Two months ago, on August 5, 2021, Andrew Y.Y Zelemen, the Facilitator at the Nation Union of Community Forest Development Committees (NUCFDC) appeared as Guest Speaker on Forest Hour (FH) radio program, produced by the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW).
Guest Speaker Andrew spoke about the revenue arrears owed to communities adjoining logging concessions called FMCs and TSCs. Mr. Zeleman, as well as members of the 23 Community Forest Development Committees (CFDCs) around Liberia, was keen to know about efforts being made by forest stakeholders to access the huge funds owed to them, and the Government of Liberia’s plans to make payments.
Prior to Andrew Zeleman’s presentation, Eric Opa Duo, from LFMW Rivercess, gave a good example of the problems created by the lack of revenues being shared from logging as they should be under the forest laws. He reported that the lack of safe drinking water in the Ziadue and Teekpeh communities had been attributed to the non-compliance on the part of logging companies holding permits with the community, E J & J and Brilliant Maju Logging Company. This is because once a community gets the funds due it; it must invest them in community infrastructure projects.
Andrew went on to say that since 2009–over a decade ago–the Government of Liberia has been indebted to forest communities in the tune of US$8.5 million. This is out of the total of US$27.7 million that by law should have been paid by logging companies to government in Land Rental Fees. He said this is before the figures for 2020-2021 are included.
Andrew explained how the system is meat to work. A 30% share of Land Rental Fees paid by companies is allocated to communities, and should be deposited in an escrow account that is managed by a National Benefit Sharing Trust (NBST) Board. This is in keeping with Chapter 14 sections 14.1 and 2 of the 2006 National Forest Reform Law. He said that that the communities which are owed this money have, over the years and with the help of the NUCFDC, exhausted many efforts, but government is yet to listen to their demands. Key points noted by Andrew include:
- Over 450 communities in 11 of the 23 CFDCs lack access to developments and basic social services like healthcare, security, education, empowerment opportunities, and road connectivity;
- From 2015-2017, the administration of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf remitted US$2.622 million to the communities;
- Since the inception of President George Weah’s administration, communities are yet to receive a cent of their benefits;
- The NBST Board have also exerted efforts – so far fruitless – to have money transferred from central government;
- As a result, many community infrastructure projects are stalled.
Andrew noted that currently there are about fifty two community projects in eleven counties being implemented from the 2.6 million initially provided by the past government. “These projects have created a lot of positive impact, for example, a community clinic project in FMC A, Lofa, and the one in Pilokan, Sinoe County; and high schools in Grand Kru and Grand Gedeh counties”.
Andrew said the situation is so bad that some affected forest communities are considering court action, should the Government of Liberia fail to remit their share of logging benefits. He concluded that the affected communities, through the NUCDFC, are demanding the allocation of US$2 million into the ‘special national budget’ that is being discussed amongst government authorities. He says the NUCFDC is also pressing for a special payment plan for the 30% benefit share, to go directly to the NBST instead of first being paid to the government’s consolidated account.
The radio programme then opens the call lines for public participation. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=241562461147422&id=100016825333964&sfnsn=mo
Mohammed Passaway, from Logan Town Community asked “What has been the role of the Forestry Development Authority as it relates to communities getting their benefits? Because many a time I listen to the discussions on this radio that the communities are not benefiting from their forest at the end of the day, they are coming out with a whole lot of demands as it relates to benefits that communities supposed to get from the government”.
Ishmael Flomo from Paynesville said “What baffles me is the fact that logging links to deforestation, and this happening in Liberia is a major cause of climate change. So the communities where those logs are being taken from should be paramount on the government’s list when it comes to getting their just benefits because these trees you cutting down, they are not going to grow back in ten or twenty years. I think there should be clear policy on how government can move forward on this thing – in fact, they should even stop cutting down trees because we are not benefiting from it”.
Poorney Ishmeal from Geetroy Forest, Sanquin District in Sinoe County raised an important point about communities needing support in order to build strong, democratic, accountable and transparent forest committees. Otherwise they are vulnerable to capture by vested interests and elites: “Hello, I listen to your studio guest. During the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s regime, the PUPs [Private Use Permits] were all cancelled, and I just hear him speaking about the government owing arrears to the various communities. The PUPs were cancelled but there were some communities that embezzled their funds those days. What is going to be the penalty for those who embezzle their funds that supposed to be used for the development of those forest communities?”
“I would also like to buttress him to ask the government to pay its arrears, but let him answer my question because we had similar problems in our community, where people embezzled thousands of United States Dollars. So, I want him to address my question so that we will know how to approach these issues in our community. Thank you!”
Victor Tarbo, working as a port security and living in Battery Factory, Daqui Town Community, introduced another challenge for those supervising the logging industry–the use of shipping containers to transport logs. He said “I am one of the securities that work on vessels at the port. I want to know what the community dwellers and the FDA are doing about those cutting down trees and putting them in containers to ship them. Most of the containers coming from up country are stockpiled with logs. They got those logs stocked in the containers, and even for crane to pick them up to put them on the ships can be very hard. Before, we used to see the logs on a trailer coming to town before putting them on the ships. Why are they putting the logs in containers this time around?”
The Forest Hour Radio Show was established in 2019 by LFMW. Its objectives are to raise community voices at national level, ignite nationwide participation in a dialogue on forest benefits, laws, policies, agreements and practices within the context of forest law enforcement, governance and trade. The show is held every Thursday (4-5pm) on local radio show OK FM 99.5, and relayed to community radios in forested communities. It is produced under the framework of the Green Livelihoods Alliance–Millieudefensie, IUCN NL, Tropenbos International, GAIA, NTFP-EP and SDI–funded under the ‘Dialogue and Dissent’ strategic partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. It is also funded by the European Union. The opinions and views expressed are the sole responsibility of the presenters, guests and speakers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Millieudefensie, IUCN NL, Tropenbos International, GAIA, NTFP-EP, SDI, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands or the EU.
By: Liberia Forest Media Watch