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Famed Land Rights Campaigner Takes Charge of EPA

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Top: Dr. Emmanuel Urey Yarkpawolo, New Acting Executive Director, EPA: Picture credit Yarkpawolo’s Library


By Emmanuel Sherman


MONROVIA – Emmanuel Urey Yarkpawolo, a renowned environmentalist, is now the Acting Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Yarkpawolo was appointed over the weekend by President Joseph Boakai. He replaces Wilson Tarpeh, who held the post since 2020.  

Tarpeh had wrongly claimed he was entitled to a seven-year tenure. However, the tenure only works after the formation of a National Environmental Policy Council, according to the EPA Act. Appointed by the President, the council comprises various ministries and vets the executive director, and ensures a seven-year tenure same as the council members. 

Yarkpawolo will serve as Acting Executive Director until the council is formed to approve the mandatory tenure, according to the law. 

Yarkpawolo holds a PhD in environment and resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2018 in Wisconsin, USA. He is a professor of environmental science and leadership at the Everglades University in Florida, USA. 

Yarkpawolo brings a wealth of experience to the Job. He has worked in the environmental sector, mainly land, agriculture and education, for more than 10 years.

Key amongst Yarkpawolo’s contributions to national development is the passage of the new Land Rights Act of 2018, a landmark law that recognizes customary land ownership.

As a former Country Representative for Landesa, an international NGO working on land rights and climate resilience, he worked with lawmakers, government officials and civil society to promote land, environmental and agriculture legislation and policies. 

In 2016, Yarkpawolo worked with Gregg Mitman, a US professor, to create “Land Beneath our Feet,” a documentary of Firestone’s land grab in the 1920s and its implications today. He won many awards, including outstanding leadership in advocating for Land reform in Liberia.

Yarkpawolo was the running mate to Tiawon Gongloe of the Liberia People’s Party in the 2023 elections. 

‘Not a place to steal’

The new EPA boss declared his assets on Monday morning at the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) before taking over at the EPA at midday. He has a net asset of over US$200,000, his affidavit shows. 

“The law is not preventing public officials from acquiring wealth,” Yarkpawolo told his takeover ceremony in a reference to the Code of Conduct for Public Officials, which has been violated over time. “It is to ensure that wealth public officials acquire commensurate with their earned incomes in a just and justifiable way.

“A better Liberia is possible if and only if the government becomes a place to serve and not a place to steal.” 

Gongloe urged Yarkpawolo to work transparently as he steers the affairs of an agency that can transform Liberia. 

“You are the first person from the LPP so ‘Think Liberia, love Liberia and build Liberia,’” Gongloe told the ceremony in an allusion to President Boakai’s mantra. 

Tarpeh did not attend the ceremony.

Yarkpawolo comes at a time when the environmental sector of the country is in shambles, with violations of the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia rife. Extractive companies are skipping an environmental impact social assessment (EISA), impunity for polluters, disregard of the rights of local communities and the widespread misuse of wetlands. 

Yarkpawolo also comes at a time when Liberia is preparing to trade on the international carbon market. Last year, the George Weah administration failed in their attempts to sign a deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. 

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