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FDA Lets Loggers Ship US$3.5M Logs, Denying Villagers’ Share

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Top: West Water has a 15-year contract with District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The company is indebted to the owners of the forest but was allowed to export timber. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Emmanuel Sherman and Gerald Koinyeneh    


Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal timber exports. 

TONWEIN, Nimba and GAYEPUE TOWN, Grand Bassa – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) permitted a company to export several consignments of timber while the firm was indebted to communities where the logs were harvested, a violation of a forestry regulation.

From June last year to March 2024, West Water Group (Liberia) Inc. shipped seven loads, totaling 3,275 logs or 18,683.309 cubic meters, FDA’s records show.  The shipments are valued at an estimated US$3.5 million, based on the FDA-approved prices and details of logs in the consignments.         

Yet West Water owes Blinlon Community Forests and District Three B&C in Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties over US$100,000, according to the leaderships of both community forests. The debt—approximately three percent of the estimated value of the exports—includes fees for land rental, harvesting, scholarships, and health services.

“The money from those logs that were shipped has not come to the community,” Jeremiah Gayepue, the head of District Three B&C leadership, told The DayLight. “The people are suffering.” West Water did not respond to queries for comment.

The FDA’s approval of the exports violates the  Regulation of Forest Fees, requiring West Water to make all outstanding payments before shipment or harvesting.  

The exports came to the spotlight after a DayLight investigation found half of the logs in the March consignment had been illegally harvested. The FDA denies the report, saying the newspaper “misinterpreted” the export dataset.

‘[Get] them out’

In July 2020, West Water signed a contract with locals to operate the 39,409-hectare Blinlon Community forest in the Yarwin-Mehnsonnon District near the Nimba-River Cess border.    

The contract mandates West Water to pay the community yearly land rental, harvesting and scholarship fees.

However, as of last month, the company owed the community over US$32,000, based on an interview with Junior Jacobs, the head of Blinlon’s leadership. The DayLight could not update that information at press time due to the lack of mobile phone connectivity in that part of Nimba.

Things are worse in District Three B&C, where West Water harvested four of the seven consignments of logs it exported.

The new Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Rudolph Merab approved one of the exports for West Water Group (Liberia) Inc., while the company owed community forests in Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties. The DayLight/Harry Browne

West Water signed a contract with the Grand Bassa villagers about a year after it sealed the Blinlon deal.  The new contract covers 24,862.5 hectares along Grand Bassa’s borders with Nimba and River Cess.

West Water owes District Three B&C nearly US$80,000, according to The DayLight’s calculation, based on interviews with the community forest’s leaders.  It has outstanding land rental, harvesting, scholarships and health services payments.

These outstanding payments and other issues have sparked two protests this year, the latest last month. Locals set up roadblocks and prevented West Water’s workers from going into the forest as the company has always been indebted to them.

“If the company is not meeting its obligation we will revoke their documents to get [them] out,” Alex Bonwin, a member of the community forest leadership, said.

Indebtedness

Created in 2007, the Regulation on Forest Fees is one of several reform provisions to ensure forest resources “directly benefit local communities and the government.”

Jonathan Yiah, the lead forestry campaigner at the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), blames West Water’s persistent indebtedness to the communities on the failure of the FDA to enforce the regulation.

Jeremiah Gayepue, the chief officer of the District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/ Emmanuel Sherman

Yiah said the lack of enforcement of the regulation would lead to the termination or suspension of West Water’s contract. 

“If the current government of Joseph N. Boakai means business, then forestry laws must be enforced in totality so that both the government and the communities can benefit from our resources,” Yiah told The DayLight.  

Yiah is not the only person to have said this.

A World Bank report released last month calls on the Liberian government to prioritize forest communities by managing forestry resources sustainably for peace and prosperity. The report found that climate change will push 1.3 million people into poverty and reduce the size of Liberia’s economy by 15 percent by 2050 if nothing is done.

‘Very repressive’

The FDA dodged queries for comment on its failure to enforce the Regulation on Forest Fees. The agency disclosed that the company also owed the government US$59,319.50, which also breaches the regulation.  

“Yes, we confirm that West Water has tax liabilities,” Merab said in a letter to the newspaper. “However, [the Liberia Revenue Authority] is the lead determinant of tax obligation.”

Merab is a staunch opponent of forestry laws and regulations.

In an interview with the African Report in 2015 after Liberia signed a US$150 million deforestation deal with Norway, he claimed that logging’s legal regime had impoverished rural communities.

West Water’s camp in Tonwein, Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald Koinyeneh

During his induction as Managing Director of the FDA, Merab aimed a dig at the crafters of the legal framework for creating laws “that cannot work.”  

He stated that in a recent interview with the Associated Press, adding he would work to scale back regulations.

“Sometimes regulations become too cumbersome and it stifles productivity,” he said in the interview. “Same thing with laws. Sometimes the law becomes very repressive.”

FDA Approves Export of Illegal Timber Valued Nearly US$1M

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Top: In one of his first acts after being appointed Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, Rudolph Merab signed an illegal export of 797 logs for West Water Group (Liberia) Inc.  The DayLight/Harry Browne


By James Harding Giahyue


Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a series on the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal timber exports.  

MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved the export of 797 logs, valued at an estimated US$923,441,  despite being aware that over half of the timber had been illegally harvested. The illegal shipment was one of the first acts of Managing Director Rudolph Merab—a serial logging offender—since he became the unlikely head of the forestry regulator.  

The export permit and a National Port Authority reconciliation report show that West Water Group (Liberia) Inc., which operates in Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties, owns the shipment.  Merab had approved the export barely two weeks after his appointment in February, according to the permit.

The 4,702.679 cubic meters of logs were loaded onto M/V Tropical Star, a ship flying under the Malaysian flag. The vessel departed the Port of Buchanan on March 16 bound for China. Marine Traffic, which provides information on the movement of ships,  reports that the ship is due in China on May 16Wenzhou Timber Group Co. Ltd, the Chinese state-owned firm that deals in timber and other trades, bought the consignment, according to the permit.  

But an analysis of the consignment FDA’s computer system generated by, obtained by The DayLight, identified 401 logs, or 50.3 percent of the consignment as illegal logs.  The LiberTrace system tracks logs from their origin to their final destination. Programmed automatically to flag noncompliance, it is a crucial part of forestry reform following years of corruption and mismanagement. SGS, a Swiss verification firm, created LiberTrace in 2014 and turned it over to the FDA five years later.

This pie chart analyzing West Water’s illegal timber export that was approved by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA)

A document from the FDA’s legality verification department (LVD) provides a peep into how Merab approved the export. It reveals Gertrude Nyaley, the Deputy Managing Director for Operations, who headed LVD at the time, endorsed the export.

“[Managing Director Merab], please approve [West Water’s export permit] as per the analysis and payment made,” Nyaley wrote to Merab.

