Top. John Flomo, the chief officer of the Korninga ‘A’ community forest management body, is accused of mismanaging US$76,000.
By Henry B. Gboluma, Jr.
KORNINGA CHIEFDOM, Gbarpolu – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has suspended the entire leadership of a community forest in Gbarpolu County for alleged mismanagement of funds.
Earlier this year, three members of the Korninga ‘A’ Community Forest were jailed for allegedly misusing $US76, 000 intended for social benefits but were later freed after the court placed a hold on the case to allow the FDA to handle the issue.
“Having listened to the chiefdom, and based on first-hand information gathered by our field office concerning alleged misuse of money paid to the community by the company, we hereby indefinitely suspend the entire CFMB,” said Weedor Gray, the technical manager for the department of community forestry at a recent meeting.
“This includes the [ members of the community assembly] and the Executive Committee members,” she added. Comprising representatives of affected towns and villages, the community assembly is the highest decision-maker in community forestry, while the executive committee takes action on behalf of the group.
The three men accused of corruption are Johnson Flomo, Austin Kamara and Dennis Flomo, They are the chief officer of the community forest management body (CFMB), and chairman and co-chair of the executive committee, respectively. The CFMB manages the community forest’s funds and projects.
They are accused of diverting the fund for their own use, thereby depriving the community of its benefit, a violation of the New Panel Code of Liberia, according to court documents. Covieyallah Investment Enterprise, which has had an agreement with the community since April 2019 for logging rights in its 48,296-hectare forest, had paid the money for the construction of schools, roads, and clinics in affected areas in the Bopolu District.
The men deny the accusation, saying they spent the money on motorcycles, training, a traditional ceremony, a Christmas party, fees for a lawyer and transportation to and from Monrovia.
Gray indicated that the suspended team would be prosecuted if an audit of the community forest’s fund found them guilty of corruption, adding that the move was a message to the rest of the CFMBs in the country.
George Sumo, the Paramount Chief of the Korninga Chiefdom, will now set up an interim team that will conduct the affairs of the community forest for six months, Gray said. She, however, said the community forests’ bank account will remain frozen until the interim leadership takes over.
“Through this team, we will work with partners and the seven affected communities to vet and establish a new CFMB to manage the Korninga ‘A’ Community Forest to benefit you, the community people,” Gray said.
The Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands, which empowers communities to manage their own forests, mandates only the executive committee of a community forest to take charge in cases of mismanagement of community funds but Sumo will occupy the position in the meantime, as the executive committee is implicated in the scandal. “So that is the reason we wrote a letter of no-confidence [in the entire leadership]
“So that is the reason we wrote a letter of no-confidence [in the entire leadership] to FDA for the all of them to be replaced and punished over it,” Sumo said.
This story was a collaboration with the Center for Transparency and Accountability of Liberia (CENTAL), with funding from the Swedish Development Agency (SIDA). It is an activity under the CENTAL’s ongoing National Integrity Building and Anti-Corruption (NIBA) program.