Banner Image: Residents of logging-affected communities protest before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning on Tuesday in Monrovia. The DayLight/Harry Browne

By James Harding Giahyue

MONROVIA – The Benefit Sharing Trust Board—a multi stakeholders’ watchdog in the forestry sector—has backed communities’ protest for more than US$5.5 million in land rental fees.

Communities led by their union protested at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for the amount but suspended their sit-in action for a week after meeting officials of the ministry.

“The National Benefit Sharing Trust (NBST) Board is joining the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) in calling on the Government of Liberia (GoL) to pay what it owes to the affected communities of logging companies,” the watchdog said in a release on Thursday. “The non-payment of these funds shows lack of willingness to uphold its obligation required by the National Forestry Reform Law (NFRL) of 2006 and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) signed with the European Union.” 

The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) has received US$27.7 million from large-scale logging companies such between 2017 and now but has not paid the communities hosting those concessions a cent ever since, according to a report by Forest Trends in a report last year, tracking payments in the sector between 2007 and 2019.

The protest brought it to three straight years now that the union has agitated for the payment. It petitioned the Legislature in 2019 and 2020.

Earlier this year, the union had a meeting with lawmakers, who promised to persuade the Ministry of Finance to make allotment in the special dudget for the fiscal year 2021/2022. The board calls on the government to fulfill its commitment as budget hearings are ongoing.

“We expect that while our international partners are struggling to support and strengthen governance processes, it is incumbent [upon the government to avoid any furthercommunity frustration and protest,” the board said. “We call on the Legislature to ensure that the necessary steps are taken by the requisite authorities to address the concerns of the communities.”

The board is a product of the National Forest Reform Law of 2006 and regulations, representing the interest of forest-related communities people affected by logging concessions. It receives 30 percent of land rental fees from the government, disburses them to communities and oversees their expenditure. The group comprises members of civil society, loggers and the government.

Communities have received US$2.6 million—instead of US$8.6 million—of the 27.7 million the government has received since the law came into being. That is how the US$5.5 million outstanding payment came about. 

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