Nyaley appeared to have skipped the red flags LiberTrace raised. “Out of the 797 logs, 50 percent are traceable with red label because of diameter [issues]. Two percent is also traceable relating to species. And 48 percent over tolerance,” Nyaley added.   

On the contrary, the analysis shows that the FDA had not authorized the harvest of some of the logs. Others were either immature, originated from different sources or had other issues, violating several forestry statutes.

‘Vulnerable’

The FDA had not approved the harvesting of 180 of the 401 problematic logs, according to the Liber Trace analysis. 

Of that 180, 160 logs were ekki wood (Lophira alata) that did not meet the legal diameter ekki wood is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a UN-recognized body that promotes sustainable use of natural resources. The DayLight manually verified the permit that details each of the logs exported. Some even measured 60 centimeters, 20 centimeters less than the required dimension, known in forestry as the diameter cut limit.

No penalties

Approving the West Water shipment shows Merab, an outspoken critic of forestry regulations, ignored various legal frameworks, and the violations LiberTrace flagged. The main function of LiberTrace is to keep illegal logs from the FDA’s chain of custody system, which covers everything from harvest to export. That, in turn, rids national and international markets of illegal timber and timber products.

Unauthorized harvesting, cutting smaller trees,  and false declaration of tree species all carry a fine or a penalty.  Unauthorized harvesting, for instance, carries a fine of twice the value of the species of logs unauthorizedly felled, under the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products. Mr. Huiwen, West Water’s owner, did not respond to email and WhatsApp queries for comments.

The Forestry Development Authority authorized the export of 797 logs for a company called West Water barely two weeks after Rudolph Merab was appointed Managing Director of the FDA.
A screengrab of LiberTrace’s analysis of, yellow-highlighting problematic logs in West Water’s consignment

SGS, which comanages LiberTrace alongside the FDA, reviewed the permit but did not disapprove it. 

Theodore Aime Nna, SGS’ forestry project manager, did not return questions for comments on this story. Nna said he was “not currently around” and would be available in 18 days for an interview. Nna, who took a swipe at The DayLight in two immediate emails, did not reply to the newspaper even 21 days thereafter.  

‘Major traceability errors’

In his response to The DayLight’s queries on Wednesday, Merab said the red flags LiberTrace raised did not “automatically point to traceability or legality issues,” and were, in fact, “normal occurrences.”

A West Water camp in Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald Koinyeneh

Merab said the 12 logs that were different from the one declared during inventory might have been mistaken. “The logs recorded in that specific export permit are consistent with the approved physical logs,” he said, without any evidence.

On undersized logs, Merab suggested that the logs LiberTrace red-flagged in this category were based on tree inventory data, not the ones that were felled or in West Water’s log yard.

This likely mix-up is commonplace in forestry. However, the details of the logs on the export permit do not support Merab’s explanation. The document repeats the very things LiberTrace identified as a warning or an error. If the log data had been verified as Merab claimed, the changes would have been reflected on the permit’s spec.

Merab offered another broad, textbook justification for the ekki logs LiberTrace picked up as immature.

“This happens because logs have a conic shape with a bottom diameter higher than the top diameter. In the case of a crosscut of that log, the diameter and the length will reduce mainly at the top part of the initial log. Again, these are normal occurrences,” he said.

What Merab referenced is called the diameter at breast height cutting limit or DCL in the Guidelines for Forestry Management Planning. But it only measures a standing tree’s trunk or the tree butt end, not the top end or a crosscut log. It is measured at the height of an adult’s breasts.

Furthermore, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) which writes the bible for the global wood trade describes ekki logs as cylindrical, not conical.   

Merab sidestepped the question regarding the FDA’s disapproval of the felling of a significant amount of West Water’s logs.  

A screenshot from LiberTrace detailing the history of the status of West Water’s 797 logs

But, remarkably, The DayLight obtained a LiberTrace screenshot detailing the history of the status of the export permit. It reveals that the FDA approved the export permit less than 48 hours after LiberTrace identified the “major traceability errors.” For an agency perennially plagued by financial, logistical and manpower constraints, that was too short a time to correct hundreds of legality issues surrounding the consignment.

A Serial Forestry Offender  

The West Water illegal export has added to Merab’s profile as a serial forestry offender.

His last known illegality was his participation in the infamous Private Use Permit Scandal in which his company Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO) was illegally awarded 90,527 hectares of forest in Gbarpolu in the 2010s.

Before that, Merab traded “blood timber” alongside former President Charles Taylor, which fueled death and destruction in the Mano River basin between the 1990s and early 2000s, according to British NGO Global Witness.

The Regulation on Bidder Qualifications partially debars Merab and other wartime loggers from conducting forestry activities in Liberia, except if they meet special requirements. It, however, is unclear whether the regulation blocks Merab from heading the FDA.


[Gerald Koinyeneh of FrontPage Africa and our editor-at-large Emmanuel Sherman contributed to this report]

To get the estimated value of logs, The DayLight multiplied the total volume of each species of logs in the consignment by the FDA-approved price and summed up the products.

About US$3M Made From Planks Unaccounted For At FDA

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Top: A poster showing former Managing Director Mike Doryen and his deputy Benjamin Plewon, Edward Kamara and chainsaw milling activities. The DayLight/Rebazar D. Forte


By Esau J. Farr


MONROVIA – Titus Buah was very excited about his new assignment as the supervisor for a checkpoint in Big Joe Town, Grand Bassa County. It was a busier, bigger and more beneficial assignment for a checkpoint contractor with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

But Big Joe Town was unlike his previous assignments. In Saclepea and Sanniquellie, Nimba; Belefanah, Bong; and Zwedru, Grand Gedeh, he sent fees he collected from plank dealers to a mobile money number assigned to the FDA. Now, he had to report to the FDA and Benjamin Plewon III, then Deputy Managing Director for Administration (DMDA).

“The DMDA himself called me to report the money.  He gave me seven different numbers I used to send the money on,” Buah said.

“I was required to produce L$50,000 from the first to the 15th of every month and another L$50,000 from the 16th to the end of the month,” Buah added without providing any evidence.

In the last six years, Buah and other checkpoint contractors collected an estimated US$2.95 million, according to records of the Liberia Chainsaw and Timber Dealers Union (LICSATDUN). The record shows that the amount was collected from five of the dozens of checkpoints countrywide, and did not include a US$120 plank businesses pay. 

But there is no known trace of how the FDA used the money—not in reports by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), which collects the government’s revenue, or the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), which publishes public payments.   

The last administration of the FDA reported US$2,500 and L$7 million from chainsaw milling for 2023, according to sources familiar with that report. That is a wide gap from the US$464,325 chainsaw milling generated last year, based on LICSATDUN’s records.

The Managing Director of the FDA Rudolph Merab did not respond to questions for comments nearly a month later.

