Top: Rotten logs in the Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Varney Kamara
ZIMMIDANDAI – A Liberian-owned company has left an unspecified number of logs in a logging concession area in Grand Cape Mount County, community leaders have said.
In 2009, Bulgar & Vincent Timber Company cut trees in a logging concession in the Porkpa District—known in the logging industry as Timber Sale Contract Area 10 (TSC A-10). However, in 2015, it pulled out of the area, leaving the woods to rot, according to Dao Sheriff, a member of the community’s leadership of the forest in an interview in a town called Zimmidandai.
“Most of the logs B&V harvested here were left in the bush,” said Sheriff. “After the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the company returned and cut several logs in 2015, and left this place in the same 2015.”
Sheriff did not say the exact quantity of woods B&V harvested. The company also had some logs in its log yard in the Po River area, according to a July 2017 handwritten letter to the FDA, seen by The DayLight. We could not independently verify the information, as the road to the forest was inaccessible due to years of abandonment and perennial rainfall.
B&V blames the government for the abandonment of the logs.
“We left logs there because the government failed to fix the road. We did not take them out because of this condition,” said Emmanuel Vincent, the CEO of the company, in a phone interview.” “It is the government that failed to do what it is supposed to do.”
That claim is incorrect. It was actually the company’s responsibility to “recondition and maintain roads adjacent [to] the contract area,” according to the agreement.
In June, the FDA announced the auctioning of abandoned logs across the country, including those in TSC A10. “The exercise will continue in the northern region and then go down south and western part,” said Mike Doryan, FDA’s Managing Director.
While that exercise has yet to be carried out, it does not apply here legally. Having been harvested in 2015, the FDA cannot obtain a court order to auction the woods under the current Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timbers and Timber Products. The regulation in place when the harvesting was done narrowed the definition of abandonment as only trees cut outside concession and lack tracking number. The current regulation was formulated in 2017 after the previous one proved ineffective in curbing the waste of forest resources.
Legal issues aside, there is no evidence that the FDA has done anything about deserted logs nationwide. The DayLight has investigated several incidents of abandoned logs in this region, the Gola Konneh District next door, and elsewhere in Grand Bassa, Lofa and Nimba. Doryen’s claim to auction the woods in June was unlawful as it takes months of legal formalities to do so.
‘They…damaged our forest’
The agreement between B&V mandates the company to pay US$1 per cubic meter of logs it harvested and US$1.25 for land rental fees. It was required to build schools, clinics, handpumps, and latrines for villagers but it did not deliver them. Its only project, a USD$4,018 guesthouse in Zimmidandai, has not been completed, according to a report released on Wednesday by the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB), which secures communities’ benefits and oversees their expenditure.
Vincent admits being indebted to the community but blames the Ebola epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic. “We lost heavily in that area,” Vincent said. “We left most of our heavy machines in there. Besides, the government restrained our operation because of the outbreaks. How could we have sold logs to pay benefits? We were practically closed down.” The FDA did not return queries for comment on Vincent’s claim but health authorities imposed some restrictions to contain both outbreaks.
It was unclear how much the company owes because the government has not remitted all the money logging companies have paid them for communities. TSC A10 received US$460 last year as part of the overdue payment and could receive twice that sum from the US$401,000 the government paid to communities recently.
By the way, that has not changed the gloom aura logging arouses in Zimmidandai. After years of failure, the government of Liberia finally canceled all 11 TSCs across the country, leaving thousands of United States dollars owed them unpaid and projects unconducted.
The FDA promised to work with the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC) to address fees owed TSCs. Doryen reechoed that in our interview in June. However, the two entities have not done any work since the meeting, according to Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the group.
“They came and damaged our forest and left us with no development,” Sheriff said. “Now, the government has canceled TSCs, and they are gone. All I can say to you is that we are inside it.”