LIBERIA: LibTA, Partners Quell Potential Conflict In Gbarpolu – Among Concessions, Communities

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 to Bopolu City, Gbarpolu 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.

The latest two-day training/awareness which was held July 12 and 13, 2022 at the Bopolu City Hall was attended by two logging companies in the county, citizens residing in communities hosting the logging companies, civil society groups, as well as local and traditional leaders of communities hosting logging companies in the county.

The training/awareness which was led by the Liberia Timber Association (LibTA) was aimed at educating and formally presenting the framework document/manual of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanism to the participants as well as availing the platform for discussions on any potential or lingering disputes or grievances between concessions and communities for amicable settlement.

The training was held in partnership with the National Union of Community Forestry Management Bodies (NUCFMBs) and the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committees (NUCFDCs) with technical and financial support from the Multi-Stakeholder Forest Governance and Accountability Program (MFGAP); while the two logging companies in attendance making up the over forty participants were Indo Africa and Coveiyalah Investment Enterprises.

During the discussions, the two companies were accused by the local leadership and community dwellers of not living up to their social responsibilities including lack of payment of land rental and cubic meter fees, education and health funds, lack of carrying on road maintenance, not constructing pit latrines, clinic, youth center, as well as lack of employment for locals as the companies are only providing jobs for contractors and casual workers.

On the other hand, the Companies accused the locals of farming in their concession areas, carrying on pit sawing, forcing the Companies to employ unskilled people, unleashing ‘Country Devil’ during disputes, as well as local leaders demanding personal needs from Companies.

Following mediation into issues raised by both the Communities/leaders on one hand, and the Companies against each other, LibTA, FDA and other partnering groups attained recommendations from the participants on the way forward to mitigate the potential explosive conflict which are as follow:

That LibTA, MFGAP, and FDA conduct workshop to create awareness for forest community dwellers before they (community dwellers) can sign agreement with any company; that the FDA regularly visits these agreements to make sure that companies are abiding by them; that communities be made to understand that they are responsible to protect the companies and their investments; and that farming and pit sawing in concession areas are stopped and prohibited.

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 to prevent potential conflicts.

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 in Lofa, River Cess  and Nimba counties.

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