LIBERIA: Aggrieved Forest Residents Alarm Over Violation of Forestry Laws In Granting Logging Contract

By Jacob S. Tweh, Jr / jacobtweh1990@gmail.com

Some aggrieved residents of the Konobo Forest Community in Grand Gedeh County have alarmed over what they termed as a “blatant” violation of the Forestry Reform Law of Liberia and the Community Rights Law in granting logging contract to New Horizon Logging Company Limited.

Spokesperson of the citizens and Acting Town Chief of Barwu Town, Otis Quaye said the selection of the New Horizon Logging Company Limited, was in total violation of chapter six (6) section 6.3 (a and b) of the Community Right Law (CRL) of 2009 with respect to community forestry. Chapter six (6) section 6.3 (a & b) of the CRL says the selection of company shall be on a competitive basis for large scale commercial activities, and in compliance with the Core Regulations for Commercial logging.

But the former youth President of the Konobo Administrative District noted that the above provision of the CRL was not followed during the selection of Horizon Logging Company. “We have alluded to missteps in the selection of the company and further questioned the company compliance of the laws governing large scale logging in our community forest”, said George Tarlue, former Youth President.

George Tarlue indicated that little or no information was provided on the bidding process that brought the Horizon Logging Company Limited. He accused the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and local officials of undue interference in the recruitment process.

The aggrieved residents reported serious tension during the signing ceremony of the Commercial Use Contract in Ziah Town in 2021. Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) reported on the tension which left several persons injured. The contention was over what the citizens referred to as a “sudden” change of venue of the signing ceremony from Ziah Town City Hall to the district administrative building.

“The program was taking place at the Ziah City Hall but all of a sudden, they forced us from the city hall to the administrative building making us to believe that there was a hidden agenda from the executives of the Community Assembly (CA), the Community Forestry Management Body (CFMB) and the local government, including the FDA”, Acting Town Chief, Otis Quaye told LFMW.

The aggrieved residents, represented by Otis Quaye and others, identified as Peah, Druwar, Gbarway and Dwehein also said section 6.4 of the of the CRL was “deliberately” violated, noting, the company began operations without the Forest Management Plan (FMP).

Section 6.4 of the CRL mandates the CFMB to develop the Community Forest Management Plan (CFMP) before the commencement of logging operations. In this case, the aggrieved citizens say the company started operations without the CFMP.

“The CFMB is yet to formulate any management plan which leave us to believe that big hands are imposing the company on the local people whose daily survival hugely depends on forest resources”, the citizens noted.

In an apparent response to the aggrieved community members, the head of the chiefs and elders of Konobo District, Samuel Zulu says he sees nothing wrong with the CFMB or the company. Elder Zulu warned that it would be detrimental if citizens were to allowed the only bird in their hands to fly away, urging them to hold together. “I do not think it is right for us to fight among ourselves knowing very well this is the first time for company to come to our district since the war ended, Elder Zulu stressed

Paramount Chief Joseph Tarlue also described the allegations of interference by local government officials as unrealistic and far from the truth despite admitting that he has less or no knowledge on community forestry and laws governing it. Like Elder Zulu, Paramount Chief Joseph Tarlue called for the citizens to unite for the good of the district.

When contacted by LFMW, the FDA’s Officer at Region-4 Office in Zwedru, Evans Kiatamba said all concerns raised by the community members during and after the bidding process were duly addressed. He wonders while the aggrieved community residents will, at this point in time, flag issues that were previously raised and unanimously addressed.

In a rather stricken response to claims made by the aggrieved citizens, the Chief Officer of the CFMB, Alex Quaye clarified that he was never involved in the selection of individual community’s representatives to the CA, lest to talk about arbitrarily bringing in people to act on behalf the surrounding communities.

Alex Quaye said he was surprised to hear people from Barwu Town saying their town was not duly represented on the CA, when in fact one of their sons, James Saylee was selected by the community backed by a written communication signed by the authorities of the town.

Quaye also refuted allegations that the bidding process for logging company to take over the Konobo Community Forest was stage managed, and that procedures governing the bidding process were ignored. “For the record let me state emphatically clear that the operations of the Horizon Logging Company Limited in the Konobo Community Forest is legitimate and is recognized by the Government of the Liberia, we are not hiding anything, let this message go to those who insinuating and spreading falsehoods”, Alex Quaye said.

The growing wave of uncertainties around forest contracts is becoming a national concern. In 2019, the World Bank reported that none of the Forest Management Concessions (FMCs) that operate today are legal, and communities neighboring these concessions have lost out on an estimated 20 million USD that they should have received, seven times more than they received (Forest Trends, 2020).

Also, officials of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body, at a forest media forum in 2021 said, of the 47 singed Forest Management Agreement in Liberia, only about 15 percent of the forest concessions have little or no problems, and that the remaining 85 percent is marred by serious controversy due to disagreements between the community and concessionaries on one hand and community to community on the other hand.

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