‘Somehow embarrassing’   

The lack of accountability and transparency in the use of the funds bothers LICSATDUN, which has 250 registered members across the country.  

The union has exerted efforts in the last six years to formalize chainsaw milling, which contributes between US$1.4 and US$1.9 million annually to the government, according to a 2017 report. Though largely unregulated, chainsaw milling is the sole timber supplier in local markets. The report found the subsector values between US$30 million and US$41 million.

In 2019 the LRA opened a sub-office at FDA’s headquarters in Paynesville and started to collect US$0.60 on every plank transported.  However, the next year, the tax agency closed the facility after it became too costly to maintain, according to Kaihenneh Sengbeh, the LRA’s manager for communications, media and public affairs. Sengbeh said the facility rarely collected any taxes.

The Liberian government generates between US$1.4 million and US$1.9 million from chainsaw milling, according to a 2017 report. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In the absence of the failed scheme, chainsaw millers continue to pay US$0.60 to the FDA, which manually issues them waybills or authorization to transport timber. This has fueled corruption and given rise to the trafficking of block-shaped timber commonly called kpokolo.

“If [the] LRA is involved, then we feel that this money is channeled through the government’s revenue,” said Julius Kamara, LICSATDUN’s president.

“It is somehow embarrassing to our members. If the FDA comes out to say that ‘You people are not paying a cent to government,’ the only [defense] we have is the waybills.”

Efforts to regulate chainsaw milling have been unsuccessful, leaving the subsector unaccountable more than two decades since it emerged.

He said the LRA and FDA were discussing the latter institution’s takeover of the chainsaw milling revenue but had not concluded. 

“Furthermore, [the] FDA is formulating several regulations,” Sengbeh told The DayLight. “When put into effect, [the chainsaw regulations] will allow LRA to better administer taxation within the subsector.”

The FDA has attempted to draft a chainsaw milling regulation on three occasions but has completed none. In 2011, the agency drafted the first regulation but could not enforce it. It tried again in 2019 but got the same result. Finally, it formulated the Chainsaw Milling Regulation in 2022. However, the government has yet to gazette it, a requirement for enforcement. 

The Forestry Development Authority does not regulate the chainsaw milling industry. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Under the proposed 2022 regulation, the FDA will issue chainsaw milling permits and pay fees through a special, transparent channel.

‘In his bedroom’

Buah and other checkpoint contractors provided a likely insight into how the FDA likely misused chainsaw money in the last six years.

The DayLight had caught up with Buah after he appeared on Forest Hour on Okay FM when he and other contractors were agitating for compensation.

In the interview with The DayLight, Buah said on one Sunday morning in 2019 he reported L$50,000 in Plewon’s bedroom.

“It was the first time I was like a king sitting on a table because I [had] carried corrupt money,” Buah said. He added that “[Plewon] gave me L$10,000 and said, ‘Pay your way and go back.’” Plewon and Doryen did not respond to questions about their responses to this and other allegations in this story.

Buah said over the years, FDA checkpoints were shared among top managers of the agency. And checkpoint staff had to befriend the top managers—and, in some cases, their relatives—to be assigned and maintained at a given assignment.

Other checkpoint contractors—Benjamin Taryon of Maryland, Aaron Mulbah of Bong and Arthur Miatona of Grand Gedeh—corroborated Buah’s account.  

Up: Former Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority Mike Doryen. Here: Former Deputy Managing Director Benjamin Plewon

For instance, “Managing Director [Mike Doryen] [had] checkpoints like (Klay and Ganta) under his control that [made] report to him monthly,” Taryon said. “The Deputy Managing Director [Benjamin Plewon] as well and Edward Kamara.” Edward Kamara did not reply to questions in a hard-copy letter and an email. Nearly a month after he received the communication, he emailed this reporter, asking him to instead write Merab, whom the reporter had already written.

Allegations of the FDA’s misuse of chainsaw fees first appeared in 2020. A FrontPage Africa investigation alleged that the FDA was collecting hundreds of thousands of Liberian Dollars but was not depositing the same into the government’s revenue. For instance, more than half a million Liberian Dollars was generated by Klay Checkpoint alone in Bomi for January.

The investigation also alleged that Doryen and Plewon wrangled over the checkpoint funds.    

“The top hierarchy at the FDA [has] been mismanaging this money and diverting it to their personal use instead of depositing into government’s revenue account,” FrontPage quoted an anonymous source.

Doryen denied the allegation at the time. He accused the sources FrontPage Africa cited of wanting “to continue benefiting from the spoiled system.”

‘Campaign money’

Edward Kamara has been accused of pocketing fees collected from chainsaw milling activities countrywide. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Buah, Taryon, and another checkpoint contractor Aaron Mulbah said Edward Kamara invited checkpoint contractors to a meeting in Paynesville ahead of last year’s elections.    

“Edward Kamara informed checkpoint staff and supervisors to work harder because the money they were about to generate was for campaign use,” Taryon said. Checkpoints were tasked in line with their monthly capabilities, Taryon and Miatona added.

“I don’t think that money was used for campaign purposes. The [managers] themselves used that money. It was just a strategy,” said Taryon, saying the money was hand-delivered, not paid via mobile money.  

The checkpoint staffers were not just mere pawns in the scheme. They were involved in corruption, according to Buah.  He admitted that he pocketed checkpoint fees for several years. He singlehandedly built the FDA’s sub-office in Belefanah at the cost of US$6,400, sharing pictures of the building with The DayLight.

“I had to do one or two corrupt practices [to survive],” Buah said.  

In November last year, Buah appeared on Forest Hour on Okay FM, saying he was open to an audit.

“My challenge I will give the incoming government is before you take a seat in the FDA, please audit us. I am included…and the audit must start with me,” Buah said.

Buah furthered: “Please audit me to get the right things done at the FDA checkpoint.” (Merab has spoken about a payroll audit, not chainsaw milling or other areas)

As of January, the FDA owed checkpoint staff 22 months arrears, summing up to more than L$2 million (US$103,000), based on The DayLight’s calculation.


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

Villagers’ Hopes Hang as Loggers Battle in Court

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Top: Coveiyalah’s majority and minority shareholders have been in court for about two years, staling the company’s agreement with Korninga A Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman


GIANKPA, Gbarpolu – Villagers celebrated when Korninga “A” Community Forest signed a logging contract with Coveiyalah Investment Enterprise in March 2019.

“Within the next five years, I am hoping to see the community prospering when it comes to roads, sanitation, education and healthcare,” said Armah Johnson, a member of Korninga A’s leadership, at the time.

In the agreement, Korninga A leased Coveiyalah 48,296 hectares of forest in exchange for development. There is even a provision for a wood science college, which campaigners criticized for being “unrealistic.”

