deputy managing director for operation Joseph Telly, until tangible reasons are identified to trash out a pending social agreement between Atlantic/Delta Development Corporation and Tartweh Drapoh Community forest leadership, CFMB, “FDA will go ahead to approve the third party contract as was expected.
The aggrieves protesters, most of whom are hunters, were reportedly heard challenging Authority, “We dare anyone to come here, enter our bush and say they coming to cut down a single leaf or tree…”
Chapter 7, Section 7.1 of the Community Rights Law regulation of 2017, as amended states: “Once the community applying for Authorized Forest Community status has formed its Community Assembly, selected and appointed the Community Forest Management Body, and adopted a constitution, governing bylaws and forest rules, the Authority shall issue a Community Forest Management Agreement for review and signature. In order to be approved for participation in the community forestry program, the Community Forest Management Body shall, following review by members of the applicant community, agree to and sign a Community Forest Management Agreement with the Authority.”
In a conversation with this paper over the week end, days following previous reportages, Joseph Telly said FDA received complaints about misunderstandings among residents of the forest community and the government is still investigating issues surrounding the reported disturbance within the area. “We never knew anything about two competing operators in that area until we read from your report in the newspaper. For Tartweh Drapoh, we have records only on Atlantic Resource not UFC.”
Mr. Telly said FDA works with the legitimate leadership; Community Assembly (CA) runs by the Executive Committee (EC) and the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) which runs the day-to-day affairs of an Authorized Forest Community (AFC). Therefore, the EC Chairman Mike S. Naklen, Sr. and the CFMB’s Chief Officer, Sorboh S. Wesseh enjoy the confidence of the community forest leadership except otherwise proven contrary by the CA, highest decision makers within a given AFC, “not a group of people who are not members of the Community Assembly”
Recently an Authorized Forest Community, Tartweh/Drapoh, on counts of leadership and operators (investors) disagreement experienced for the second time an intense violence, fire exchanges in which several residents sustained major and minor injuries as some towns and villages were burnt down to ashes.
Opposing party under the umbrella of “Elders and Traditional Council” demanded the removal of CFMB’s chief officer Sorboh S. Wesseh and Executive Committee chair Mike S. Naklen Sr. on several claims ranging from financial impropriety, corruption, gross disrespect to the Elders & Traditional Council, and among others.
In an interaction with the Catholic runs Radio Maria’s environmental radio program, the ‘Environment & You,’ Tartweh Drapoh’s CFMB chief officer Wesseh, later followed by the EC chairman Naklen, resisted their removals refuting claims of arbitrary and constitutional violations.
FDA, which supervises, regulates and monitors the forestry sector in response to the clash halted on-going activities within the area pending investigation by state securities and urged both parties to revert or file a formal complaint.
“Chapter 6.1 of the Community Rights Law Regulation clearly establishes FDA’s jurisdiction over community forestry management as the lead agency for community forestry while chapter 6.2f of the same regulation further empowers it to facilitate the resolution of conflicts upon request by an Authorized Forest Community (AFC). “ FDA said in its statement issued May 2, 2019.
So far, an independent probe conducted by this paper shows that the crisis is far from reaching its logical end as government entities appeared to be reneging on their responsibilities either base on external or influential factors like the alleged involvements of some government’ officials most of whom are yet to be identified.
Police spokesman, Moses Carter consistently failed to give details on the altercation, purported investigation of LNP (those allegedly link, arrest made, the cause of violence, etc.) but said “the findings will be made public very soon.”
Sources within the Ministry of Justice said state security apparatus are also concerned about reported issues of bribery scandals $ 20,000 USD (attributed to Universal Forest Cooperation) and $ 70,000 USD (attributed to Atlantic/Delta Development Corporation) all of which are allegations traded by opposing parties (face fighters) within Plasiken, Sinoe County. “It is complicated because too many big names are tagged…and you know, this is Liberia anyway…,” an authoritative source hinted.
Protest ringleader Amos Wiah Toe accused the embattle leadership of clandestinely collecting money from Atlantic Resources in the tone of $ 70,000 USD. “Sorboh Wesseh and his men refused to show our people the documents for revision” before signing the third-party contract.
