By: Moses R. Quollin, Jr. (Environmental Journalist, Liberia Forest Media Watch) firstname.lastname@example.org, +231770922412/+231880922412
Duarzohn Village, Margibi County: Section 19 of the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 makes provision with respect to a fair and transparent procedure for allocating and distributing financial benefits derived from land rental fees collected from commercial forestry operations to counties and local communities.
The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is required to coordinate all of its activities under this Regulation with the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance without any form of discrepancy.
But, this section seems to be ignored by the national government as communities affected by logging operations continuously cried foul in getting their just benefits especially the 30% shares of land rental fees paid by logging companies to the GOL and the land rental arrears owed by the logging companies.
Affected Communities under the umbrella of the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) within Forest Management Contract (FMC) areas including Lofa, Gbarpolu, River Cess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland Counties as well as Timber Sale Contracts (TSC) areas such as Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu Counties have vowed to begin staging a massive protest as of October 2019 to halt all logging activities within their respective localities.
“The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) alongside our 230 members and officials of the 23 CFDCs within the 11 counties, and all members of the affected communities within these 11 counties will organize a peaceful mass protest calling for halt to all logging activities taking place in the affected communities.” NUCFDC noted in a joint statement.
According to authoritative sources, the Government of Liberia owes Communities a little over Three Million United States Dollars excluding past arrears owed by companies and the administration of Former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) said since the inception of the new government, George Weah administration, not a single cent or dollar has been giving to communities through the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board for the benefit of the affected communities as enshrined by law.
“It is important to mention that, from 2015 to 2017, the former government provided two million six hundred twenty-two thousand United States Dollars (US$2,622,000.00) as part of the arrears the government owed affected communities from the land rental fees it collected since 2009.” NUCFDC’s head of Secretarial, Andrew YY Zeleman disclosed.
This amount paid to communities, he intoned, enable them initiate and implement over forty (40) community projects including construction of schools, clinics, vocational training centers, road rehabilitation, guest houses, community halls among others.
They are demanding among others things,
- Two million United States Dollars (US$2,000,000.00) is placed in the 2019/2020 National Budget for Affected Communities and one million (US$1,000,000.00) is transfer to the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board following the date of the passage of the 2019/2020 national budget into law or by the end of September 2019;
- That second payment (one million United States Dollars – US$1,000,000.00) is transfer to the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board before or by the end of January 2020;
- That no logging company is granted felling certificate for 2019/2020 until that company has fully paid all arrears owed the people of Liberia or a clear or realistic arrangement is made for the full payment of arrears and current fees with the full involvement of affected communities.
The National Government in general is yet to official respond to this latest development but FDA’s head of commercial forestry, Jerry Nyemah, speaking with the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW), said the FDA is not in control of payment although she administers the forest sector projects.
When LFMW quizzed him about the full responsibility of the FDA, he maintained that it’s the Ministry of Finance that is responsible, “it is a challenge not FDA’s fault…every collection from forest resources is done through the LRA, goes to the Ministry of Finance. In fact, the FDA is not an autonomous institution; I buy my own fuel and used my own money to fixed the car and buy other basic stationaries to do FDA or government job.” He told the LFMW on Wednesday, August 14, 2019.
When contacted the Finance Ministry, via mobile phone, both deputy ministers, Samora Wolokollie of Fiscal Affairs and Tanneh Brunson of Budget could not respond as their phone ring endlessly.