Nearly five years on, Johnson and other villagers find themselves longing for even the realistic projects, common to community forest deals. There are no latrines, concrete bridges, health facilities and—obviously—wood science college.

For the last two years, the shareholders of Coveiyalah have been embroiled in a fierce lawsuit, leaving the community without their benefits.  

In 2022, Anthony Urey, Coveiyalah’s 10 percent shareholder, sued Lu Li, the company’s 90 percent shareholder, according to a court document.

The DayLight saw a notice from the Commercial Court in Monrovia at Coveiyalah’s camp in Giankpa, halting its work. The company’s log yard and personnel lodge were all overtaken by bush.

Levi Laban, a former liaison officer with the company said the company left many logs in the bush due to the case.

The court filing posted on an earthmover at the company’s sawmill shows Urey petitioned the court for an indemnity bond and his partner objected. An indemnity bond ensures a remedy against a partner in a contract if that partner fails to uphold their obligations.

Efforts to get the case file did not materialize as the matter is still before the court. Attempts to get it elsewhere proved unsuccessful.

Two years in court has been two years of wait, lack and frustration for Korninga A.

Korninga A Community Forest, which covers 48,296 hectares, signed an agreement with Coveiyalah Investment Enterprise in 2019. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“There have been no payments done, land rental, [harvesting], or scholarships,” said Emery Ciapha, the head of the community leadership of Korninga A.

Coveiyalah constructed two toilets but the community rejected them. Our reporter who visited Giankpa said grasses overran the facilities due to abandonment.

“That is not what we want,” Ciapha said. “They are not the modern toilets we agreed upon.”

Urey told the community leadership that they would make the payment after the case, according to Ciapha.

It was unclear how much Coveiyalah owes the villagers as Ciapha said he did not have the information. However, an analysis of the company’s previous payments, the agreement, and records of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) places the amount to at least US$66,407 in land rental fees, US$55,058 in harvesting fees and US$30,000 in scholarships. That is US$151,465 in total.

Emery Ciapha, the head of an ad-hoc leadership of Korninga A Community Forest in Bokomu District, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Urey did not respond to The DayLight’s inquiries on Korninga A and the case with his partners.

The case is the latest of Korninga A’s nightmares. In 2022, the leaders of the forest misused US$76,000 and were jailed for it.

With the case still not being finalized, the FDA and civil society conducted an election in which Ciapha was elected head of an interim committee in September last year. It has a six-month mandate.

The community must review the agreement with Coveiyalah in May. In forestry, the community has the right to sign a 15-year agreement with the FDA to comanage its forest. Thereafter, villagers can sign a third-party agreement with a logging company of their choice with the FDA’s approval. Then every five years, they are required to review the third-party agreement.

Ciapha said Korninga would push to cancel the contract with Coveiyalah.

“Time is about to elapse for the revision of the document, which is May 25,” Ciapha said. “We are not thinking about the renewal of their contract after review because implementation is poor.”

Villagers Seek to Cancel Logging Contract

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Top: Gbarquoita is one of the affected communities of Bondi Mandingo Community Forest, which wants to cancel a logging agreement with Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Limited. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Esau J. Farr


FARWHENTA – A community forest in Gbarpolu wants to cancel its logging contract with Indo Africa Plantations, a Singaporean-owned company.

Bondi Mandingo Community Forest signed a 15-year agreement with Indo Africa in 2018 in anticipation of development in their area.  However, five years on, the company has not honored the agreement.

It owes Bondi Mandingo over US$400,000 in land rental and harvesting fees, and mandatory development projects, barely exploiting the forest.

“We are now pushing to cancel the contract,” said Darkanel Gbarto, the chairman of the Bondi Mandingo forest executive committee. “There has been no progress on the side of the company.”

Bondi Mandingo’s contract covers 37,222 hectares with Indo Africa, one of four contracts held by a Singaporean family, the Guptas.

The company agreed to pay the community US$46,527 as annual land rental fees. It promised to make an annual payment of US$35,000 as a scholarship fund and US$25,000 for yearly support to community healthcare.  

Additionally, Indo Africa promised to recondition roads, construct modern latrines, a youth center and a paramount chief office in affected communities.

But Indo Africa did not live up to the agreement. It only began work in late 2021, nearly three years after the agreement, a violation that is a ground for termination. It harvested 7,183 logs, according to the company’s production records.

Protest

In late 2021, after several failed efforts to get their benefits, Bondi Mandingo youth protested, setting up roadblocks in the contract area. They demanded the company settle all of its debts to the community. They called off the protest after local authorities intervened and the company paid US$5,000.

Indo Africa began work in the Bondi Mandingo Community Forest in 2021, three years after it signed an agreement with the community. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In early 2022, Bondi Mandingo passed a resolution, calling Indo Africa to pay 60 percent of their social benefits before transporting logs out of the forest.

Indo Africa paid US$65,000 for land rental and harvesting fees and promised to make regular payments as of April 2022.

But that would be the last time the community received a payment from Indo Africa. Bondi Mandingo has exerted several unsuccessful efforts for its benefits.  

As it stands, Indo Africa owes Bondi Mandingo over US$400,000 in harvesting fees, scholarships and medical funds. It also failed to provide any of over a dozen mandatory projects.

It informed the FDA about their plight. The agency requested a breakdown of the debt, which locals did. “The company failed all of the social responsibilities. Therefore, we are kindly asking you to give us your technical advice…,” the community wrote the FDA in a June 2023 letter. 

Indo Africa shut down, with Mukesh Gupta, its CEO and owner, leaving Liberia and has not returned for nearly two years now. The family also owns Sing Africa and Starwood, which have contracts with Bluyeama and Matro Kpogblen community forests in Lofa, and Grand Bassa respectively. Another community is Korninga B which cancelled its contract with Indo Africa last year over non-compliance issues.

All community contracts are subject to a five-year review under the forestry reform law of Liberia. Bondi Mandingo forest contract with Indo Africa was expected to be reviewed last December but failed due to the absence of representatives of the company in Liberia.

Gupta did not respond to questions The DayLight sent to him. However, in a previous communication, Indo Africa blamed the delay in its payment on the coronavirus pandemic.

“The global economic slowdown and lockdown of the markets declared by several countries have adversely affected our cash flow situation,” the company said at the time.

Those comments are not backed by facts. None of the Guptas’ companies, including Indo Africa, declared a force majeure during the pandemic.  

Sing Africa was active as the pandemic took its toll. Between 2019 and 2021, Sing Africa produced 2,166 logs in Bluyeama, according to the FDA’s records. The DayLight saw WhatsApp message exchanges between Mukesh Gupta, CEO of Indo Africa, and Mark Dennis, the chief officer of Bondi Mandingo.

Mark Dennis is the chief officer of the Bondi Mandingo Community Forest. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Last September, who runs the business of Bondi Mandingo, sent Gupta a citation for a meeting.

