Depleting The Forests – Concessions Take Advantage of FDA, EPA ‘Poor’ Regulations 

By: Moses R. Quollin +231770922412/+231880922412 (Liberia Forest Media Watch) 

Like during the administration of Former President Charles Taylor, a hostile forest regime, Liberia’s forestry sector appears to be failing in its mandate of a managing sustainable environment and proper governance.

The Liberia Forest Media Watch has learned that the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other responsible agencies or ministries of government are yet to ensure accountability by effectively discharging regulatory responsibilities.

According to experts, the forests are being seriously depleted, risk massive deforestation and further degradation due to current disparaging conditions mostly engineered by poorly regulated loggings and other activities improperly supervised by the Government of Liberia.

The lack of enforcement of applicable laws and regulations continues to mar the reputation of Liberia’s forestry sector and limit its commercial development and sustainable management, a Legality Review of Forest Concessions in Liberia by World Bank’s consultant revealed.

Of the upper Guinea Forest, Liberia accounts for 42% whilst Ivory Coast has 28% and Ghana contains 16%. Guinea has 8%, Sierra Lone 5% and Togo 1%.

REVIEW REPORT on Liberia Forest Sector Project, dated October 2019, copy of which is in our possession said no forest contracts assessed during the process of the review were fully compliant with applicable regulations.

Forest management and planning, contract implementation, and environmental protection processes did not adhere to the letter or spirit of applicable legislation, it furthered.

“Holders of forest contracts are rarely held accountable for contravention of contractual and legal obligations. This is largely due to systemic lapses from regulatory bodies in discharging their monitoring and enforcement responsibilities.”

In a conversation with LFMW, a world bank source maintained that Ministries Agencies and Commissions (MACs) of the national government are yet to strengthen the legal and regulatory framework. As a result, several criteria within the Legality Matrix are obsolete or redundant.

“Since the ratification of the VPA, there have been several developments the legal framework governing the forestry sector relating to the abolition of private use permits, the revision of the Code of Harvesting Practices, the abolition of bid premiums, and the development of regulations and guidelines for community forestry.”

Although foreseen in both the ESA Report, it also stated that the EPA and FDA inspection procedures, environmental monitoring is not practically assured.

Among many other recommendations, the 172-page document highlights the following:

Ensuring Accountability by Effectively Discharging Regulatory Responsibilities

That a capacity needs assessment is conducted for relevant regulatory MACs [Ministries Agencies & Commissions] and that responsive capacity building initiatives/complimentary programs are developed; That FDA [Forestry Development Authority] and MOJ [Ministry of Justice] apply sanctions to companies who have been found to be in breach of contractual obligations; That an oversite committee is created with a fixed term mandate to assist FDA, EPA, and relevant MACs to discharge regulatory duties.

Strengthening the Legal and Regulatory Framework

That the VPA legality matrix is reviewed, updated, and consolidated to include developments to the legal framework to provide clarity of current legal processes; That regulations and guidelines relating to community forests are reconciled with the nine legality principles outlined in the VPA legality matrix; That standards and guidelines for awarding and negotiation of commercial contracts within community forests be developed; That the government of Liberia, re-states its commitment to sustainable forestry by developing and implementing an action plan for the resolution of non-compliance issues outlined within this report; That clear and transparent requirements are designed and applied for the issuance of export permits.

Improving Environmental Protection

The development and implementation of capacity building initiatives on the design of ESAs for third party environmental impact firms, GoL, companies and communities; That I the design level of ESAs are improved at the planning stage so basic elements such as: (i) the institutional set-up of the implementation and monitoring of the ESMP, (ii) the priorities of the mitigation measures, (iii) the responsibility for implementation their schedule and (iv) and costs of implementation are included; that the inclusion of monitoring data on environmental and social management plans onto LiberTrace and the COC system; That GoL increases financial expenditure to relevant MACs for the purposes of conducting inspections and periodic audits, with emphasis on reporting and dissemination procedures to superiors and concessions holders.

Payment of taxes

“There appears to be no shared platform between FDA, LRA and NIC to reconcile data and monitor companies’ compliance with investment, tax, and other contractual payment obligation. Furthermore, FDA has not provided updates to the National Bureau of Concession’s Concession Information Management System (CIMS). 1. We recommend FDA and LRA to clearly define the signification of the tax clearance certificate and tax return in order to give credibility to these documents. 2. We recommend FDA, LRA, NBC and NIC jointly evaluate individual concession accounts for the purpose of ascertaining open and overdue concession fee payments, payments to communities, and the volume of investments made within the “wood processing sector” agreed upon by LRA, FDA and NIC. We recommend that the result of this evaluation be published publicly and updated onto the CIMS. 3. We recommend that GoL applies and enforces appropriate sanctions to companies in violation of payment obligations. 4. We recommend that FDA update its FOB price calculation.”

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