Top: Members of the communities affected by logging concessions protest before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in Monrovia. Daily Observer/Tina Mehnpaine
By Tina Mehnpaine, with the Daily Observer
MONROVIA – Communities affected by logging concessions across Liberia have staged a sit-in action in demand of over US$5 million in land rental the government of Liberia owed them, the second year in a role for such protest.
The protesters gathered before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with placards. The group consisted of the leaders of logging-affected towns and villages under the banner of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC).
By law, 30 percent of land rental fees the government collects from companies should go to communities. The fee is the product of the total size of the concession, US$2.50 for large-scale forest management contracts (FMCs), and US$1.25 for small timber sale contracts (TSCs). However, the payments have not been regular since 2017.
“Our people are affected every day by these companies and the only way to give us some relief is by paying us our percentage. So we demand our benefit, ” said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the NUCFDC.
Zelemen added that the protest would continue if the government fails to provide the money allotted in the budget was not paid by the end of the year. NUCFDC represents logging communities from Lofa, Gbarpolu, River Cess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland. Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties complete the list.
Those debts amounted to US$5.5 million between 2007 and 2019, according to a report by Forest Trends, an American NGO promoting sustainable forest management.
Last year, the government paid US$200,000 after the communities protested. It allotted US$2.7 million in the current National Budget for the payment but barely three months before the end of the fiscal term, it has only paid US$500,000.
Janga Kowo, the Comptroller General of Liberia, said on OK FM Thursday that the government would pay another US$1.5 million.
A recent report published by the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board shows that delayed payments have stalled projects in communities.
“Political commitment is weak despite some positive actions taken by the government in responses to pressure from stakeholders,” the report said.
This story was produced in collaboration with the Daily Observer.