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FDA Axes Illegal Loggers and Wasteful Companies


Top: The headquarters of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in Paynesville. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has banned a Turkish logging company and barred its shareholders for illegal logging activities in Liberia, the agency said in a press release on Tuesday.

The FDA said Askon Liberia General Trading Limited abused its sawmill license and extracted and exported timber. The agency said it would recommend prosecution for its owners: Hassan, Yetar and Faith Uzan.

“The permit issued required Askon to source logs from legal sources and not engage in the informal harvesting of logs,” the FDA said.  “The investigation into the whereabouts of these individuals will progress, and subsequent actions will be recommended or referred to the justice system of Liberia.”

Askon Illegal operation campsite between Ganta and Sanniquellie, Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald C. Koinyeneh

Askon’s illegal operations were exposed by The DayLight in March.  The report said Askon ran an illegal operation in Nimba County in which it harvested and smuggled timber in containers. It named Assistant Minister of Trade Peter Somah as an accomplice.  The FDA said it took the report “seriously.”

Hasan Uzan, Askon’s majority shareholder, did not immediately respond to questions for comment on this story.

The FDA also said it took action against logging companies for stockpiling logs across the country.  Companies abandon logs when they do not attend to the woods between three weeks and six months, depending on their location, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.  

The agency announced it has suspended the harvesting certificates of Mandra Forestry, Ruby Light Forestry and Atlantic Resources. A recent report by The DayLight found Mandra abandoned some 7,000 logs from its contract with the Sewacajua Community Forest. Ruby Light Forestry, which operates in a large concession that extends to Grand Gedeh, has perhaps the largest field of abandoned logs in the country. Holding a logging concession covering Maryland, River Gee and Grand Kru, Atlantic Resources has abandoned a host of logs, including decayed ones in an open field in Greenville, Sinoe County.

This drone photo shows some of Mandra’s abandoned logs outside Greenville, Sinoe County

“This decision is prompted by the failure of these companies to honor the mandate from the FDA to enroll all logs harvested in LiberTrace,” the FDA said. LiberTrace is the system to tracks logs from their sources to final destinations.

Companies that have abandoned logs but do not have harvesting certificates will not be allowed to fell any trees until they export the wood, the FDA said.

The agency said it had initiated actions to confiscate abandoned logs. According to it, the action will deter companies from further harvesting logs without exporting them, one of the most common forestry violations today. Under the law, the FDA must petition a court to confiscate and auction abandoned logs.

“Companies in both categories, suspended certificates and otherwise, may be subject to further [penalties]…,” the FDA said.

Representatives of the three companies did not return WhatsApp messages for their sides of the story. However, in April, Augustine Johnson, Mandra’s manager, falsely argued the logs were not abandoned because they were durable, and that he had already paid the royalties on them. “Before you talk about abandonment. I am expecting a ship to come to Greenville by the second week in next month to get the logs out,” Johnson told The DayLight in a phone interview at the time.

A screenshot of pictures showing decayed logs Atlantic Resources Limited harvested and kept in a log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue

In January, Massaquoi Robert, a transport supervisor of Ruby Light, too, wrongly argued that the company had abandoned no logs.

“We’re defacing the logs you see there. We have sales contracts right now,” Robert said at the time. “My logs are not rotten. You are not a logger, I say my logs are useful.”

Logging Company In Sinoe Abandons Likely 7,000 Logs

created by dji camera

Top: A drone shot of Mandra`s log yard where hundreds of abandoned logs lay bare in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/ Derrick Snyder

By Mark B. Newa

GREENVILLE, Sinoe County – Mandra Forestry Liberia, Limited, an Asian company, abandoned an estimated 7,000 logs it harvested between 2019 and 2021,  according to The DayLight’s analysis of official records.

During the period, Mandra produced 6,944 logs but exported none, our analysis of records of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) shows. Mandra harvested the logs in the Sewacajua Community Forest in Sinoe County, where it has operated since 2017.

During the 2019-2020 harvesting season, when the global timber market dipped due to the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S.-China trade war, Mandra harvested over 4,500 logs.

This journalist saw huge heaps of logs at Mandra’s log yard in Greenville in January. A good number of the wood brandishing “Sewacajua,” spread across the quiet field had already decayed. Earthmovers and timber jacks were at different positions.

Under  Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products, logs should be declared abandoned when they remain at a location between 15 (three weeks) and 180 working days (about six months). By this definition, Mandra abandoned all the logs in question latest June last year.

Our calculation did not include trees Mandra cut in 2018, some parts of 2019 and last year. The Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) was unclear on Mandra’s production and export figures covering the period. Moreover, the FDA does not publish these records and did not grant The DayLight’s request for the information, a violation of several provisions of forestry legal frameworks. Subsequently, we obtained the information for this story from elsewhere.

