LIBERIA: IFMCM Issues Statement On RGI Logging Operations Grand Bassa County

The IFMCM, which is a collection of seven Liberian CSOs working together to strengthen Civil Society-led Independent Forest Monitoring (CS-IFM) in line with Forestry Development Authority Regulation 108-07 (Part 7) and Annex VIII of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), is in this public manner, strongly condemning the processes leading to the harvesting and the subsequent exportation of timber products by Renaissance Group Incorporated (RGI) outside of Liberia’s forestry legal and regulatory framework. The exporting of illegally sourced timber is a failure of the rule of law and undermines Liberia’s efforts towards attaining FLEGT VPA license. 

On January 31, 2023, the National Multi-Stakeholder Monitoring Committee (NMSMC) discussed this lingering illegal logging associated with TSC-A2[1]. During the meeting forest stakeholders were informed that the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Buchanan has started enforcing its ruling of January 13, 2022, in favor of RGI against the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The ruling has not held RGI criminally liable since it had paid to the Liberian Government an administrative penalty of $105,000, imposed by the FDA.

The FDA should have appropriately referred the case to the MoJ for prosecution “because the offence significantly harms the interest of local communities”[2] and “resulted in damage to forest resources exceeding US$10,000”[3]. The Court had ruled in January 2022 that since the FDA did not refer the case to the MoJ but rather imposed an administrative penalty, it was liable for subjecting RGI to “double jeopardy”[4]. RGI payment of the administrative penalty may have suggested that “the conduct giving rise to the offence does not support a felony criminal charge”[5].  

Additionally, and highly commendable is that the SGS refused to enroll the logs in question into Liberia’s chain of custody system, thereby categorizing them as illegal logs under Liberia’s forestry legal requirements. Forest stakeholders who participated in the January NMSMC expressed concern that this single action will set a bad precedent, encourage impunity, and undermine Liberia’s sustainable forest management. The IFMCM is therefore encouraging the Government of Liberia to ensure that the laws of Liberia, especially, forestry laws should be respected and enforced at all times.   

During the April NMSMC meeting, which was held on May 9th, the lingering issue of the TSC A2 illegally harvested logs was again tabled for discussion arising from concerns raised by CSOs to provide update on progress by the FDA in bringing closure to this illegal logging saga. Mrs. Gertrude K Nyalay, LVD Manager, informed the meeting that two shipments have been made by RGI representing 81 of 125 logs processed by RGI outside of Liberia’s Chain of Custody system, which exists to monitor and verify all legal logging operations in Liberia. At the moment there are unconfirmed reports that RGI, without a forest resource license, is making plans to process the remaining logs, scattered in the illegal logging area in Doe Clan, District #1, Grand Bassa County.  As long as the illegal logging connected to TSC-A2 remains unresolved, sustainable forest management is being undermined, including issuance of FLEGT license under Liberia’s VPA. It clearly validates statements that Liberia’s forest sector is replete with illegalities.

While the IFMCM respects the court’s ruling, we believe the FDA’s action to impose fine on RGI rather than revoking its license and prosecuting it for harvesting logs outside a forest resource license area provided the court concrete reason for its ruling in favor of RGI.  

[1] In 2018-19 RGI and Freedom Group Liberia (FGL) illegally logged at least 14,000 m3 of timber worth an estimated US$ 4.4 million at the time on the international market. An IFMCM briefing and the MoJ-FDA’s own investigation have confirmed that RGI illegally logged valuable Ekki species in Grand Bassa County, six kilometers outside TSC-A2 concession. 9,000 m3 of the illegally logged timber was exported already in 2019 at an estimated value of US$ 2.8 million at the international market value during the export period (Jan-Jul 2019). RGI is now in the process of completing export of the remaining logs now that the Court has instructed the FDA to authorize exporting these logs, followed by an order of the Supreme Court.

[2] FDA Regulation #109-07, Section 41 (b)

[3] FDA Regulation #109-07, Section 41 (c)

[4] 1986 Constitution of Liberia Article 21 (h) states that “No person shall be subject of double jeopardy”

[5] FDA Regulation #109-07, Section 41 (d)

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