Top: Burned and decayed logs that were abandoned by African Wood and Lumber Company in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Mark Newa
MONROVIA – The Liberian media may have lost up to an estimated US$63,250 over the failure of the Forestry Development Agency (FDA) to auction logs, timber and timber products abandoned by concession companies, according to an investigation by The DayLight.
Nearly every logging company in the country has abandoned logs—Masayaha, International Consultant Capital and Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited, just to name a few. They can be found in large and small-scale concessions, plantations and community forests across the country. Some are being used for firewood, charcoal, planks and defecation. Others have even been used as an insurance bonds in a lawsuit.
“Logging companies have left [a] huge quantity of assorted round logs unattended or abandoned at various bush landings and log yards over the years…,” an August 2020 FDA report, covering River Cess, Grand Bassa and Nimba, said. A bush landing is where logs are piled after felling, while they are stored in log yards to be transported for export.
“Valuable time species are continuously being harvested by logging companies without first securing sales contracts, only to leave those logs unattended,” the FDA investigators said at the time.
The Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products prescribes penalties for the offense, ranging from fines to forfeiture of forest licenses. But the FDA has not punished any companies or individuals amid plenty of evidence.
Under the regulation, logs are considered abandoned when they are unattended between 15 and 180 working days, depending on their location. It was created in 2017 to replace a previous one, which narrowed the definition of abandonment to logs outside contract areas and without tracking numbers. It was the country’s response to the demands of the global timber market for legal and sustainable logs.
The current regulation mandates the FDA to make a number of radio announcements and publications in newspapers—from a notice of abandonment to a public auction and to the declaration of the winner of the auction. So far, not a single one has been done in the five years of the regulation.
To arrive at the estimated total loss, The DayLight used US$100 for the average cost of a quarter-page newspaper publication and US$5 for a radio announcement, based on our analysis of advertisement rates. We multiplied those costs by the 22 newspaper publications and 66 radio announcements required by the regulation. And then we added the two products. That gave us US$2,530 the income for the media on a single auctioning process. Then we multiplied that by 25 incidents of abandoned logs, judging from the cases we have flagged, those reported by the FDA itself and others, to get the US$63,250.
But there is a possibility that some of these cases would not have made it to public auctioning, as some of the logs had decayed and some could have been redeemed and there could have been no bidder. In the case of redemption, the media would have generated just US$2,500 from all 25 processes. And if no company bided for the woods in all the cases, the media would have generated US$45,750.
The amount could help cash-strapped media institutions meet challenges that have undermined the fourth estate’s role as watchdogs, and promote things like free speech and giving voice to victims of human rights abuses.
How the media benefits
When the FDA is notified of suspicion of abandoned logs, the regulation requires it to investigate for seven working days and inform the company or the community leadership of the forest. Logs left in the forest are considered abandoned after 15 working days, and 180 for the ones in log yards.
If a company or community claims the logs, then the FDA must publish administrative fees it incurred during its investigation—including transportation, storage, and the cost of the publication, for example.
But if no one claims the logs, the agency is required to publish a notification of abandonment in a newspaper for five days and announce the same on local and national radio stations for 14 days.
Once it finds out that the logs are abandoned, it must announce its findings on national and local radio stations for another 14 days.
If a claimant does not come forward or prove they own the logs, the FDA must publish a notice of abandonment in a newspaper for five days.
Thereafter, the FDA is mandated to seek a court order to auction the logs. When that petition is granted, it is required to publish an auction notice in a newspaper at least once for five days. It must run that same announcement for the same period on national and local radio stations.
The last round of mandatory publication is the announcement of the result of the auction for seven days in a newspaper.