Who Is Depleting Local Forest In Western Liberia?
By Joseph N. Kollie/LFMW
It is a huge timber extraction taking place in Kamatahun town, Hassala clan. It began October 2021 just after an elaborate visit of the government’s entourage composed of sons of the community along with Montserrado District #5 Representative Thomas P. Fallah.
About 300 kilometer away from Liberia’s Capital, Monrovia; 6 trucks, each loaded with approximately 200 pieces of timbers, commute between the community and Monrovia weekly, and deposit the timbers in a large fence in Johnsonville, opposite the private home of Representative Thomas Fallah.
There is, however, no formal/official agreement to the timber extraction. Section 10 (b) of the draft 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.
Thirty(30) pieces of solar street lights, 2 million Liberian dollars for the construction of annexes to the community school , and a yet to begin Popalahun-Kamatahun road corridor rehabilitation are the initial benefits for community members, Town Chief, Arma Kamara has told Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW).
Section 16 of regulation No. 115-11 of the draft 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. But this is not the case in Kamatahun and its surrounding villages affected by the pitsawing activities.
No one, including the man (Representative Thomas P. Fallah) accused of conducting the pit-sawing activities, has claimed responsibility for the act. https://www.liberianobserver.com/liberia-rep-fallah-illegal-logging. Tree species like Iroko, whilsmo, tedra, abura and koshia are at the mercy of the illegal extraction.
“We cutting Iroko, whilsmo, tedra, abura and koshia, a company’s worker hinted. But Representative Fallah, through his office staff, Urias Goll has refuted allegations of the pit-sawing activities, and claimed the act is being carried out by Light Brothers.
“I am not personally extracting timber. There is an agreement between Light Brothers and the Community for extraction of Timber.
I am a member of Light Brothers, Representative Fallah. Though Representative Fallah claims he is not involved, he appears more informed about the terms and conditions of the pit-sawing activities, and has this to say about the benefits to community members.
“There are many benefits. All employees/contractors for this operation, according to my understanding, are members of the community. The company has also agreed with the community to provide other services such as scholarship, conditioning of the road, and contribution to the local administrative leadership.
The community was asked to submit a formal request for social projects. Once that happens, I can intervene and ask the other shareholders/members of Light Brothers for support to the community”, Urias Goll, on behalf of Representative Fallah in an email’s response dated February 23, 2022 at 10:49 am.
Meanwhile, the leadership of Light Brothers has, in two separate interviews with LFMW, failed to acknowledge claims of their involvement in the pit-sawing operations.
An official of the Light Brothers who preferred anonymity denied reports that the pit-sawing operations is being conducted under the auspices of Light Brothers, adding, the current pit-sawing activities in Kamatahun is not an annex to the Light Brothers as is being reported. https://gnnliberia.com/2022/01/27/timber-extraction-in-western-lofa-threatens-the-proposed-foya-protected-area-yandohun-hydro-power/.
Light Brothers is a union of chain-sawing groups.In an interview with LFMW’s lower Lofa County reporter, Joseph N. Kollie on March 28, 2022, senior community elder, Fongbeh Sheriff attributed the pit-sawing operations to one of their sons, Amara M. Kamara.
“Our son Amara asked us to give him land in order to make his farm. But his fear to waste the valuable timbers in the bush made him to start cutting the logs into timbers”, elder Fongbeh said. Amara Kamara 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 in his office.According to old-man Fongbeh, the pit-sawing activities came to limelight after citizens of a nearby town; Yandohun seized 9 chainsaw machines in protest for entering their forest.
CanElder Fongbeh Sheriff disclosed that both parties (community and pitsawer) agreed for the rehabilitation of Popalahun to Kamatahun road, provision of 30 solar street lights and funding contribution to the construction of annexes to the community school as benefits to the community. Elder Fongbeh, however, confirmed early reports that there is no official written contract/agreement for the timber extraction.
But another elder, Morris Sheriff, in a rather boastful tune said, the pit-sawing operations is conducted by Representative Thomas Fallah-contradicting senior elder Fongbeh’s statement. Elder Morris Sheriff also pointed out that Representative Fallah is funding the annex school project, which he and other citizens of Kamatahun town described as the first of its kind in their home.
Both elder Fongbeh Sheriff and Morris Sheriff described those condemning the timber extraction as anti-developmental, referencing the alleged huge transportation of timber products by others to neighboring Sierra Leone without benefits to the community-perhaps in comparison to what they are now benefiting from the pit-sawing operations.
IDH Country Manager and globally recognized environmentalist and human rights defender, Silas Kpanan Ayoung Siakor is concerned about the danger the pit-sawing activities is likely to post to the mini hydro plant in Yandohun, and how the act is also likely to undermine ongoing efforts to ensure community adhere to the land use plan developed with the support of a Dutch foundation, IDH.
“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. https://gnnliberia.com/2020/12/06/liberia-participatory-land-use-planning-workshop-for-csos-held-in-monrovia-ahead-of-community-engagement/.In their monthly meeting in April 2022, citizens of Kamatahun town residing in Monrovia, under the banner Kamatahun Development Association (KDA) expressed concerns over the pits-sawing operations, following initial publication by LFMW. No definite position was taken in that meeting to curb the timber extraction.
Though the leadership of KDA wishes for the timber operations to be abolished, none of them has, however, got the courage to stand-up to their community elders, mainly Fongbeh Sheriff, as doing so means disrespect to the elders or politicizing development issues in the community.
“Old Fongbeh is the senior elder of the town that nobody would love to easily challenge”, an official of KDA lamented. Elder Fongbeh is accused of siding with Representative Thomas Fallah.
Prominent sons and daughters who begged for anonymity said they have placed private phone calls to elder Fongbeh and told him about the danger the pit-sawing activity poses to the community, but he has ignored those calls, and justifying the timbers extraction as developmental for the community.