Logging Company Bows To Community Pressure

By Liberia Forest Media Watch/lfmw.foresreporters@gmail.com

Protesters from community demand their sharing of land rental fees from government

In March 2021, residents of ten communities affected by logging operations took to the streets of Zorzor, Lofa County to seek the attention of the management of Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company to what the residents described as “delays” in implementation of the Social Agreements or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Junior Kezelee of LFMW reports from Lofa County.        

In 2009, the government of Liberia awarded a forest management contract area A (FMC A) to Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Inc. Following the Government of Liberia’s negotiation with the company, citizens of 10 communities within the contract area of Kpayarquelleh, Kpeteyea, Kpowansanyea, Baquelleh New town, Gbonyea, Gorlu, Ganglota, Beyan town, Gbaquata, and Fassawalasu entered into Social Agreement with the company.   

The total contract area covers one hundred nine-teen thousand two hundred forty (119,240) hectares of Land, affecting Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties. From the Lofa side, the concession area is seventy-four thousand one hundred eighty-six (74,186) hectares, which constitutes sixty-two percent (62%), while the Gbarpolu side covers forty-five thousand fifty-four (45,054) hectares, constituting thirty-eight percent (38%).

Although the concession became legal in 2009, Alpha Logging and Wood Processing did not start harvesting of logs until 2013. Following months of operations up to early 2014, the company halted operates due to the outbreak of Ebola. The company, however resumed logging activities in 2015 after the Ebola outbreak, and has since continued operations. As part of the requirement enshrined in the contract with the community, the company renegotiated the Social Agreement in 2016 with much clarity and timeline for implementation of social obligations as compared to the previous one which appeared opened without timeline, Official of the Community Forestry Development Committee (CFDC) of the ten communities, Andrew Zelemen discloses to LFMW.

Bridge before

Although the new social agreement appears much better, the leadership of the community through the CFDC has not been satisfied with the way the company has been lagging behind in implementing certain portion of the social agreement. So in March 2021, the community staged a peaceful protest in demand of the fulfillment of outstanding obligations such as the construction of a bridge that connects five of the ten affected communities with upper Salayea District.  

Four months after the protest, LFMW was on Sunday, July 18, 2021 greeted with news of the construction of a major bridge linking adjacent neighborhoods of the forest community during a tour. The Chairperson of the CFDC of the ten affected communities, Mr. David P. Gahngalapa told Reporter Kezeele that the company has started construction of a major bridge that was nearing completion.

The CFDC official however lamented delays in payment of “cubic meters” fees, hosting of the Quarterly Meeting, payment of scholarship funds, and most of all, the land rental fees. On the land rental fees, Mr. Gahngalapa hinted that the company has paid to the Government of Liberia, but government is yet to remit 30% of community share to the “National Benefit Sharing Trust Board”.

“Since we took over as new CFDC and I as a chairperson in 2017, we have not received any land rental fees from the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board, and we can’t blame the company, but we blame the government because the company always pays the money, but the government has refused to pay our 30% share, Mr. Gahngalapa said”.

Despite challenges in meeting up with its social obligation on time, Alpha Logging Company has been rated as one of the companies doing very well in implementing social agreement. The National Facilitator of the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), Andrew Zelemen hinted that the company has been providing scholarship fees of thirteen thousand United States (US$13,000.00) for each academic year since the renegotiation of the social agreement.

Fleets of equipment belonging to Alpha Logging

“The company has paid cubic meter fees that is more than one hundred thousand United States Dollars directly to the Communities through the CFDC for the logs harvested up to 2020, only the 2021 cubic fees they still owed”, Mr. Zelemen further discloses.

He confirmed reports of the construction of bridge connecting lower Salayea District with upper Salayea where five of the ten affected communities are located. Mr. Zelemen further disclosed that the company has also paid the land rental fees to the government of Liberia up to 2020 per the record he claimed to have seen. “Alpha paid the highest amount of the first 2.6 million dollars that the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board received from the Government of Liberia from 2015–2017, and Lofa received the biggest share amounting to a little over two hundred thousand United States Dollars”, said Andrew Zelemen.  

The Lofa portion of the money, Zelemen said, was used to construct two guest houses (one in Beyan Town and the other one in Gorlu), two Teachers’ Residences, (one in Ganglota and one in Kpayarquelleh), school building in Fassawalasu, a Market Hall in Gbonyea, a Clinic in Kpayarquelleh, zinc provided for over three hundred vulnerable homes in four of the ten affected communities, including Kpeteyea, Kpowansanyea, Barquelleh New Town and Gbaquata.

 “In my own view as communication and Public Relations Officer for the CFDC and the ten affected communities, a position I have served since 2009, but officially endorsed in 2015, the company is trying even though is not hundred percent. All we want is for the company to continue the full implementation of the Social Agreement”, Andrew Zelemen concluded.

World Bank 2019 report says despite this progressive legal framework and monitoring system,  communities neighboring forest concessions have lost out on an estimated 20 million USD that they should have received, which is seven times more than they have received (Forest Trends, 2020). Currently, it is estimated that arrears from the logging companies to the Government amount to 16 million USD, of which 30% is due communities.

Amidst government’s failure to remit community’s share of land rental fees, communities have conducted several peaceful protests aimed at pressuring government to remit its share of logging benefits. But government is yet to yield to such pressure from the communities.            

At a press conference in August 2019, officials representing the business interests of communities announced that they will stage a nationwide protest if the Government of Liberia fails to pay their 30% share of the land rental fees.  https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/nucfdc-demand-us2m-in-2019-2020-budget-for-forest-communities/.

In November 2020, the communities reiterated calls for their just benefits at the National Forest Forum held in the commercial City of Ganta, Nimba County. At that forum, issues surrounding Forest resource benefit sharing for communities was key among many topics discussed. https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/forest-resource-benefit-sharing-others-key-at-first-national-forest-forum/.

Since the hosting of the National Forest Forum in November 2020, the government of Liberia has not paid communities’ benefits even though key forest stakeholders were in attendance. It appears like the lack of attention from the government prompted communities to stage a nationwide protest its promised in 2019 and 2020 which commenced in Zorzor, Lofa County in May 2021. https://gnnliberia.com/2021/05/22/forest-communities-begin-nationwide-protest-following-2-years-of-fruitless-negotiations-for-their-benefits/.

In the face of the many protests from communities for outstanding arrears of millions of United States Dollars, the Government of Liberia has begun the disbursement of US$30,000 to each Legislator for legislative support projects, while communities represented by these Lawmakers continue to perish in abject poverty. https://newspublictrust.com/local-communities-being-starved-of-forest-royalties-as-their-lawmakers-get-us30k-each/.

The US30, 000 for each Legislator for 103 Senators and Representatives amounts to about US3 million, while communities have continued to struggle since 2019 to get government to remit about US2 millions of their share of land rental fees paid by logging companies.     

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