By Aaron W. Geezay
The First five years of 15 years’ logging contract between Garwin Community in Rivercess County and Tetra Logging Company will come to an end on 18th March 2023, with concerns over non-compliance by the logging company. Eighteen (18) towns and villages combined to form the Garwin Community Forest.
Residents of Garwin Community and Tetra Logging Company signed a 15-year’s third party agreement in 2017. The agreement is subject to renewal after every five years. The total area covered under the agreement is 37, 637 hectares of forest land, according to the contract document. The revision is in adherence to section 6.0, 6.2, and 6.3 of the Community Rights Law (CRL) of Liberia with regards to forest land.
But what exactly community members and their contracting partner will be reviewing amid grief over non-compliance? The Chairman of the Executive Committee (EC), Harry Gueh, has lamented that the company, Tetra, failed them in the first five years. He said the company did not fully implement its social corporate responsibilities enshrined in the agreement it reached with the community in 2017.
The agreement says Tetra should have constructed clinics, schools, hand pumps and latrines in each of the 18 communities. “In the MOU there were some things they were supposed to do, like they were to build community latrines, connect community roads, build hand pumps in communities, build schools and clinic”, EC Chairman, Harry Gueh disclosed.
EC Chairman Gueh said among the commitments made, Tetra only implemented the hand pumps and latrines projects in few of the 18 communities, and abandoned the construction of schools and rehabilitation of community roads. Harry Gueh explained to Liberia Forest Media Watch that the company told them (community members) that it failed to implement the school and road projects due to lack of road connecting the selected project sites/communities. “The excuse they had was, there was no road to the area we selected for the school”, said Mr. Gueh. Other community members interviewed said they have not seen the log data, which makes it difficult for them to establish whether or not the company paid the cubic meter fees. The community members said there are currently 110 logs left in the bush.
But with the end of the first five years around the corner, the EC Chairman said the issue of non-compliance is going to take precedence during the review of the agreement. Even though Tetra did not fully implement all of the commitments in the contract, community members through the EC acknowledged full payments of scholarship fees by the company, and US$75,000 of land rental fees for 3 years. Hence, Tetra currently owes the community 2 years in land rental fees, which amounts to US$50,000. In total, Tetra should have paid US$1, 25,000 as land rental fees for the first five years.
While community members grapple with non-compliance, they also informed the media that Tetra has been in the habit of subcontracting to other companies without their full knowledge of the terms and conditions of these subcontracts. Horizon is the latest company to be subcontracted after Booming Green. Community members have hinted that these subcontracts are done without their involvement.
Community forest officials at a recent meeting with civil society organizations in Garwin said when these subcontracts are done, the subcontractors do not normally account to community members who are the custodians of the forest. “We engaged Booming Green to implement the terms and conditions, but they refused.
Like several communities, community members in Garwin have blamed the “lackadaisical” attitude of Tetra Logging Company on the failure of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to respond to complaints of non-compliance by the company. The FDA is accused of always shielding the company against community’s interest to ensure the MOU is fully implemented. “FDA will even go to the extent of siding with the company. Even their staff (Forest Rangers) they can assign with the company can be almost like employees of the company”, Harry Gueh told LFMW.
AS Community members blame the FDA for shielding logging companies, authorities of the FDA are also blaming community members for corruption and mismanagement of communities’ share of logging revenues. In April 2022, the FDA suspended the entire leadership of the Korninga ‘A’ Community Forest in Gbarpolu County for alleged mismanagement of funds belonging to the community.
“Having listened to the chiefdom, and based on first-hand information gathered by our field office concerning alleged misuse of money paid to the community by the company, we hereby indefinitely suspend the entire CFMB,” Daylight quotes an official of the FDA in a release published on its website in April 2022.
The mismanagement of logging revenues by communities has been blamed on the lack of knowledge in project and financial management. In this regard, officials of the Garwin CF said the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and Development Education Network Liberia (DEN-L) have been leading efforts to train them in project and financial management and advocacy. “These trainings are in support of the capacity building initiative launched by the European Union “Non-State Actors” Project to address the capacity gaps faced by community forests in Liberia”, Abraham Billy of the Civil Society Independent Forest Monitors (CS-IFM) noted.
The illegalities surrounding community forests operations by all actors are mind-blowing. In July 2021, at a media forum held in Monrovia, the Lead Facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB), Bonathan Walaka averred that of the 47 singed forest management agreements in Liberia, only about 15% had little or no problem.
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