Mandra’s abandoned logs are likely to be higher than 6,944. The company co-operates in two large-scale logging concessions in River Cess and Nimba Counties. The LEITI did not separate Mandra’s Sewacajua figures from the two other concessions. A 2020 investigation report by the FDA found that Mandra and its partner EJ &J Investment Corporation abandoned 65 first-class logs in River Cess.

Mandra Plantations Liberia Limited of the Virgin Islands owns Mandra’s largest shares (99.7 percent), according to its article of incorporation. Sio Kai Sing, a Malaysian, holds 0.1 percent of the shares;  Tea Sin Sing, also a Malaysian, has 0.1 percent; and Tang Kwok Ben, a Hong Konger, holds the remaining 0.1 percent. It signed a 15-year agreement with the Secawajua Community Forest, covering 31,986 hectares in Sinoe’s Seekon, Pyne, Wedjah and Juarzon  Districts.  

A collage of logs Mandra abandoned at its log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/ James Harding Giahyue
Mandra`s campsite in Secawajua, Sinoe County in 2018. The DayLight/ James Harding Giahyue

Abandoned Logs Regulation

Augustine Johnson, a Liberian who serves as Mandra`s general manager, wrongly claimed that the logs in Greenville were not abandoned because they had a long lifespan and that he had already paid taxes for them.

“Before you talk about abandonment. I am expecting a ship to come to Greenville by the second week in next month to get the logs out,” Johnson told The DayLight in a phone interview.

“Apart from logs that are to be shipped, I can take logs for my own domestic use, I can take logs to saw into pieces and even bring it to Monrovia to…build my campsite. The ones that rot are used for domestic purposes,” Johnson added.  

A former FDA geographic information system (GIS) technician, Johnson’s comments are not backed by facts. Payment of taxes is a requirement to obtain a log-export permit. However, taxes have nothing to do with the abandonment of logs. Rather, abandonment largely depends on the time logs stay at a particular location, according to the regulation. For instance, the woods in Mandra’s log yard in Greenville should have only stayed there for 180 days, the same as the ones Johnson said were at the Port of Greenville. Also, the FDA would have to reenter the logs in question into the FDA log-tracking system called LiberTrace.

Johnson is adamant about his wrong understanding or lack of awareness of the regulation. “The logs been there for over 30 working days doesn`t matter, or been there for I80 days it doesn`t matter. They are all Ekki logs with a huge lifespan,” Johnson said and hung up the phone. He had insisted on educating this reporter, not the other way around.

The FDA did not answer questions The DayLight sent to the agency for comment on this story. This journalist sent the email on March 30 to Managing Director Mike Doryen, copying Joseph Tally, his deputy for operations.

The regulation mandates the FDA to investigate the alleged abandonment of the logs in seven days after notification. Thereafter, it must declare the logs abandoned, petition a court to auction the wood and fine the company involved. If the company claims, it must pay administrative fees and redeem them.  The FDA established the regulation in 2017 after provisions of another regulation proved not enough to prevent the waste of forest resources.

But despite years of notifications, including one from within the agency, the FDA has failed to take any legal, public actions. Last year, it said it would begin the process to auction abandoned logs during the dry season but has not done that. The situation has led to a loss of revenue for the Liberian government—and the media.  

A 2020 FDA investigation found companies were abandoning logs because they were harvesting logs without first finding buyers. It also blamed irregular monitoring, lack of logistics for field officers and poor road networks for the problem.

“Logging contract holders are not doing much to minimize the incidence of abandoned logs,” the report said. “Much needed revenue… has been lost due to the unprecedented abandonment of the assorted round logs…”  

The story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Liberian Loggers Leave Logs in Cape Mount


Top: Rotten logs in the Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Varney Kamara

ZIMMIDANDAI – A Liberian-owned company has left an unspecified number of logs in a logging concession area in Grand Cape Mount County, community leaders have said.

In 2009, Bulgar & Vincent Timber Company cut trees in a logging concession in the Porkpa District—known in the logging industry as  Timber Sale Contract Area 10 (TSC A-10). However, in 2015, it pulled out of the area, leaving the woods to rot, according to Dao Sheriff, a member of the community’s leadership of the forest in an interview in a town called Zimmidandai.  

“Most of the logs B&V harvested here were left in the bush,” said  Sheriff.  “After the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the company returned and cut several logs in 2015, and left this place in the same 2015.”

Sheriff did not say the exact quantity of woods B&V harvested. The company also had some logs in its log yard in the Po River area, according to a July 2017 handwritten letter to the FDA, seen by The DayLight. We could not independently verify the information, as the road to the forest was inaccessible due to years of abandonment and perennial rainfall.

B&V blames the government for the abandonment of the logs.

