Who Instigated Forest Conflict In Sinoe? As SUP., UFC, Others Accused; FDA Remains Mute But…

By: Moses R. Quollin, Environmental Reporter/Tel: 0770922412/0880922412 | Email: quollinmoses@gmail.com |

A victim of the crisis

As calm returns to Tartweh/Drapoh Community Forest, Sinoe County following days of persistent fire exchange over the forest management, Sinoe County Superintendent Lee Nagbe Chea, the Commissioner and Magistrate of Kpanyan District along with Police authority within Sinoe are said to be at the center of accusation amidst claims and counter claims of escalating the of tension.

However, Superintendent Chea and others accused have since distanced themselves from the violence, denied act of taking money from any Company in the name of protecting investors’ interest at the Community forest leadership detriment, and vowed to file a lawsuit against the accuser(s). The issues were first flagged on to two live talk-shows of the Catholic Media Center (the “Environment & You” and “Good Morning Liberia”) aired on Radio Maria Liberia 97.9fm.

Some citizens of the County, speaking with Radio Maria live phone-in environmental program, also blamed the Universal Forest Cooperation (UFC); a Korean logging company for allegedly fuelling the conflict due to the company’s ‘late’ involvement, application to harvest the Tartwheh/Drapoh Community Forest situated in Kpayan Statutory District.

Sampson Borteh, Chairman of the Tartweh Community in Monrovia speaking via mobile phone from Greenville alleged that UFC, instead of going through the legal process to acquire their forest, choose to dished out an amount of $ USD 20,000 (Twenty Thousand United Dollars) among local officials of the County aimed at “hard-jacking the Community Forest at all cost.”

“No one have been charge up to date except for those who the Police previously arrested but the Superintendent and others ordered their release due to their connection with him and their investors…UFC give them 20, 000 USD through Amos Weah-Toe, a mining agent in the county to share it among themselves so they can prevail on the leadership of Tartweh/Drapoh community forest management to award UFC the forest without precondition…even though the Community has already agreed “unanimously” to do business with Atlantic Resources Limited.” Borteh maintained.

But Police Spokesman Moses Carter, failing to give detail explanations, told this paper that the Liberia National Police is investigating the Sinoe disturbance and would make public the findings.

Rumours and unconfirmed documents had it that few local authorities within the area (District Superintendent Pion Sokan and the Tubmanville Magistrate, the Tribal Chairman and others to be identified, per probe) already admitted that their interest is sole vested in UFC not Atlantic Resources/Delta Development Corporation.

At the same time, members of the legislative caucus are also to have been financially induced. “Rep. Crayton Duncan’s conspicuous silence and Sen. Milton Teahjay‘s act of siding with the disillusion party,” are all part of the speculations.

Experts say the Law prevents external interference (local or national government officials, FDA’s direct influence) into the working of authorized community forestry programs or operations.

The Universal Forest Cooperation (UFC) is yet to official respond to these allegations despite several attempts (through many visits and mobile phone conversation with the Corporation’s lawyers) to enquire from the Company authorities in Monrovia.

One occasion of this paper visit to UFC head office last week witnessed the presence of about five uniform officers of the Arm Forces of Liberia who have gone to seek audience with the Company’ Chief Executive Officer.

It is not clear as to whether the AFL’s Thursday (April 30, 2019) afternoon visit was intended to probe UFC on allegation of sponsoring arm conflict in Sinoe County however; a source in the Compound, Attorney-At-Law Adams (who declined to official comment) said the AFL officers had gone to meet with the CEO on different purpose.

The Tartweh/Drapoh Community, ‘almost’ following her completion of the “Nine-Steps” checklist for establishing an Authorized Forest Community (AFC) was in the process of signing a third part social agreement with a logging company (Atlantic Resources Limited/Delta Developments Cooperation) for commercial harvesting.

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) along with other local authorities within Sinoe County approved, and should have witnessed the ceremony but commotions broke up prior to the event as some aggrieve members of the Community resisted in a violence style.

Demanding the recusal of Sorboh S. Wesseh, Chief Officer of the CFMB, they claimed that the entire Community Forest Management Body leadership including the EC (Executive Committee chair, Mike S. Naklen, Sr.) were removed and replaced by a new leadership which FDA has since failed to recognize.

