Top: A pile of logs in the Garwin Community Forest in River Cess County. The DayLight/Gabriel Dixon
KANGBO TOWN, River Cess – Between 2021 and last year, Tetra Enterprise Inc, an illegitimate Liberian-owned logging company, felled 1,300 trees in the Garwin Community Forest but has removed just a few.
“Tetra harvested 220 logs in 2021 and in 2022 felled additional 1,080 logs,” said Rev. Benison Sarchkoh, head of the community forest’s leadership.
In April, the leadership wrote the company, giving it an ultimatum to extract and scale the logs felled in the bush before the end of that month.
“Do short hauling to Kangbo Town at [the] proposed camp to clear the logs from the bush before the heavy rains,” Sarchkoh said in the letter, obtained by The DayLight. Kangbo Town is the headquarters of Tetra Inc. and home to Garwin Community Forest leadership.
Sarchkoh said the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) endorsed their request of the community.
Tetra has left more logs in the forest than the number Sarchkoh provided, official data shows. Between 2018 and 2021, Tetra abandoned 28,039.6 cubic meters of logs it harvested in the Garwin Community Forest, according to our analysis of records from the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Industries (LEITI).
We estimated the 28,039.6 cubic meters at 5,000 logs. That, plus the 1,300 logs the company felled between 2021 and last year sum up to about 6,000 logs.
This reporter photographed some of the logs but could not go further due to inaccessibility.
A Tetra spokesperson attributed the delay in extracting the logs to bad roads. However, William Yeasay said the company had begun extracting the woods to its log yard in Buchanan.
“We have extracted 100 pieces.”
Under the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timbers and Timber Products, logs are abandoned if they are unattended between three weeks and six months, depending on the locations. From all indications, Tetra’s logs are abandoned, having remained in the forest for at least one year.
The penalty for such an offense is a fine equivalent to two times the volume of the logs, according to the regulation.
FDA did not respond to inquiries emailed to it, including whether or not Tetra was authorized to fell more trees in Garwin.
But recently, the agency said it would confiscate and auction abandoned logs across the country to curb the widespread violation. It said it would not award a harvesting certificate to any company that has that problem. To confiscate and auction the abandoned logs, the FDA must petition a circuit court following the publication of public notices, according to the regulation.
Tetra Inc signed a 15-year agreement with Garwin Community Forest on March 18, 2017, to operate in the 36,637-hectare forest, one of the richest in forest and suitable for commercial.
According to the agreement, the company would sell logs and give back to the community, including fees for land rental, harvesting, scholarships and others.
But in the last two years, the company has not met those legal obligations.
Tetra owes Garwin Community Forest over US$60,000 in land rental, scholarship and supportive fees for other essential projects. It owes villagers land rental for two years of US$50,362 and scholarships fee for one year of US$8,000. It also owes compensation for two government-built clinics of US$3,000, according to the community. Yeasay confirmed the outstanding payments.
Tetra has also not constructed schools, roads, or clinics, based on the agreement. According to the agreement, it should have built and furnished an elementary school in 2019 and a junior school this year. It should have paved a primary road and constructed additional clinics to the ones in the area by now.
As a result of these things, chiefs and elders of the region lodged a complaint with the Morweh Magisterial Court in Boegeezay Town, asking the judge to halt logging activities there until their agreement was reviewed.
“We will revisit the agreement this year,” Sarchkoh told The DayLight.
How Tetra is an Illegal Company
An April investigation by The DayLight revealed Tetra is an illegal company.
The report found that the company has a bearer share, which means it has an unnamed shareholder. Such shares are illegal under the Business Association Law.
The investigation also revealed Comfort Telma Sawyer, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister runs the company, a violation of the Liberian Constitution, the National Forestry Reform Law, and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The laws prohibit a conflict of interest involving an official of the government.
The investigation showed indications Sawyer owns Tetra, something corroborated by her lawyer.
This story is a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).