“We left logs there because the government failed to fix the road. We did not take them out because of this condition,” said Emmanuel Vincent, the CEO of the company, in a phone interview.” “It is the government that failed to do what it is supposed to do.”

That claim is incorrect. It was actually the company’s responsibility to “recondition and maintain roads adjacent [to] the contract area,” according to the agreement.

In June, the FDA announced the auctioning of abandoned logs across the country, including those in TSC A10. “The exercise will continue in the northern region and then go down south and western part,” said  Mike Doryan, FDA’s Managing Director.   

While that exercise has yet to be carried out, it does not apply here legally. Having been harvested in 2015, the FDA cannot obtain a court order to auction the woods under the current Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timbers and Timber Products. The regulation in place when the harvesting was done narrowed the definition of abandonment as only trees cut outside concession and lack tracking number. The current regulation was formulated in 2017 after the previous one proved ineffective in curbing the waste of forest resources.

Legal issues aside, there is no evidence that the FDA has done anything about deserted logs nationwide. The DayLight has investigated several incidents of abandoned logs in this region, the Gola Konneh District next door, and elsewhere in Grand Bassa, Lofa and Nimba. Doryen’s claim to auction the woods in June was unlawful as it takes months of legal formalities to do so.

‘They…damaged our forest’

The agreement between B&V mandates the company to pay US$1 per cubic meter of logs it harvested and US$1.25 for land rental fees. It was required to build schools, clinics, handpumps, and latrines for villagers but it did not deliver them. Its only project, a USD$4,018  guesthouse in Zimmidandai, has not been completed, according to a report released on Wednesday by the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB), which secures communities’ benefits and oversees their expenditure.

Vincent admits being indebted to the community but blames the Ebola epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic. “We lost heavily in that area,” Vincent said. “We left most of our heavy machines in there. Besides, the government restrained our operation because of the outbreaks. How could we have sold logs to pay benefits? We were practically closed down.” The FDA did not return queries for comment on Vincent’s claim but health authorities imposed some restrictions to contain both outbreaks.

It was unclear how much the company owes because the government has not remitted all the money logging companies have paid them for communities. TSC A10 received US$460 last year as part of the overdue payment and could receive twice that sum from the US$401,000 the government paid to communities recently.  

Zimmidandai in Porkpa District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding

By the way, that has not changed the gloom aura logging arouses in Zimmidandai.  After years of failure, the government of Liberia finally canceled all 11 TSCs across the country, leaving thousands of United States dollars owed them unpaid and projects unconducted.

The FDA promised to work with the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC) to address fees owed TSCs. Doryen reechoed that in our interview in June.  However, the two entities have not done any work since the meeting, according to Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the group.    

“They came and damaged our forest and left us with no development,” Sheriff said. “Now, the government has canceled TSCs, and they are gone. All I can say to you is that we are inside it.”

Company Abandons Some 2,500 Logs

Abandoned logs
A pile of logs abandoned by Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited

Top: Some of the logs Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited abandoned at its sawmill in Zorzor, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: In this second part of a series on Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited, we reveal how the Singaporean logging company abandoned a large number of logs in Lofa and Grand Bassa.    

BALAGWALAZU, Lofa County – Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited, a Singaporean logging company, might have harvested about US$2.2 million worth of logs outside its concession in Bluyeama Community Forest mainly between 2018 and last year.

But it has abandoned about 2,500 logs it cut within that period, including logs the company illegally harvested, further investigation The DayLight conducted into the firm’s operations discovered. Around a fifth of the logs have already decayed.  

Legally, logs are abandoned when they are left unattended between 15 and 180 days, depending on their location and the result of a three-month government-run inquiry. That means even logs Sing Africa felled in December last year, the latest of its production, are abandoned.

Our calculations of the company’s official production and export records between 2019 and last year show that it has 1,426 logs that have not been exported. Having only obtained production and shipment data in volume between 2017 and 2018, we estimated the difference of  10,761 cubic meters to be 1070 logs.  

The logs are scattered at different locations. Most of them are in the company’s sawmill in Balagwalazu, with some in its log yards on the Gbarnga-Lofa highway and in Grand Bassa County.

We counted about 500 woods—several with Sing Africa markings—in a large open field in Buchanan, all of which have already decayed. Their remnants created sponge-like coatings everywhere as if the area were a graveyard for trees. You could take the cawing of birds that pierced the quietude of the deserted area for a eulogy.

“It’s not even good for charcoal now,” said one woman, who did not want to be named due to safety reasons.   

The members of the leadership of Bluyeama Community Forest, who monitor the company and have records of all its operations, corroborated our findings. Gayflorson Korballah, one of Bluyeama’s leaders, pointed out huge piles of logs that had been harvested in 2017 and 2018. Alexander Songu, the head of the leadership, said most of the ones in the log yard had been harvested in 2019.    

