By: Moses Quollin, firstname.lastname@example.org +231770922412/+231880922412 (Liberia Forest Media Watch)
Sanniquellie: Authorities in Sanniquellie, Nimba County are investigating the alleged mismanagement of US$210,300.000 by the Gba Community Forest leadership in Yermain Administrative district.
The chief officer of the Community Forest Management (CFMB) Austin P. Kai, and the chairman of the Executive Committee (EC) Terrence Larkpor are at the center of scandals.
According to sources, the both dubiously depleted funds from the Gba Community Forest’s bank account, money intended for the development of about 22 communities within Yarmein and Sehyi districts.
Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW), a conglomeration of investigative journalists following forestry issues, has been compiling the development and reports;
Two officials of the Gba Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) are currently being held at the Criminal Investigation Division, Sanniquellie Police station, Nimba County Superintendent Nelson Korquoi made the disclosure on Forest Hour – a radio show held weekly on OK FM 99.5.
Superintendent Korquoi, Nimba County Inspector Mike Glinwon and Electoral District # 3 Representative Joseph Somwarbi separately spoke with Forest Hour via mobile phone.
While on the show via phone, Representative Joseph Nyan Somwarbi confirmed allegation of mismanagement of over US200, 000 by the leadership of Gba Community Forest Management Body (CFMB). He told the public that, he, along with local officials are currently investigating two members of the CFMB for their alleged involvement in mismanaging community funds disbursed by ArceloMittal (mining company) and LTIC logging company . Of the $200,000, Representative Somwarbi focused his attention on $150 ,000 specifically given by ArceloMittal.
He told Forest Hour Hosts that those accused admitted committing the crime before an investigation team set up by him and another Representative, adding, preliminary findings have proven that two members of the community leadership are involved in the scandal.
He disclosed that upon receiving the money, the CFMB leadership unilaterally deposited said amount into a separate account solely owned and operated by them, against the advice of the companies and community members. Following the deposit, he said the accused admitted withdrawing money one or twice a day and diverted same to their personal use.
He said one of the accused, Austin Carr (not too sure of the spelling ) admitted that US150, 000 was given to the forest management body for the replacement of loss trees in an area ArceloMittal intended constructing some buildings for their operations following the establishment that the area in question contained some commercially viable species of trees. The Representative said following the disbursement of the $150,000 to the community through the CFMB, Austin also confirmed that CFMB $10,000 was given to the community on another occasion.
Throughout the investigation, the Representative said, the accused failed to present paper trails of all transactions they carried out regarding the usage of the money. According to him, the accused used saving account to carry out their clandestine act. Under saving account, he said one doesn’t need more than 1 signatory to withdraw money. We realized during the investigation the bank statement produced by the accused had a balance of $29.00 out of over US$200,000.
The Representative also narrated that the investigation found that the accused members of the CFMB leadership also unilaterally hired a logging company from Ivory Coast to come and harvest logs earmarked to be removed to give way to the construction of ArceloMittal properties. “As we speak, since 2016 the logs were harvested, they are still in the bush”.
After hearing from the accused, the lawmaker said the community recommended the removal of those involved in the financial scandal against them. In addition to their removal, the culprits should be made to refund community money, a request the lawmaker said he objected on grounds that due process from a competent court of jurisdiction has to take place, and that their intervention was just preliminary one intended to understand the situation.
“Let these people be made to appear in court, we can rather issue writ on them to appear in court”, the lawmaker said. Responding to question of legal action against the accused. The Representative said, his colleagues (another Representative), Prince O Tokpah consulted a lawyer, who advised them to get the National Security Agency involved in the investigation as a means of establishing the legal framework. However, the legal process did not fully materialize until the outbreak of the coronavirus which halted the process.
He also said all throughout these meetings, FDA representative were presence. “FDA local representative was always presence during these investigations. He explained how the two of them (Representatives Joseph Nyan Somwarbi and Prince O Tokpah) objected to suggestion to include the accused in the negotiation of another contract, on grounds that they are currently under investigation for financial scandal against the community”.
Meanwhile, Representatives Joseph Nyan Somwarbi has promised to activate the stealing case, and will, together with his colleagues ensure alleged culprits are brought to justice. Below is summary breakdown the full amount disbursed by Arcelor Mittal (AML) and LTIC logging company to the CFMB.
Forest Hour is an outcome of the European Union Non-State Actors (EU-NSA) project: “Strengthening the capacity of non-state actors (NSA) to improve FLEGT-VPA and REDD+ processes in Western Africa” It is held every week on OK FM 99.5. The radio show is intended to raise communities’ voice at national level, ignites nation-wide participation, dialogue on forest laws, policies, agreements and practices within the context of Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). It also draws attention to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) and other conditions agreed to in the Volunteer Partnership Agreement (VPA) that was signed between the European Union and the Liberian Government to discourage illegal logging and promote transparency and accountability.
Since the launch of the programme in April 2019, it has recorded several critical forest issues flagged by both the guests and callers from various forest communities across the country and media institutions. Due to revelations by Forest Hour, the board of a corrupt Community Forest Management Body (CFMB, representing the business interest of the community in logging contracts and other deals) had to resign. The influence of the radio show extends to the meetings of the FDA’s technical meetings and National Multi Stakeholders Monitoring Committee meetings on forest governance, where issues from the show are placed on the agenda . The show has also increased the sensitivity level of communities in their drive to take ownership of the forest. Additionally, it has enhanced transparency and accountability and increased education and information dissemination.