Unfortunately, those injured unnecessarily in the Plasiken Fight notably on April 29, 2019, are yet to get justice neither have anyone take responsibility of the misfortune. Residents who ran into bushes and other areas seeking refuge still live in fears complaining of deadly armed personal roaming the area with continuous threats.
“No one has been charge up to date except for those who the Police previously arrested but the County Superintendent, District Commissioner, Magistrate and others ordered their release due to their connection with the government [local and national officials] after government’s mining agent, Amos Wia Toe led the attack…” Sampson Borteh, via mobile phone from Greenville, told the “Environment & You” aired on the Catholic Media Center, Radio Maria Liberia/97.9 Fm.
Some officials of the county within the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government including high-profile personalities are still mute on the matter despite several attempts to engage their views. Sinoe County Senator Milton Teahjay office has condemned the violence saying, “it is left with the LNP, the media and others to investigate.”
Sen. Teahjay in a rather reluctant manner, with more attentions on his re-election bid, referred this paper to one of his office staffs, A. Cornelius Sneh who said his boss stands with the Elders & Traditional Council while awaiting Police probe.
Meanwhile, the two rival companies interested in the Tartweh Drapoh Community Forest, Atlantic and UFC have distanced themselves from the violence clashes among the citizenry, and the both logging companies are also accusing one another of masterminding the situations through briberies and other means.
Universal Forest Cooperation’s CEO Jin S. Kyung told this paper that his company has been the original operator of the forest since 1985, signed a 25 years Memorandum of Understanding with the Community in August of 2010 prior to the moratorium restructuring of the forestry sector in 2015.
Displaying several age old documents, unable to unverified by this paper, the UFC president vowed to pursue a court action should in case his company is betrayed by the Tartweh Drapoh Community.
According to Jin S. Kyung, UFC has invested almost a million of United States Dollars in the forest history and he would not allow Atlantic to rob him of his entitlements through unwholesome bribery noting, “We will go to court and halt everything or make sure the People payback all of my expensive.”
In respond, the Atlantic Resources/Delta Development Cooperation said its UFC rival is wasting her time due to the CEO, Kyung’s usual inabilities to follow legal process in acquiring the forest knowing the history of community forestry.
Authorities are the Atlantic Resources/Delta Development Cooperation argued that everything their company does is in accordance with the law and it existence in Liberia is to help in the developmental drive of the country. “Our records are with the FDA, public works ministry and the government of Liberia.” The Company’ forest manager said while unveiling some documents including prior agreement signed with the Tartweh Drapoh Community Forest copies of which are in the possession of this institution.
As the rigmarole continues, observers believed that the community forestry permitting system, like in other areas too in Liberia, is being hijacked by ‘rapacious’ logging companies and a ‘complicit’ Forestry Development Authority.
“Logging companies are enlisting local elites and coercing communities into signing secret agreements that grant them logging rights, in return for them financing the process communities are required to follow in order to obtain Authorised Forest Community status, ” a 2018 Global Witness report “Power To The People?” uncovered.
Global Witness, highlighting how companies are exploiting community forestry in Liberia, said “it looks very much like a re-run of the scandal that surrounded Private Use Permits – a system of forestry licences designed for small operators that was hijacked by large rapacious logging companies.
Over 2.5 million hectares, or 23 percent of the land area of Liberia, was handed over illegally to loggers through PUPs up until their cancellation by presidential decree in 2013.”
The research also points to companies affiliated to what GW termed as “the notorious Malaysian company, Samling Global, playing a leading role in prising control over Liberia’s rich and diverse forest ecosystems, away from communities, and for themselves.”
“It is perhaps no surprise that Samling-linked companies, which came in for some of the most severe criticism in the official investigation into Private Use Permits yet were never sanctioned, are coming back with a vengeance.” GW’s ‘Power To The People?’ maintained.
However, our research on information about the financiers behind both the Atlantic and UFC continues as observers say the Tartweh/Drapoh, Sinoe forest conflict is very deep. It is the very issues that brought about the moratorium during the administration of Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
The investigation continues!