Processed planks left at the Sawmill in Lofa

Logging Company Flees Liberia, leaving behind financial liabilities & abandoned logs

By Emmanuel P. Akoi |

County and Community Forest Officials have all confirmed the unceremonious departure of Sing Africa Plantation Inc from Liberia. The Chief Officer of the Bluyeama Community Forest Management Body (CFMB), Alex M. Songu confirmed the controversial logging company’s departure on 11th May 2023 during a phone-in-call on Forest Hour.

Former Lofa County Superintendent, William Tamba Kamba also reported the company’s departure in an interview with the Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) on 23rd May 2023.  ”After several unsuccessful engagements with the management of Sing Africa, I later got to know that they departed the country, leaving the community in limbo. It is predicated upon this that I have decided to formally write the FDA asking them about how community could benefit from the sale of the abandoned logs and planks at the Sawmill”.

Deserted staff quarter in Bluyeama

The Regional Coordinator of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB) and Chief Officer of the Korninga A & B Community Forests in Gbarpolu County, Aaron Mulbah announced the company’s departure from their communities at a regional meeting held in Ganta, Nimba County on 30th March 2023.

In March this year, there were also news reports that the banks had foreclosed on Sing Africa, seizing the logging company’s properties.

Residents of Bluyeama Community Forest signed a 15-year third party agreement with Sing Africa Plantation on 30th January 2016, to harvest logs on 44,444 hectares of forest land. The agreement is subject to review after every five years of operations. But, at the end of the first five years of operations, in December 2021, the company left Bluyeama community forest. “The company has abandoned its operations in Lofa County, and has gone to the Garpolu County side without the consent of the community. The company owed the community about US$147,000”, Chief Officer of Bluyeama CFMB, Alex said at a regional meeting. It had moved to Gbarpolu County, where it had signed agreements with Bondi Mandingo community on December 22, 2018 and with Korninga B community on March 4, 2019. In Bondi Mandigo and Korninga B, Sing Africa, with the new name, Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Inc. operated for only six months and was reported missing from the community. “Huge consignments of logs are left in the forest, but the company is nowhere to be found to remove the logs”, Aaron Mulbah is quoted as disclosing at the 30th March 2023 regional meeting.

Community officials from Lofa who spoke to LFMW

During a follow up visit, LFMW confirmed the unceremonious departure of the company from its work station in Bluyeama, with reported arrears of US$250,000 for the Gbarpolu forest community and US$147,000 for the Lofa community.  All liabilities are in land rental and cubic meter fees, according to community members. LFMW’s fact-finding mission also established that the company left behind huge pile of abandoned logs and sawn timbers and also failed to implement certain aspects of the third party agreements.

Another CFMB official, Aaron Mulbah said Sing Africa (with a new name Indo Africa in Gbarpolu) owed the community US$250,000 in land rental and cubic meter fees as well as scholarship fees.

Security personnel left behind by the company to safeguard the company’s properties in Lofa said the management of the company only informed them that they were going in search of special tree species in Gbarpolu County, and would be back soon. The ‘soon to return’ promise has taken almost 2 years, with an astonishing news that the Company’s Chief Executive Officer has traveled abroad to source funding for the company’s operations in Liberia. Security personnel and other workers disclosed that Sing Africa owed them 11 months’ salary arrears.

John Y. Gayflor, the Company’s Loading Clerk in Lofa said the company owed him 11 months. “My house is not completed and my children are out of school because I used my little business money for the up-keep of my family. This company has been so bad to us; I don’t know if these guys will pay us our salaries without taking radical approach by blocking roads. Let the company pay our money, so we can help our children”, Gayflor explained.

Head of Security, Joseph Weafar expressed frustration in the company, adding that since he broke his chest bone while on active duty, the company only applied first aid treatment and paid him LD$3,000 in compensation.   “I worked with Sing Africa as head of security till I got involved in a tree accident along with some of my friends; my chest bone got broken and two of my colleagues legs were broken. The company only did first aid treatment after the accident and gave me LD$3,000”, said Weafar. Weafar said he shouldered his own treatment at the Phebe Hospital in Gbarnga and later Guinea, Conakry.

He accused the company of not paying workers without them making noise or blocking the road, recounting that the company only pays staff of the security department three times every year. “The company owed some people including me over US$1,000. I am only living now through my children because I am not able to do any further work; we are living as salves in our own country”.

Korculawu Junior is one of the company’s workers in Lofa. He told LFMW that the company owed him US$1,200. Junior accused the company of bad labor practices, saying that they cannot go home again because the company has refused to pay them, and their families are accusing them of mismanaging their salaries. Korculawu had come from Zolowo Town in search of job with Sing Africa, but his expectation for livelihood sustainability was not met.

The Landlord of Balagulazu, Bluyeama Clan, Harris B. Sumo said they are frustrated because they do not know the status of the company. Elder Sumo told LFMW that he communicated with the office of the former Superintendent on several occasions, informing him about the situation, but no action was taken to resolve the matter. ‘’We have spoken to lots of governmental institutions/stakeholders and media people on this matter, but unfortunately we have gotten no positive redress to our concerns”, Landlord Harris Sumo lamented.

Fred Forkpa Howard is the Clan Chief of Bluyeama. He called on civil society organizations and government institutions responsible for forest management to come to their aid to ensure community gets their benefits, nothing, “our labor rights have been violated by Sing Africa and there should be serious step into the matter”.

The Secretary of the Executive Committee, Koballah Gayflorzee   also reported that Sing Africa Plantation left Bluyeama community forest without prior notice. According to him, the company through some of its officials told community members that they were going to Gbapolu County in search of special tree species.

When contacted, the Labor Commissioner of Lofa County, Mr. Augustine S. Bundor acknowledged the presence of bad labor practice within the company. “When the news hit me, I hastily travelled to Monrovia to meet with the company’s senior administrators, where I had a meeting with them requesting them to make available their payment records and the salary structure for the employees”, the Labor Commissioner said. Following the meeting, Mr. Bundor said he ordered the company to disburse the outstanding salary arrears to the employees, which he said the company did. “As God could have it, we intervened and they were paid for two moths”. The Labor Commissioner also told LFMW that the management of the company also disbursed five months’ salaries covering 2021.

FDA’s Regional Coordinator for Region 2, John W. Teah said FDA under the previous administration had a plan to travel to Bluyeama for site assessment. Community members, however, told LFMW that the FDA did not make the planned visit to the community.

The current wave of violations within the forestry sector is likely to undermine Liberia’s progress to issue EU-FLEGT Licenses. FLEGT licenses would confirm that Liberia has met minimum legal requirements in ensuring that logs leaving the country to the European market are legal, and that the country is sustainably managing its forest. To support Liberia to be FLEGT-compliant, the European Union through the French Development Agency has introduced a five-year program called EU FLEGT VPA Programme (2021-2025). The aim of this program is to support the implementation of Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) between the European Union and eight countries, including Liberia. With Liberia accepting the EU-FLEGT VPA Program, the authorities are under obligation to ensure sustainable forest governance, or else the country could be red-flagged for forest illegalities.

Visited 132 times, 3 visit(s) today

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.