FDA Deputy Managing Director Gertrude Nyaley made several false claims on Okay FM last Thursday. Picture credit: Facebook

By Gabriel M. Dixon

MONROVIA – In statements that are largely self-contradicting and underpinned by falsehood, FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Operations, Gertrude Nyaley misinformed the public about community rights, eligibility for contracts, and legality procedures for confiscated and abandoned logs.

Nyaley made the false claims last Thursday when she appeared on Forest Hour, a radio program of Liberia Forest Media Watch, hosted on Okay FM.

The DayLight has fact-checked four major ones.

CLAIM 1: “If there are no shareholders and it is a new company and none of the significant individuals that existed in the previous company, [are] named in that [new] company’s legal document, they cannot be considered as the same company. That’s the trouble we had. So, they registered a completely new company but we, FDA, are still under obligation to advise the community.

“If you say this Company A, you must prove that these are the same significant individuals. But if they are not the same significant individuals, they are totally different individuals, how can you say they are the same company? You can’t say it!”

FACT-CHECK: This claim is false. A Singaporean family, the Guptas, own both Sing Africa and Indo Africa, according to the companies’ articles of incorporation. The Guptas even have a third company: Starwood, which has a contract with Matro Kpogblen Community Forest in Grand Bassa.

Shivali Gupta, Shivani Gupta and Prachi Gupta have equal shares in Sing Africa.

Mukesh Gupta also has 51 percent and Anju Mukesh Kumar has the other 41 percent of the shares in Indo Africa.

Mukesh Gupta has 70 percent of the shares in Starwood and Mrs. Anju Mukesh Kumar has the remaining 30 percent.

Sing Africa and Indo Africa share Kishan Rao Pamapalker as their registered agent, a person who represents a company’s interest in business deals and lawsuits.

Moreover, the two companies had the same officials, with Kumah Gupta as their chief executive officer and Moses Mononporlor, as community forest manager.

The DayLight published these facts in an October 2021 investigation, which New Dawn newspaper republished. The FDA took no corrective measures against the family until each of the companies abandoned its contract. In the end,  communities are struggling to get their benefits from a bank ordered by the Commercial Court to possess their assets.  

CLAIM 2: “Our work is to ensure that they work consistent with the law. We don’t choose [a] company for [a] community. Communities themselves write FDA introducing who they want to work with after they have gone through their rigorous processes. So, they choose the company to work with.  And all FDA can say to you is look, ‘We think that these people may not have the technical capacity because of what they have done in previous communities.  We need you to watch.’

“The law says even when they sent their request to sign and we ignored their request, after three months, they have the right to even sign.”

A screengrab of Deputy Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Gertrude Nyaley’s appearance on Forest Hour on Okay FM.

This is also misleading. Nyaley misreferenced the procedures for an automatic renewal of a community forest management agreement with a commercial use contract.

Communities sign a community forest management agreement with the FDA for 15 years. Now, when that agreement is about to expire, Section 7.8 of the Community Rights Regulation gives villagers the right to automatic renewal if the FDA does not respond to a community’s request in not less than 60 days. That provision has nothing to do with a commercial use contract—also known as a third-party agreement—between a community and a company or an individual.

However, community forestry is no escapism from normal forestry practices. It only recognizes communities’ rights to forestland ownership and co-management of forest resources. It does not usurp the FDA’s powers.

Section 4 (g) and (f) of the FDA Act of 1976 is clear: “To prescribe the form of all licenses, permits, agreements and other instruments dealing with the use of forest resources.

“To control the issuance of such instruments and determine the conditions under which they may be granted, exercised, produced, revoked or returned.”

CLAIM 3: “We’ll move in first to one area for seizure, go to the magisterial court, we get the seizure, get to the site, [and] place the notice. After the period elapse[s], we move to the circuit court and apply the law.”

FACT-CHECK: This statement is misleading.  A magisterial court plays no role in the legal processes regarding confiscated or abandoned logs. The word “court” is used 17 times in the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber, and Timber Products, and 10 times in the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber, and Timber Products. In all instances,  the regulations are clear that a petition to confiscate or seize wood must be done in the circuit court. There is no mention of the phrase “magisterial court” in both regulations.

CLAIM 4: “Abandoned logs are all over the country. It’s sad to say but it is true. The challenge has been, because of these woods you [saw in Bondi Mandingo] they cannot pass through the chain of custody system because of the timeframe on the ground. Once it is confiscated, it is illegal. We can’t do anything.”

FACT-CHECK: This statement is untrue. The regulations on confiscated and abandoned logs provide pathways for the FDA to reintroduce timber into the chain of custody system, which tracks wood from their origin to their end-use. This principle is consistent with even the Regulation for Establishing a Chain of Custody System that governs everything about logs.

Both regulations require the FDA to investigate and seek a (circuit) court warrant to seize and/or confiscate timber. Next, the regulator must seek another court order to auction abandoned or confiscated timber upon several public notices.   

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