“Mark Dennis… I will be coming back after the elections in Liberia. I will settle community dues and other obligations,” Gupta replied. “Requesting you to have a meeting after the election. Thanks.”   

“Chairman, we have waited for so long and never [heard] from you,” Dennis said. “Presently, we have embarked on court actions.”

In October 2023, Gupta replied to Dennis saying, “We are ready to pay land rental. I will be coming back to Liberia after Christmas.” Gupta, however, did not return up to writing time.

The agreement between the parties calls for the process of arbitration before cancellation in a dispute arising from performance and other things.

To cancel their agreement, Bondi Mandingo must inform Indo Africa about its decision, according to the document.  Then both parties are required to present one arbitrator each, with another from the FDA. The three arbitrators will preside over the exercise, hear both sides and make a final decision.

Gbarto told The DayLight that the community started the arbitration but the process did not go through as Indo Africa “cannot be found.” He said there were issues with the FDA arbitrator and the venue of the process. The FDA did not respond to queries for this story.

Gbarto said the community would consult a lawyer on the way forward with the cancelation.

Other communities have embarked upon terminating their contracts with Guptas. Bluyeama in Zozor, Lofa and Matro Kpogblen in District Number 4, Grand Bassa, have also considered cancelation of their contracts with Sing Africa and Starwood.

Bondi Mandingo Community Forest covers 37,222 hectares in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Last year, Korninga B, a neighboring community, terminated its contract with Indo Africa over non-compliance.  

Given their experiences with Indo Africa, locals now prefer conservation to commercial logging. The Community Rights Law… gives them the right to make that choice with the approval of the FDA.

“The community has now shifted its initial plan from logging to conservation,” Dennis said. “They are looking at the benefits of conservation to the environment.”

Bondi Mandingo has decided to distribute US$65,000 they received from Indo Africa among all six affected communities for projects, according to documents seen by The DayLight.

Totoquellie and Farwhenta selected a maternity center and auditorium, while Sappima, Loloma,  Guyanta, Gbarquoita chose a guesthouse each.

Boakai Picks Illegal and Anti-Regulation Logger For FDA

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Top: Rudolph Merab, the new Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority. Picture credit: The Liberia Timber Association


By James Harding Giahyue


  • President Joseph Boakai over the weekend nominated Rudolph Merab as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). Merab is an illegal logger and a critic of regulations and conservation efforts
  • Merab and ex-President Charles Taylor were business partners. Militiamen and ex-combatants guarded Merab’s Liberia Wood Management Corporation (LWMC) in the early 2000s, according to Global Witness
  • Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), another company Merab is associated with, participated in the biggest postwar logging scandal  
  • Merab is an outspoken cynic of regulation and conservation, things the FDA was established to enforce and promote
  • Boakai has known Merab for over 50 years and served as chairman of the board of directors of one of Merab’s companies

MONROVIA – President Joseph Boakai has appointed Rudolph Merab—a wartime business partner of ex-President Charles Taylor, whose company participated in Liberia’s biggest postwar, logging scandal—as the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).  Merab is an outspoken cynic of conservation and postwar regulations, key pillars of forestry reform.  

Boakai, who was inaugurated last month with a promise to fight corruption and uphold the rule of law, appointed Merab on Saturday following a month of speculations.

It is unclear whether Merab meets the legal requirements to head the FDA due to his well-documented illegal logging activities during Liberia’s deadly civil wars between 1989 and 2003. His company, Liberia Wood Management Corporation (LWMC), was the subject of international reports and was an issue during ex-President Taylor’s war crimes trial.

FDA’s Regulation on Bidder Qualifications partially debars wartime businesspeople such as Merab, who held a forestry contract before 2006, from conducting logging activities.

The regulation requires wartime loggers to file a sworn statement with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), admit their illegal activities and cooperate with the FDA to recover funds the government lost due to their illegal activities. However, the regulation is silent on whether or not a wartime logger is eligible to head the agency.

Also, Merab, who has a degree in physics, does not meet the educational qualifications for the job. The FDA Act requires the head of the agency to be “professionally educated in forestry.”

Campaigners had called on Boakai to respect that clause in the FDA act as part of his expressed quest for respect for the rule of law.  

Rudolph Merab (standing behind President Joseph Boakai) and other alumni of the College of West Africa. Picture credit: Facebook/Ernest Bruce

“At this present state of Liberia’s forestry industry, it needs someone with the necessary skills, contact, and connections… to turn the forestry sector around… beyond mere logging,” communities affected by logging contracts said in a statement last week.

“The sector is at a critical juncture, as numerous initiatives have failed to meet expectations over the past six to 10 years,” the statement added.  

Boakai’s relationship with Merab goes way back. They met at the College of West Africa, with Boakai graduating in 1967 and Merab five years thereafter. Boakai later served as chairman of the board of directors of LWMC, sources, including Boakai’s campaign website, show.

Merab declined an interview with The DayLight.

Merab, the wartime logger

LWMC was founded in 1988 with Merab’s 10 percent share among a list of shareholders that included his late brother Edward Merab. It held a contract for Grand Cape Mount and Lofa. By the end of the Second Liberian Civil War (1997 – 2003), LWMC valued between US$500,000 and US$1 million and had about 300 workers, according to international investigators.

LWMC’s properties in then-Lower Lofa, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties were protected by ex-combatants and armed militiamen, Global Witness reported. Within the first six months of 2000 alone, LWMC exported 12,810.062 cubic meters of logs, according to FDA records.

In 2001, Merab told an American publication that LWMC shipped small Liberian timber to the United States. Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), the forerunner of Taylor’s timber and arms trafficking syndicate, exported to the United States.

Between 1999 and 2003, LWMC owed the government over US$1.3 million, according to a report by the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).  The Taylor regime waived the amount, according to an email thread linked to the Ministry of Finance. Then Minister of Finance Nathaniel Barnes told a legislative inquiry that the regime had waived Merab’s arrears “to save 300 jobs.”

Rebels of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), which had launched an armed incursion against Taylor, attacked LWMC’s premises in Gbarpolu in the 2000s.

The rebel told United Nations personnel they wanted to discourage Merab from doing business with Taylor, according to a 2001 UN Security Council report. The UN would sanction Liberian timber adding to a string of arms embargoes against the country.

A review of the forestry sector in 2005 found, “At least 17 logging companies either supported militias in Liberia, participated in, or facilitated illegal arms trafficking, or aided or abetted civil instability.”

The review found that all forestry concessions, including LWMC’s, had been illegally awarded. This prompted President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to cancel all the existing forestry contracts in 2006. Her administration awarded new contracts, a precursor for the lifting of the UN sanctions that same year.

At his war crimes trial in 2010, prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone cross-examined Taylor on an accusation that he channeled money through Merab to rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor denied the accusation but was eventually found guilty of running arms and smuggling diamonds with the Sierra Leonean rebels. He is serving a 50-year sentence for his role in that war, which killed some 70,000 in Sierra Leone.   

