Representative Duncan Caught In Forest Illegality
By: Ezekiel Geeplay & Paul M. Kanneh
Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) has obtained a document which proves that Sinoe County District # 1 Representative; Crayton O. Duncan is a ranking member of Sino Forest Corporation after multiple denials by his supporters, including his former Political Officer, now Human Resource Manager of Sino Forest Corporation, Emmanuel Saywon. The document is a 25 years lease agreement signed between the people of Bannah in Sinoe County and Sino Forest Corporation represented by its Executive Director, Hon. Crayton Duncan for the use of 250 acres of land.
Liberia’s Code of Conduct for public officials prohibits elected or appointed officials from engaging in any other activity which shall be against public policy, or constitute conflict of interest. The act by the Sinoe County District # 1 Representative can also be described as “double dipping” which means, receiving income from two different sources in an illicit way that undermines communities’ interest as far as the Community Rights Law (CRL) with regards to forest is concerned.
The 2009 CRL gives rights to the Legislator of the district within which the forest falls to serve as member of the Community Assembly. The same law also places restrictions on the Legislator from interfering in community forest matters or making decision for the community. The National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 also prohibits public officials from owning logging companies.
But contrary to the law, Representative Duncan is largely interfering in community forest matters to the extent of owning a logging company (Sino Forest Corporation). The position of the law was further validated by the Liaison Manager of the Forestry Development Authority, Richard G. Gleah, who declared on Forest Hour that even a town chief is not supposed to own logging company.
The lease agreement was notarized on May 3rd, 2021, and signed by the Youth President, Ranford Beah, Marie Kumeh, Chairlady, James Queateh, Chairman, Lease Committee, Philip Jardiah, Paramount Chief, Peter N. Jerboe, Township Commissioner and Crayton O. Duncan, Executive Director, Sino Forest Company of Operations, Liberia.
But one year after the signing of the lease agreement, on October 19, 2022, residents of Bannah community staged a protest demanding clarity from their Representative on the status of the lease of agreement. During the protest held in Greenville, Sinoe County, the citizens demanded Representative Duncan to sit with them and make some clarifications as to the main purpose he leased the land. The Bannah citizens were concerned about the presence of Chines Investors in their forest with whom they say they had no agreement with.
The Youth President, Ranford Beah said their protest’s action was triggered by Representative Duncan’s failure to respond to their calls to appear before the people of the township to address their concerns about the lease agreement.
“Representative Duncan came told us to give him land on lease agreement, because according to him he wants to open his plywood factory and we give him two hundred and fifty acres for twenty-five years. After that we discovered that he sold our land to Sino Forest, something that’s very disappointing and frustrating to us“, Ranford Beah lamented.
Beah further narrated that following the signing of the lease agreement; they saw Chinese working in the forest, which surprised everyone, including the leadership of the community. Beah said attempts by community members to question the presence of the Chinese Investors was snubbed on ground that they (Chinese Investors) have purchased the piece of land from the Lawmaker.
Under principles of good conduct (Part II: 3.7 of the Code of Conduct, public officials have a duty to declare any private interests relating to his or her duties and shall, in a way that protects the public interest, take steps to prevent any conflicts which may arise; and shall not deceive, knowingly mislead others, or be influenced by improper means for the purpose of obtaining personal gain or giving undue advantage to others. In the case of the lease agreement and Tartweh-Drapoh forest conflict (published December 2021), Representative Duncan did not declare his private interests, did not protect the public interest and did not also take steps to prevent conflict, which led to the October 19, 2022 protest in Greenville, Sinoe County.
When contacted, Representative Duncan said he will reserve all comments until after his meeting with the Board of Directors of Sino Forest in Monrovia, following which he will get back to the community and the public. Representative Duncan also failed to appear on the October 27, 2022 edition of the Forest Hour radio show after promising that he would appear to respond to the allegation.
Forest illegalities by key Liberian government officials are on the increase despite progressive reforms. In Global Witness Report (Holding The Line), which was published in 2017, three Liberian Legislators were indicted for owning logging companies that have lied, cheated and stolen from the Liberian people through illegal logging activities. In February 2022, another Liberian Legislator was involved in the illegal extraction of Timbers in Western Liberia.