LIBERIA: LibTA, Partners Extend Dispute Resolution Awareness to Grand Bassa

Local leaders, citizens living around Concession communities and concessionaires

A high power delegation from the Liberia Timber Association (LibTA) led by its Head of Secretariat Mr. E. Ekema Witherspoon along with local and international partnering organizations from the forest sector has extended training on the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.

It can be recalled that  the ‘Grievance and Dispute Resolution Mechanism’  manual was produced in January 2021 and launched by the Liberia Timber Association (LibTA) and partners to seek comprehensive dialogue to resolve conflict between logging companies and host communities through negotiated settlement rather than pursuing legal remedy.

Similar training on the ‘Grievance and Dispute Resolution Mechanism’ was held months ago for logging companies and their surrounding host communities as well as resolution of disputes between the two groups took place in Lofa, River Cess  and Nimba counties.

The latest two-day training/awareness which was held April 18 and 19 2022 at the Teepro Lodge Conference Hall in Buchanan City Grand Bassa County brought together two local logging companies including West Water Group and the African Wood and Lumber/International Consultant Capital face to face with traditional leaders, elders and prominent citizens residing in communities to be educated on the ‘Grievance and Dispute Resolution Mechanism’ and put forward burning issues and other grievances bothering them.

Speaking during the training sessions, the Head of Secretariat of LibTA Mr. E. Ekema Witherspoon while giving the background as to why the ‘Grievance and Dispute Resolution Mechanism’ manual was produced, admonished participants to take the training seriously so that they can in term serve as trainers for fellow community members.

Mr. Witherspoon at the same time admonished the trainees to practically demonstrate what is being learned in the training for easy comprehension of fellow community dwellers and requested the separate group of participants including local community leaders guided by the Forestry Development Authority to make a list of grievances experienced over the past one to two years.

Enumerating the grievances of the West Water Group, the Company’s Chief Surveyor Mr. Achia Kwaibiah among other issues mentioned that in some communities, local authorities interfered with the Community Forestry Management Body (CFMB) operation ignoring the community right laws. He also indicated that Companies often refused or delayed the commencement of operation after signing of social agreement with example being ‘White Water” which is operating in number-3 B&C.

He also noted that Companies are refusing to present weight bill sheet and data form to the CFMB while adding that Companies are slow to implement major community projects for the benefit of locals.

Making presentation on behalf of local leaders, Mr. Mathew Yarwah of District -4 named the lack of information from the CFMB; the CFMB refusal to share the social agreement copy with local leaders and the CFMB refusal to invite local leaders in its quarter meetings.

Speaking on behalf of the CFMB, Mr. Kennedy F. Kaiuway complained that community people are making fire forest in company’s concessions; and that communities often prohibit companies from working; while communities often forced companies to employ un-scaled workers. He also mentioned that communities are involved in conducting other personal services into the company’s concession.

Speaking on behalf of the FDA, Mr. Joseph P. Kpaing who is the Regional Extension Officer of the Community Forest Department said his institution has been involved with investigations between communities and companies; performed a mediation process in the community to establish facts finding on the matters confronting them.

In conclusion, all parties resolved in finding a better way forward in solving disputes and committed themselves to holding and engaging in town hall meetings; getting the private sector to handle foresting in the county; embarking on a big forestry meeting with key stakeholders; and engaging with communities, stakeholders and other forest governance authorities.

Others who make remarks include Mr. Oldpa Peters of the National Union of Community Forest Management Bodies, Mr. Amilcar of the Multi-Stakeholders Forest Governance Accountability Program and Mrs. Nancy Q. Greene former Superintendent of District -2 Grand Bassa County.

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