Timber extraction in Western Lofa threatens the Proposed Foya Protected Area, Yandohun Hydro Power    

By: Paul M. Kanneh/paulkanneh5@gmail.com

Map of the area the timbers being harvested

What appears to be illegal large-scale chainsaw timber extraction in Lofa County threatens the Proposed Foya Protected Area that is situated in Western Lofa. The timber harvest is reportedly being conducted by the Desire Construction Company, a local construction contractor with headquarters in Johnsonville, Montserrado County. Six towns, Kamatahun, Fokolahun, Yengema, Yalahun, Seghbema and Ngombu in Hassala Clan, Wanhassa District are the affected communities of the massive timber extraction.

The chainsaw logging activities began in October 2021, following an early visit to the community by Montserrado County Electoral District # 13 Representative Thomas P. Fallah. During said visit, Representative Fallah, who is also the Chairman of the committee on Ways, Means and Finance of the Lower House of the Liberian Legislature made a cash donation of $5 million Liberian dollars for youth empowerment and renovation of the community school located in Kamatahun town.

Upper Kamatahun Town Chief, Arma Kamara says there is no formal contract between the company and the community. According to him, the company was introduced to them by their son, Amara M. Kamara, who is a senior official of the government, assigned at the Liberia Institute of Public Administration (LIPA). Prior to his current portfolio, Mr. Kamara worked for Representative Thomas P. Fallah as office staff. Town chiefs Kamara and some residents says the Company provided thirty pieces of solar street lights to the community as a startup benefits for the timber extraction. Additionally, the town chief disclosed that the company will rehabilitate the main stretch of road connecting the affected towns to the rest of the district as part of community benefits.

Section 16 of regulation No. 115-11 of the regulation on Chain Saw Milling in Liberia says: Benefits Sharing shall be coordinated with the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance. Under this arrangement, the Authority shall ensure that a sum equal to 30 percent of all stumpage fees collected is distributed to Affected Communities through the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust mechanism.

Uploading truck with emblem of the Desire Construction Company

Iroko, whilsmo, tedra, abura and koshia are among tree species supposedly being harvested by the company.

Amara Kamara, who neither confirmed nor denied reports of introducing Representative Thomas Fallah to his people, divulged that the street lights and road rehabilitation projects are not part of the timbers extraction arrangement as is being reported He said the lights were provided through the instrumentality of the sons of Kamatahun who are in government, and that, as sons of the community, they are in negotiation with a construction company working in Foya to do some minor repairs on the community road, noting that, a pitsawing group does not have the ability to rehabilitate roads. “Let me clarify that the street lights project are not benefits for the timbers being harvested; they were procured through the efforts of the sons of Kamatahun who are in government”, But Paul, do you think  that a pit-sawing group has the ability to rehabilitate the road leading to Kamatahun?, said Mr. Kamara.

Rep. Fallah’s home

It was, however, observed that  that the blue and white colors light poles in Kamatahun town is the same as the blue and white colors light poles installed around the private home and company of Representative Fallah in Johnsonville. Also a follow up in Foya found out that it is the same Desire Construction Company that is paving the Foya city streets, which Mr. Kamara claims he and other sons of Kamatahun have engaged for the rehabilitation of their community road. LFMW, could not, however, establish how Representative Fallah’s home and company and Kamatahun town, where he has been making cash contributions, including US$2000 for 2021 Christmas gift got the same color of solar streets poles amidst reports of his alleged involvement in pit-sawing activities in Kamatahun and its environs.

Rep. Fallah’s company

Mr. Kamara further revealed that the timber extraction is a gentleman agreement between the private cocoa and coffee farm’s owners and the company, and that such agreement is reached on the basis of 10%. In contrast, Section 6 (d) of regulation No. 115-11 of the regulation on Chain Saw Milling in Liberia states: “Any person and community having/owning land that is eligible for and or desires it to be used for chainsaw milling shall register the land area with the Authority. No chainsaw milling shall be permitted or license issued in respect of a land area that has no prior registration with the Authority”.

Kamatahun town

Amara Kamara, in an attempt to clarify the company carrying out the chainsaw operation in the area, disclosed that the timber extraction is being conducted under the auspices of the Light Brothers, contrary to claims that it is Desire Construction Company. Light Brothers is a union of chain-sawing groups. When contacted for comments, the leadership of Light Brothers could neither deny nor confirm that they are involved in the chainsaw operation in the area. But an official of the Light Brothers who preferred anonymity denied reports that   the Desire Construction Company is working under the auspices of Light Brothers, adding that the current pit-sawing activities in Kamatahun is not an annex to the Light Brothers as is being reported.

tockpile of timbers in the fence opposite Rep. Fallah’s home

Every week, six trucks (each with 200 pieces of timbers) transport the timbers from the community to Monrovia. The timber is then delivered to and deposited in a large fence in Johnsonville, opposite the private home of Representative Thomas Fallah.