An estimated 250,000 people died in Liberia in wars that were fueled by a scramble for logs and other natural resources, the TRC said. Unlike Sierra Leone, Liberia has yet to address crimes committed during its wars.

Merab’s Postwar Illegal Deeds

Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), another company Merab owns, was involved in the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal of 2012 in which 2.5 million hectares of forestlands were illegally awarded to logging companies.

A government-backed inquiry found that BODECO was awarded 90,527 hectares in Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County, the fifth-highest area of the 66 illegal permits.

Locals in Henry Town, a popular mining community were among several whose hopes were dashed by BODECO in the PUP Scandal. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

BODECO did not have the financial and technical capacity to conduct logging in Liberia, the inquiry found. The permit was issued in BODECO’s name while the Korninga Chiefdom had submitted the application.

BODECO and the FDA also violated requirements of the permit. The permit is issued only for forests on private lands. However, investigators found that Bopolu was communal land, not private.

“Both FDA and BODECO knew or should have known that they were executing a contract with material falsehood…,” investigators said.

Following the inquiry, BODECO’s and the other 65 permits were revoked and a moratorium imposed on the forest contract remains in place. Moses Wogbeh, the FDA Managing Director who oversaw the scandal, was dismissed and prosecuted.

BODECO failed to provide a school, roads, harvesting and land rental fees, and  a clinic, leaving hundreds of logs to rot.

George Ballah Sumo, the Paramount Chief of Korninga Chiefdom blamed Merab and other BODECO executives for dashing the hopes of locals.

A cynic of regulations and conservation

Wartime logging and the PUP Scandal aside, Merab is an outspoken critic of forestry regulatory regime and conservation. Forestry has the most regulations in Liberia, while the conservation is one of the pillars of the sector’s reform agenda. 

BODECO left hundreds of logs it harvested with its illegal private use permit (PUP) Gbarpolu County to decay. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Merab’s appointment comes at a time of rising violations of forestry laws and regulations. Illegal logging, unsustainable harvesting practices and disregard for communities’ rights are commonplace. A recent review of the sector found 11 concessions illegal and the FDA complicit in the illegalities.  

In a 2015 interview with the African Report, Merab said sustainable logging had not been achieved due to “taxation and restrictive legal regime.”  

“Since the new logging restrictions, most of the rural economy has ceased, impoverishing the rural areas,” Merab said in the interview.

Merab also criticized a deal between Liberia and Norway in which Liberia received US$150 million to halt deforestation. Merab argued that the agreement hurt investors, businesspeople, and logging employees. He promised to campaign against it on grounds that loggers were not consulted, comparing it to the Sirleaf administration’s decision to cancel his and other logging contracts back in 2006.

“We Africans got to think outside the box,” Merab, the president of the Liberia Timber Association up to his appointment, told FrontPage Africa in 2017.  “The neo-colonial issue cannot continue to affect us,” he said. “You got to learn to stop letting people fool us.  They’re the ones exploiting us, especially Norway.”


[Additional reporting by Charles Gbayor and Esau J. Farr, Sr.]

This story is a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

River Cess Community Seeks To Cancel Logging Contract

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Top: Logs EJ&J Logging Company abandoned in the Ziadue & Teekpeh Community Forest. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr


By Esau J. Farr


ZAMMIE TOWN – Villagers in River Cess County have made efforts to cancel a contract it has with a logging company over unpaid benefits and unfulfilled promises.

EJ&J Investment Corporation signed a 15-year contract with Ziadue & Teekpeh in 2018. However, five years after logging in the 24,649-hectare forest, the company has failed to live up to the agreement.

“The community said [it is] not willing to work with EJ&J again and therefore has decided to cancel its contract,” said Philip Tarweah, chief officer of Ziadue & Teekpeh’s community forest management body (CFMB).   

EJ&J owes the community more than US$72,000 for land rental, harvesting, scholarships and clinic support funds, according to our calculations as of November last year.

EJ&J failed to construct 16 handpumps and pit latrines each within major towns of the Kploh Chiefdom, where the forest lies. It also did not construct the two schools it promised the community.  

In the last three years, Ziadue & Teekpeh has made several failed attempts to get their benefits.

In a June 21, 2021 letter obtained by The DayLight, the community sought a meeting with the company the following month. However, EJ&J did not honor the invitation, according to the townspeople.

The parties finally met three months after and the company promised eight handpumps in five months but has not delivered for more than a year.

Stanley Whilzar, EJ&J’s general coordinator, blames his company’s failure on the coronavirus outbreak.

“When it comes to the pit latrines, the elementary schools…, when we entered the first and second years [it was] when we experienced the COVID-19,” Whilzard said. “We couldn’t lay our hands on those projects.”

Whilzar’s remarks are not backed by facts.

Records of the FDA show EJ & J, harvested 2,150 logs or 13,275 cubic meters of logs from 2020 to 2021, during the height of the pandemic.  

There is no evidence that EJ&J declared force majeure to suspend its operations and debts.  No logger company did.

‘…More logs in the forest’

The DayLight photographed several large piles of logs EJ&J abandoned in the forest for more than two years. The logs were scattered on both ends of the grassy road that leads to the community forest.

Abraham Wizard, a member of the leadership of Ziadue & Teekpeh Community Forest in River Cess. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

A former worker of the company, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal, pointed at several locations in the forest where he said logs were.  Villagers corroborated the ex-worker’s story.

“They have felled more logs into the forest, more than 10,000 logs. They are just wasting there,” said Abraham Wizard, a forest leader in Ziadue & Teekpeh.

EJ&J production records appear to support Wizard and other townspeople’s comments. Not one of the 2,150 logs it harvested during COVID-19 has been exported, the records show.

“We have been informing the company and FDA but they are not doing anything about it,” Wizard added.

The FDA did not respond to queries on the issue. However, the agency announced last November it would begin the process of auctioning abandoned logs across the country. It had made that pronouncement at least two times in the past and failed to take any concrete actions.

The FDA shares the blame for what has happened with Ziadue & Teekpeh.

FDA ignored the recommendations of a government-backed report in 2012 by approving EJ&J’s contract with Ziadue & Teekpeh.

Investigators of the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal had asked the FDA to set up a panel to assess EJ&J’s financial and logistical capacities before awarding it future contracts.  

Investigators uncovered that Eliza Kronyanh, EJ&J’s owner, did not have the financial means to operate independently. They gathered evidence that her company signed contracts only to subcontract to other companies, exploiting locals.  