We traced some of the logs to the company’s official production records from their tracking numbers.   

Tracking logs is a major component of postwar forestry reform in Liberia. Every tree felled must have an identification number that can be used to track logs from harvest to export.

The illegal logging and the failure of the company to pay the community its benefits have left locals frustrated. Since 2009, villagers have had the right to manage their forests alongside the government. Bluyeama, a 49,444 hectare woodland in the Zorzor District bordering Gbarpolu, was certified in 2011.

Following a difficult relationship with Ecowood, a previous logging company, it signed an agreement with Sing Africa in January 2016. But the company has not lived up to its promises. It owes both the Liberian government and the community US$121,271, according to the record of a meeting of players in the forestry industry on the implementation of Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union official records released in March earlier this year. That is one of the highest debts any company owes in the entire forestry sector.     

Loss of Revenue

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has known about the abandoned-logs issue since, at least, two years ago, evidence shows. In August 2020, an inquest by the agency found that Sing Africa abandoned 675 pieces of ekki wood (Lophira alata), an expensive, first-class log, in Buchanan. It also found that Star Wood—run by the Guptas, the Singaporean family that owns Sing Africa—left 465 logs at that same location.  

Some abandoned logs in a log yard on the Gbarnga-Lofa highway, owned by  Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“Logging contract holders are not doing much to minimize [the] incident of abandoned logs,” the report, leaked to us,  said at the time. It said companies were harvesting logs without first securing sales contracts.

“Much-needed revenues that the national government requires for national development have been lost due to the unprecedented abandonment of assorted round logs by logging companies,” it added.  

But it was only two months ago that the FDA started to take action. In April, it gave all companies a one-month period to declare the logs they had not shipped. Managing Director Mike Doryen told The DayLight a countrywide auctioning of abandoned logs would have begun at the end of that month, which did not happen.

“[Bluyeama] is an area of concentration for ourselves,” Doryen said. “Those who did not remove their logs as per the stipulated time, the lawyer will now go to the court to seek judicial actions to have the logs confiscated the auctioned.”

Doryen’s timeline for an auction was impossible. It takes several months of court orders and required notices for abandoned logs to be auctioned, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products. There were no records of such order at the circuit courts in Voinjama and Buchanan.   

It was until earlier this month that the FDA began to inquire countrywide about abandoned logs, following three reports by The DayLight on the subject. Harris Zeah, the ranger responsible for Lofa, Bong and Margibi, was suspended and replaced a week after our report of illegal logging in Bluyeama. “Management’s action is predicated upon your consistent failure to meet work plan objectives, including your failure to adequately and timely address noncompliance issues in… the Bluyeama Community Forest,” Zeah’s suspension letter read.

Mukesh Gupta, Sing Africa’s CEO and head of the Guptas, denied any wrongdoing, blaming the coronavirus pandemic.  

“We were loading by containers but when the Covid-19 hit, there was no buyer,” Gupta told The DayLight in an interview at the company’s Rehab office in Paynesville. “Covid-19 has damaged us so much. I think I should be supported, given the kind of investments we have made in the community.”  

Though the pandemic shattered supply chains worldwide, especially in the Asian markets Sing Africa exports its logs, the company continued to cut trees. Between 2019 and 2020, it harvested 2,000 logs, according to official records. And while it only exported 189 logs during that time, it added 166 logs the following year. It did not apply for force majeure, a legal recourse companies take to address things like disease outbreaks, conflicts and natural disasters.

“We never cut the trees thinking that they would be abandoned. We cut the trees thinking that Covid-19 would go away soon. We are surprised that Covid-19 has stayed on for long,” Gupta added.

Sing Africa faces millions of United States dollars in fines and could be one of the heaviest in the Liberian logging industry’s history. Abandonment of woods in log yards, sawmills and ports carries a fine of three times the international prices of each class of logs.  

The regulation was created to prevent waste of forest resources and to make sure companies harvest logs sustainably. It replaced an earlier regulation that narrowed the definition of abandonment to logs found outside a concession, lacking tracking barcodes. Its establishment in 2017 came amid a crackdown on illegal logging by importing countries, including the European Union.  

Waste of the logs from Bluyeama adds to the Zorzor region’s forest loss. From 2002 to last year, the district lost 20.6-kilo hectares of humid primary forest, according to Global Forest Watch, which tracks deforestation worldwide. That number is one of the highest among community forests, according to a study by the FDA and the World Resource Institute, a global research charity. Tree cover loss refers to the removal of forest canopy by people or nature.

Zahn Dehydugar of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists contributed to this report.  

The fund for the story was provided by Fern. The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over its content.