Top: Korninga B Community Forest covers 31,318 hectares in the Bokomu District of Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
By Esau J. Farr
MANOWALLAH, Gbarpolu County – A community forest has canceled its contract with a logging company after denying locals their benefits and development.
Korninga B Community Forest in Bokomu District, Gbarpolu County had sued Indo Africa Plantation Limited for a breach of the agreement, according to court documents. The company reneged on the terms of the agreement and denied it several benefits and undermined development which led to a lawsuit.
“The third-party forest management agreement is hereby declared canceled as though same has never existed among and between the parties…,” said Judge Zubullah Kizeku of the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Bopolu in its summary judgment ruling. A summary judgment is a final decision made by a court based on the statements and evidence without going to trial.
Aaron Mulbah, the chief officer of Korninga B, said he was happy the community has gotten back their forest.
“It didn’t come to me as a surprise, because of the proper documentation of our issues with Indo Africa and records shown [in] court,” Mulbah said.
Indo Africa did not respond to queries.
The company agreed to pay Korninga B US$46,977 as a land rental fee, US$30,000 for scholarships and US$25,000 for medical each year.
The company further promised to construct two handpumps in each town, a youth centre and a paramount chief’s office for affected communities.
But up to four years later, the company failed to harvest a single log to make the payments. That failure violated a clause in its contract and a provision in the Community Rights Law, prompting the lawsuit. The law requires companies to begin harvest within 18 months after the signing of the agreement.
In all, Korninga B received US$65,000 in land rental fees from Indo Africa, according to Mulbah.
The community used the fund to begin the construction of a guesthouse in Henry Town, the region’s most populated place.
Mambutu Dukuly, another community leader, said that based on their experience with Indo-Africa they would conduct background checks on companies before awarding any future contracts.
“We will be looking at their financial strength, records of work, relationship with communities and… payment…,” Dukuly said.
The cancellation of the deal, however, means affected communities still do not have a school or a clinic. Schoolchildren have to walk a long distance to Henry Town as Bopolu is even farther.
Patience Kumakeh, one of the decision-makers for Korninga B, said that will feature high in their next agreement.
“The community will be looking up to any company that will be willing to provide road reconditioning, the construction of clinics, school handpumps and educational support.”
Korninga B is not Indo Africa’s only failure. The company also abandoned a contract with Bondi Mandingo in Gbarpolu in the Bopolu District. It and Sing Africa, another company owned by the Guptas, are listed in a recent forestry review and are dormant.
Funding for this story was provided by the Kyeema Foundation and Palladium. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over the story’s content.