[Additional reporting by Aaron Geezay in River Cess]

Funding for this story was provided by the Kyeema Foundation and Palladium. It was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Forestry Companies Not Compliant with Sector Laws, Report Finds

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Top: Eleven contract holders studied in a recent review are not compliant with the laws and regulations of  Liberia’s forestry sector. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Gabriel M. Dixon


Monrovia – A review of forest concessions has found logging companies and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) violated the sector’s laws.

The report says none of the 11 logging concessions appraised was in good standing with sector laws. It says companies do not hold a forestry license, have a legal corporate identity, or post a performance bond. The review is a requirement under Liberia’s US$150 million agreement with Norway.

The report accuses the FDA of failing to ensure forestry is regulated and sustainably managed. 

The FDA could not tell which of more than 70 logging companies are active or have met all legal requirements, it says.   

The report, released recently,  was produced by Forest Trends, an international organization that focuses on conservation research.

Researchers say the FDA does not have an adequate recordkeeping system to track legal compliance. Researchers had to get information from elsewhere to gather their findings.

The report also focuses on local communities’ benefits from their forests. It says forest people have received only US$3 million for an expected US$21 million in the last 15 years. Most social agreements between logging companies and community forests are not been met due to several reasons, including the lack of oversight and ineffective management systems.

The report points out that the FDA broke its laws and compromised the goal of forestry reforms. It says the agency awarded contracts to unqualified companies and individuals, including those debarred for their participation in the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal.  

The PUP Scandal remains the biggest in forestry since the end of Liberia’s two timber-fueled civil wars, where over 2.5 million hectares of forestlands were illegally awarded.

Commissioner Extorts Wood Dealers To ‘Repair Road’

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Top: The Commissioner of Gbarma Alfred O. Bah illegally imposed L$500 on trucks transporting planks from Gbarpolu County. The police may have taken advantage of Bah’s wood truck restriction to allegedly solicit a bribe from transporters. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 


By James Harding Giahyue and Tenneh Keita


GBARMA DISTRICT, Gbarpolu – Three or four years ago, Alfred Bah, the Commissioner of Gbarma District, decided to collect money for trucks transporting wood from the western county.  

“When I took office, I was informed that the outgoing commissioner used to at least talk to the [wood dealers] … for district development,” Bah recalled in an interview at his office. “Whether I could do the same, I said ‘yes.’  For me, what I will do I will call the [wood dealers for] a meeting.’”

The meeting was held and the parties agreed that trucks carrying wood from Gbarpolu must pay L$500. The money would be used to repair a major stretch of road linking Gbarma to other parts of the county. 

That day, Bah added to a list of county officials who misuse their power to exploit wood dealers across the country. The officials do not have the authority to impose a fee on wood or other goods, according to the Local Government Act and the Chainsaw Milling Regulation. The former law restricts such function to county councils, governance bodies which have not yet been formed in most counties, including Gbarpolu. The latter empowers the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and local communities or private landowners. 

This is The DayLight’s third story on the subject after an August investigation exposed the involvement of the Superintendent of Lofa County William Tamba Kamba in the illegal deal. The first implicated a regional collector of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). The series sheds a light on an unregulated subsector of forestry engrossed in corruption and impunity. 

An unissued receipt created by the Commissioner of Gbarma Alfred O. Bah and a representative of local plank producers meant for trucks carrying wood and other goods as part of a so-called scheme to repair a major route in Gbarpolu County. 

‘L$500 for each trip’

Varney Freeman, a representative of plank dealers in Gbarpolu, worked with to Bah organize the scheme. They imposed L$500 on each truck carrying wood. A vacant receipt we obtained brandishes: “Gbarpolu Road Maintenance Official Receipt” and “L$500 for each trip.” 

Freeman was responsible to make other plank dealers comply, though aware that the fee was illegal. “The [Commissioner] doesn’t have the legal power to impose fees on trucks plying the county’s roads but we are businesspeople,” Freeman said in an interview on his farm in Okai Village in November last year. Gbarpolu is one of the most forested regions in Liberia and a goldmine for many wood dealers. They are known in forestry as chainsaw millers from their use of the handheld device to make planks. 

“If we want to fight all the legal things, we will not get our business going,” Freeman added.  

So, trucks carrying wood began to pay the fee. A subbranch of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) at Sawmill on the Bopolu highway collected the fees, according to Bah and Freeman. Rangers at the subbranch corroborated their story. 

Bah claims he collected between L$16,000 and US$17,000 only, which was used to repair the road. Gbarpolu Superintendent Keyah Saah dismissed the claim, saying he (Saah) organized the youth to rehabilitate it instead. 

The FDA rightfully collects US$0.60 on each plank transported across the country. However, those payments are not turned over to the Liberia Revenue Authority, the agency of the government that collects taxes. There is no public record the FDA accounts for the funds. It took the agency more than a decade to devise a regulation for the subsector yet it is not enforcing it. Such lawlessness makes it easy for Bah’s toll system and other illegalities to succeed. 

But Bah’s system soon encountered a problem that would ultimately lead to its end, at least openly. First, some wood truckers refused to pay, arguing they did not take their planks from Gbarma and could not pay the district any toll. Second, there issues about the receipt capturing the entire county rather than just Gbarma. And dealers argued their vehicles were smaller than those of logging companies, several of whom operate in Gbarpolu. 

“I insisted that I will not pay the L$1,500,” said Kent Mamay, a plank dealer in the VOA Community. “There was a heated argument between them and myself and at the end of the day they were able to release my truck.” 

Amid the pressure, Bah halted the collection last year. He claims Gbarpolu County Assistant Superintendent for Development Joseph Akoi had ordered him to do so to avoid further problem. Akoi denies that, telling The DayLight in an interview in Bopolu he had not heard of a plank toll in Gbarma. 

But plank dealers and drivers The DayLight interviewed said they still paid the fee while the system was halted. Varney Tulay, another wood dealer in VOA, said no receipts were being issued this time around. 

Gbarpolu County, largely covered with forests, is a workplace for many plank dealers or chainsaw millers. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
Wood truckers protested a toll system established by the Commissioner of Gbarma, Gbarpolu in which they had to pay L$500 to ply a major route in the county. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 

“Like four to five months ago, they have stopped issuing receipts,” said Tulay in a September interview with The DayLight. “I came a month ago, last month August, and the [Commissioner] toll was paid…” Bah denies Tulay’s claim. 

‘Let [all] the vehicles pass’ 

After the protest, Bah ordered the police detail at Sawmill not to allow any wood truck ply that route during the rainy season last year. He repeated that this year, power a commissioner does not have. 

“With [an immediate] order, please stop all heavy equipment, wood trucks and coal trucks from using the main road from Bomi to Gbarpolu,” this year’s communication posted on the wall of the police detail read. It excluded vehicles transporting petroleum and food items. 

Bah said his action was not a reaction to the wood truck drivers’ protest but the aspiration of the community.   “The citizens are complaining that if people [do] not stop using this road and damaging the road they would demonstrate and I don’t want them to demonstrate,” he said. 

