Top: Some of the woods at the center of a legal battle between the Forestry Development Authority and Renaissance Group Incorporated. Photo credit: Civil Society Independent Forest Monitors (CSIFM)
By Mark B. Newa
MONROVIA – A group of civil society organizations in the forestry sector has condemned a logging company for undermining forestry laws and other regulations.
Renaissance Group Incorporated illegally harvesting timber products outside Timber Sales Contract Area Two (TSC-A2) in District Number One, Grand Bassa County.
“Illegal logging outside Liberia’s legal and regulatory framework and exporting of illegally sourced timber is a failure of the rule of law and this undermines Liberia’s efforts towards attaining FLEGT VPA license,” the Independent Forest Monitoring Coordination Mechanism said in a statement on Saturday.
Renaissance and another company called Freedom Group Liberia subcontracted TSC-A2, which was acquired by Tarpeh Timber Company back in 2009.
In 2018-19 Renaissance and Freedom Group illegally logged at least 14,000 cubic meters of timber worth an estimated US$4.4 million at the time on the international market, according to a 2021 investigation by the group.
Nine thousand cubic meters of illegally logged timber was exported already in 2019 at an estimated value of US$2.8 million at the international market value between January and July 2019.
In July 2020, a French consortium hired by the European Union reported that timber felling associated with TSC-A2 was largely uncontrolled. Liberia and the EU signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement, which commits Liberia to develop and implement systems that ensure that timber exports to European Union countries are legally sourced.
The Ministry of Justice and the Forestry Development Authority conducted their own inquest, which confirmed that Renaissance illegally harvested valuable Ekki wood in the Doe Clan, some six kilometers outside the TSC-A2 concession.
Renaissance has reportedly planned to export the rest of the timber it illegally harvested based on the ruling of the court authorizing the FDA to permit the company to ship.
“[Renaissance] is now in the process of completing export of the remaining logs now that the Court has instructed the FDA to authorize exporting these logs, followed by an order of the Supreme Court,” according to Jonathan Yiah of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI).
Yiah said the processes leading to the harvesting and subsequent exportation of timber products by the company circumvent the law.
“As long as the illegal logging connected to TSC-A2 remains unresolved, sustainable forest management is being undermined. It clearly validates statements that Liberia’s forest sector is replete with illegalities,” Yiah told reporters.
On January 13, last year, the Second Judicial Circuit Court in Buchanan has started enforcing its ruling of January 13, 2022, in favor of RGI against the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The court said it could not subject Renaissance to “double jeopardy,” a legal phrase for punishing an individual twice for the same offense.
The CSO group blamed the FDA liable for not appropriately referring the case to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution “because the offense significantly harms the interest of local communities.”
The group lauded the action of the French General Society of Surveillance (SGS) refusal to enroll the logs in question into the chain of custody systems, “categorizing them as illegal logs under Liberia’s forestry legal requirements.”
The group urged the government of Liberia to ensure that the laws of Liberia, especially, forestry laws are respected and enforced at all times.
The remaining member CSOs of the group are Liberia Forest Media Watch, Civil Society Independent Forest Monitor, National Union of Community Forest Management Body, National Union of Community Forest Development Committee, Foundation for Community Initiative and Save My Future Foundation.