Sources said, the scene became very chaotic through fire exchanges (single barrel guns) as some towns and villages were burnt down to arches days before Police and local authorities’ interventions.

The same protesters (aggrieve party), according to reports, have staged series of demands even at the inconvenient of other citizens, put out country devils, set road blocks, and chased after one another with deadly weapons.

“They, again, insisted among things that the forest be awarded to another company, Universal Forest Cooperation (UFC) due to it long time operation in the area prior the moratorium restructuring of the Liberian logging industry in 2015,” an eyewitness accounted.

Protest Ringleader, Amos Weah Toe told this papers that their annoyance is triggered by what they see as continuous disrespects and non-compliance posture of the CFMB and EC who have refused to take instruction from the Chief and Traditional Council, boycotted called meetings by the elders, corruption and financial malpractices coupled with other administrative wrongdoings of both Wesseh and Naklen.

Report says the Executive Committee chairman Mike S. Naklen, Sr. has since withdrew from the forest activities but Embattle CFMB chief officer Sorboh Wesseh in respond argues that the group’ counts are illegitimate and pursuing individual interest at the detriment of the community forest general membership.

“Everything we are doing is in accordance with the law after we conducted series of meetings, explained to the general body, did the vetting process between four the applicant companies (Renaissance, Kabadeh, Saint Africa and Atlantic Resources) we review all their documents and summited the selected company name, Atlantic Resources Limited to FDA for approval. UFC was never part of the four applicants.”

Chapter 7, Section 7.1 of the Community Rights Law regulation of 2017, as amended states: “Once the community applying for Authorized Forest Community status has formed its Community Assembly, selected and appointed the Community Forest Management Body, and adopted a constitution, governing bylaws and forest rules, the Authority shall issue a Community Forest Management Agreement for review and signature. In order to be approved for participation in the community forestry program, the Community Forest Management Body shall, following review by members of the applicant community, agree to and sign a Community Forest Management Agreement with the Authority.”

The CA (Community Assembly) is highest decision-makers; it manages its affairs through the EC (Executive Committee) whilst the day-to-day activities of the Authorized Forest Community (AFC) are performed by the CFMB (Community Forest Management Body), provided in the Community Rights Law Regulation of 2017.

The Community Assembly, consisting of representations from all clans, towns and villages including tradition people, youth and women groups is empower by law to remove or dismiss with cause members of the Executive Committee and the Community Forest Management Body.

However, documents in the possession of this paper coupled with independent investigation conducted so far showed that the “professed dismissal” of the community forest leadership was done by a group under the umbrella of “The Chief and Traditional Council of Tartweh/Drapoh Community” not the authorized forest Community Assembly (CA).

As the protesters’ actual demand remains unclear whilst they grappled over the “purported removal” of the CFMB and EC, something which the FDA reported rejected “due to constitutional violations,” all forestry activities in the area remain halted as per FDA statement issued May 2, 2019 pending investigation of the recent altercation.

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is responsible to supervise, regulate and monitor all forestry issues across the Country. The entity, as one of the most donors driven institution of government remains seriously challenged with growing numbers of forest disputes occasioned by Authorized Forests Community (AFCs).

Chapter 6.1 of the Community Rights Law Regulation clearly establishes FDA’s jurisdiction over community forestry management as the lead agency for community forestry while chapter 6.2f of the same regulation further empowers it to facilitate the resolution of conflicts upon request by an Authorized Forest Community (AFC).

Under the Liberian law, Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands (CRL), communities are granted legal rights over the areas of forest resources they have traditionally used, once they have completed the procedure elaborated in the Regulation to the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands, as Amended (CRL Regulation).

This requires following a nine-step process (“the Nine Steeps”) to ensure that members of the community fully understand and support the application for Authorized Forest Community (AFC) status. It also requires the establishment of representative bodies with their own governing rules to regulate the used of the forest resources and ensure the effective administration of the AFC.

Once the Nine Steps have been completed, a management plan to provide a framework for the use, access, and sustainable management of forest resources must also be drafted as enshrined as requirements in the CRL Regulation.

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