Asked why he did not inform the Ministry of Public Works about the road situation and about the illegality of his order, Bah said he did not know how to contact the ministry. “I don’t have the authority now to say I’m going to meet [the] public work minister to say ‘My feeder road is damaged and I want you to go fix it,’” Bah said. “It is not so easy, except where we are call in a workshop maybe I can raise this concern there maybe it can be looked [into].” 

Bah might have halted collections but perhaps unscrupulous police officers are allegedly taking advantage of his order to exploit wood dealers. During the day, they pretend to enforce the illegal order but solicited a bribe from wood truckers at night and allow them to pass. Residents of Sawmill, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, spoke of long queues of trucks that formed up to dusk and disappeared by dawn. 

Wood dealers, who backed up the residents’ account, dared to speak out. 

“They will demand us that the car can’t go. Then, certain time of the night, they will free us,” Tulay the VOA dealer told The DayLight. “Sometimes we pay L$2,500 at the gate just for the car to go.” Tulay said he reluctantly paid that and other fees and increased the prices of his planks. Furniture-makers we interviewed said they were buying wood at higher prices compared to previous years. 

Murphy Collins, the acting police commander at the Sawmill detail, neither denied nor confirm the claim. However, Collins disclosed that officers collected L$600 from trucks passing through the checkpoint, something Tulay and other dealers had mentioned. He said he used the money to run a generator and for other things.   “At night, we collect those small money and put it in our coffers to buy gas on a regular basis,” Collins said.  

Aware of its turnout, his vehicle restriction has caused, Bah now wants to rescind it. In fact, he may have already chosen the wordings for that communication to Collins.

“Since you don’t want to give me the respect, you’re allowing this act, then let [all] the vehicles pass,” Bah told The DayLight.  

“Sometime when you’re a leader [and] you’re not careful how to do things, …your name can [ be spoiled].”


The story was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ). It was originally published by the Daily Observer, an editorial partner of The DayLight. 

Kpokolo: Report Reveals Latest Illegal Logging Threatens Liberia’s Forests

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Top: Kpokolo seized at the FDA checkpoint in Klay, Bomi County. A report by U.S.-based Forest Trends launched today says kpokolo threatens Liberia’s rainforests and undermines the country’s climate change efforts. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


  • “Kpokolo,” a new form of illegal logging threatens Liberia’s rainforests, provides little benefit for the country and undermines its climate efforts.
  • Kpokolo harms small-scale loggers, who are the sole suppliers of wood to the domestic markets. Big companies are taking advantage of the illegal trade
  • The report calls on President-elect Joseph Boakai to take clear steps in banning kpokolo and punish violators of the ban

MONROVIA – Thick, four-cornered and expensive timber produced illegally across the country and smuggled in containers, are a threat to Liberia’s forests, and undermine its efforts to combat climate change, a report launched today by the US-based Forest Trends, has found.

The report—“‘Kpokolo’: A New Threat to Liberia Forest”—found that block wood or kpokolo, as it is commonly called, has no legal basis and harms small-scale loggers, rural communities and the country. It calls for a ban imposed on the illegal logging earlier this year to be made clear and official.

“The illegal exploitation takes advantages of weaknesses in enforcement, corrupting officials and compromising processes…,” Arthur Blundell one of the report’s two coauthors, told The DayLight.

“The newly elected president should take immediate steps to halt this illegal exploitation by confirming an official ban of kpokolo, including devoting resources for the enforcement of the prohibition,” Blundell added.

Based on interviews and media reports—including from The DayLight—the report suggested that kpokolo might have begun in the 2010s. It operates within the plank subindustry. However, the size of planks, which are two inches thick, differs sharply from kpokolo, which can be up to 12 inches thick, the report said.

Between October and December last year, researchers interviewed 267 community dwellers, chainsaw operators and wood dealers in eight counties for the kpokolo report. It is an update to a 2016 report on the wood market in Liberia.  

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) did not immediately respond to questions for comments on the report. The agency had, at least officially, sanctioned the illegal operation, collecting fees from operators to transport the wood.

‘Economic sabotage’

The report did not find sufficient evidence on the scale of kpokolo but found enough cases where the new form of illegal logging posed a threat to the country. It said kpokolo undermined Liberia’s climate change efforts, and the protection of the country’s forest, West Africa’s largest remaining rainforest. Liberia has pledged to the United Nations to reduce deforestation by 50 percent by 2030 among other commitments.

The coauthors of the report called for the entire industry to rally against kpokolo.

“Without such a whole-sector approach, Liberia risks allowing illegal logging to undermine not just [sustainable forest management] but governance in rural areas more broadly as kpokolo has a corrupting influence on local authorities and community leaders,” Blundell said.

The report gathered evidence that large companies were exploiting the kpokolo situation to “squeeze out artisanal operators who supply the local wood markets.”

Operators, known in the industry as chainsaw millers, perhaps need to promote a recently adopted regulation to limit kpokolo, the report suggested.

Though chainsaw milling has been largely unregulated since its emergence in the 2000s, the subindustry has been allowed to supply much-needed wood to the domestic markets. One FDA report dubs it a “necessary evil.”

Squared timbers, commonly called “Kpokolo” illegally harvested in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

People researchers interviewed said companies were exporting the wood to Ukraine before its war with Russia. Researchers learned that kpokolo timber were being exported for railroad ties, which matched the dimensions of the illegal wood. 

The report quoted people stating companies were smuggling kpokolo through containers, one of them Akewa Group of Companies, a Nigerian-owned firm that has violated nearly every forestry law. There is a mention of Askon Liberia General Trading Inc., which was debarred from forestry over its illegal operations, with its Turkish owners arrested in May. Akewa did not respond to questions over its alleged involvement in kpokolo.

In February, three months before the ban, the FDA had announced that it had banned kpokolo. In June Liberia also discussed the ban at an annual forestry meeting with the European Union.

Those steps were not enough and that kpokolo could still be ongoing as operators could claim they are unaware of the ban, according to the report. Forest Trends recommends that President-elect Joseph Boakai makes a detailed announcement of the ban, capturing legal instruments supporting the ban, the definition of kpokolo, and penalties for violating it.

“If the ban is not carefully detailed and widely disseminated, it is unlikely to be effective in the face of powerful business forces involved,” said Kristin Canby, a senior director of Forest Trends’ Forest Trade and Finance Initiative that led the report.

“The ban must be followed by a clear demonstration of enforcement,” Canby said in a press release.

David Young, the other coauthor of the report said violators of the ban should be punished in line with forestry laws and regulations, “including economic sabotage for complicit officials.

“As part of a renewed commitment by the FDA under the new administration, enforcement should include punishing kpokolo operators and buyers of their wood, as well as the corrupt officials that allowed the illegal exploitation,” Young told The DayLight.  

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