Operation site

Andrew Songol, an Aid to a Chainsaw Operator says each Chainsaw operator receives $100 Liberian dollars for each piece of timber sliced. The amount covers feeding and other expensive, including support to the Chainsaw Operator Aid. The company also offers $25, $30, $40 to $100 Liberian dollars per timber being transported on heads from the site to the main road depending on the distance. Some community residents, travellers and local traditional chiefs who spoke to the press expressed fear of serious environmental consequences if swift intervention is not done to halt the situation.

Angry youth of Yandohun town, a nearby community with a hydro power station that provides 24-hours electricity to residents, sensing encroachment on their forest land and the threat the chainsaw logging operation poses to their hydro power station and electricity supply seized 5 chainsaw machines from the company and ordered them to vacate their forest. The World Bank in collaboration with the Liberia Rural and Renewable Energy Agency in 2014 rehabilitated the plant and restored electricity to the community.[1]

Reading University of the United Kingdom, in partnership with the Sustainable Development Institute of Liberia, with funding from the Dutch foundation IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative supported the people of Hassala Clan, which hosts the hydro power plant, to develop a land use plan.

The Country Manager of IDH, Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, a globally recognized environmentalist and human rights defender, said “this is a disturbing development. The Government of Liberia, through the FDA, has just contracted IDH to support the community to implement its land use plan, improve forest management in the area and support local livelihood development. This chainsaw operation could destroy the forest we are supporting the community to manage better”, Mr. Siakor expressed concerns.

The leadership of Yandohun town, on 4th December 2021, wrote the Wanhassa District authorities expressing concerns about the chain saw logging in the area.

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) local office in Voinjama claims they are not aware of any arrangement that granted the Desire Construction Company the right to harvest timbers in that part of the Liberia. In an interview, Ben Miller, FDA Regional Secretary to Region 2 (Bong, Lofa and Margibi Counties) said he has only been seeing trucks transporting large volume of timbers to Monrovia, but has less information as to who is directly involved in the timber harvest and how the contract was awarded.

Truck with timbers heading from Yengema

Section 10 (b) of the Chainsaw milling regulation says:  “Prior to commencing any chain sawing operation in Liberia, each Chain Sawyer whether individual, business entity, cooperative of Chain Sawyers/Chain-saw Lumber Traders or community, shall apply to the Authority for a permit. Application must include (1) Name of individual and his or her nationality; (2) Name of business entity, cooperative of Chain Sawyers/ Chain-saw Lumber Traders or community. (3) Business Registration/proof of membership of cooperative of Chain Sawyers/Chain-saw Lumber Traders or other recognition by a public authority. (4) Serial number(s) of all chainsaw(s) owned. (5) Proof of title to (or authorization to use) the land where commercial chainsaw milling is intended to take plssace or proof of ownership of trees to be converted to lumber; (6) A non-refundable application fee of US50.00 or its Liberian Dollar equivalent; and (7) Adequate description with appropriate maps or coordinates of intended area of operation.

Timbers to be picked up along the road

Ben says his office has no record of Desire Construction Company, and cannot say anything other than his attempt to investigate the issue and report to his supervisors.   “I don’t have any information about this company. All I can see are trucks with huge timbers going to Monrovia”, Miller disclosed. According to him, he has reported the matter to Deputy Managing Director for Administration at FDA, who has promised to dispatch an assessment team to the area.

Checkpoint officials along the Lofa road corridor say the operators of the trucks often tell them that the timbers belong to Representative Thomas P. Fallah. Additionally, multiple sources, including staff who begged for anonymity have confirmed that Representative Thomas P. Fallah is the owner of the Desire Construction Company. Representative Thomas P. Fallah did not respond to a text message of inquiry on the allegation up to press time.

Hilltop view of Kamatahun town

The FDA’s Agent at the Voinjama Checkpoint confirmed that he has been charging and collecting will bills from the company in fulfillment of the FDA’s regulation. But has no idea on who owns the company or who is conducting the massive chain sawing operations. Eric Kamara is the closest FDA’s Agent to the affected community. As FDA’s closest Agent to the affected community, Eric says he cannot explain much about the timbers extraction because he does not have the relevant information.

The leadership of the Liberia Chainsaw Milling and Dealers Union says the union got tip off of the timber operations, and is closely monitoring the situation-as it does not have detailed information on how the company acquired license/permit to operate as Chainsaw group. “We have no record of Desire Construction Company being in our registry or database of Chainsawers”, the Chairman of the Liberia Chainsaw Milling and Dealers Union, Julius Momolu Kamara said.  Section 6 of Chainsaw milling regulation asserts that: “All Persons who own or are in possession of and/or own chainsaw(s) shall register each chainsaw with the Authority, indicating the serial number(s) and area(s) of their intended use. All commercial Chain Sawyers shall promptly notify the Authority prior to change(s) in their areas of operation through the Authorities regional office.

In November 2021 at COP 26 in Glasgow,, Liberian President George Weah frankly  called for fair and equitable distribution of climate financing. He lamented that countries with rich forest and biodiversity are the ones benefiting the least from the existing solutions and financial arrangements intended to tackle climate change.

Although President Weah wants more financial support to countries with rich forest, there are concerns that his government is doing very little to address forest illegalities such as the illegal timber extraction being carried out by Representative Thomas P. Fallah.

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