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Permit Shows FDA Boss Approved Illegal Timber Exports

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Top: The Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen blamed villagers for illegal logging. However, Doryen awarded an unlawful permit, according to a document The DayLight has obtained. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – commenting at an international forest and climate conference in January, the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen blamed loggers and villagers for certain illegal forestry activities.

“These communities are undermining our efforts to deal with violations,” Doryen told delegates at the event.

“People go in the communities and take money from other people to harvest and transport timber to town, harvesting double board-foot outside what is required by law. It is illegal logging,” Doryen added. He meant compact, squared woods, smuggled in containers, which has rocked the logging industry to its core. The industry calls it “kpokolo.”

Ironically, an export permit the FDA awarded to a company years back, obtained by The DayLight, suggests Doryen himself is an architect of the illegal trade.     

Doryen and Edward Kamara, the FDA’s manager for forest product marketing and revenue forecast, issued the permit to Trans World Holdings Inc. outside the legal channel to export timber.   

“This is to confirm that Trans World Holding Inc. has met the Forestry Development Authority annual timber and timber products buying and exporting registration requirements as a non-contract holder in accordance with sustainable marketing strategy and the enterprise development,” read the document, signed only by the two men, in April 2021.

The permit shows a stark variance from the ones created by the FDA chain of custody system called LiberTrace. For instance, the document was valid for a year, unlike legal permits that are issued on a shipment-by-shipment basis. It contains at least one human error, something the legal permits are free of. It is the same as a permit Doryen awarded to an Ivorian-owned firm named Porgal, exposed in an investigation last year. The LiberTrace system is Liberia’s sole safeguard for the trading of legal timber on the international market.

The Trans World permit Doryen approved goes against the National Forestry Reform Law and Regulation on the Establishment of a Chain of Custody System. The law says, “No person shall import, transport, process, or export unless the timber is accurately enrolled in the chain of custody.” That ensures “Holders of forest resource licenses comply with all legal requirements facilitating the accurate assessment and remittance of forest charges and keeping illegal logs of the domestic and illegal markets,” according to the regulation.

Trans World paid US$1,000 for the permit, based on the receipt of the payment, obtained by The DayLight. There was no record the company paid the fee to the Liberia Revenue Authority, the government’s agency that collects taxes. Also, the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI) did not capture the payment as the law requires. Instead, it made the payment in an FDA account at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI), controlled by Doryen. 

The permit authorized Trans World to purchase only legally sourced timbers. However, FDA checkpoints, under Doryen’s direct control have issued receipts for tolls businesses pay to transport kpokolo. There is no record rangers verified the sources of those woods before issuing receipts, Known as waybills in forestry.

The FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen awarded this permit to Trans World Holding Inc. to export timber outside the agency’s legal system. The money the company paid went to an account at a commercial bank controlled by Doryen.
Trans World Holdings Inc. obtained its permit to buy and export timber before paying for the document. The payment was not made to the Liberia Revenue Authority as mandated by law.

Waybills

Ziama Kpoto, one of Trans World’s owners, claimed he received several waybills to transport wood from different parts of the country. Kpoto presented two waybills, including one from a kpokolo trader in Nimba. The other shows rangers received L$90,820 for 100 pieces of kpokolo of a first-class species called Iroko, and 130 planks.  The kpokolo timbers measured six inches high, 10 inches wide and nine feet long. The transaction occurred on February 27, 2020, in Saclepea, Nimba County, according to that waybill.  However, Kpoto did not show any waybills related to the permit he received from Doryen.

Like a dozen waybills The DayLight has obtained, the Saclepea document is unlawful. By the chain of custody regulation, companies make waybill payments within LiberTrace system, not by rangers. Legally, the FDA should issue them in books of ten waybills, with US$150 per book. They must have an identification number, show the route of the transport, and contain the final destination of the timbers. Also, they must have the total volume, not just the sum of individual timbers as it is with kpokolo waybills.

A kpokolo operation site in Gbaryama, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

‘We’re not illegal loggers’

Kpokolo operations have rocked the forestry sector, especially in the last three years, with Nimba, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount County hubs. Kpokolo operators The DayLight interviewed put their number between 60,000 and 80,000 countrywide, including everything from tree finders to transporters.

Kpoto was adamant kpokolo loggers operate outside of the law, saying their permits and waybills legitimize the trade. He claimed Doryen and Kamara misled them.

“[Kamara] is not telling us the right thing. We have [met him]… to tell us what to do,” Kpoto said in an interview with The DayLight. “You gave us a document.  When we go to work and come you say the chain of custody. What should we do?

“Up to now, he has not given the idea. He only collects money from us. So, you can’t call us illegal loggers,” Kpoto added. His comments echoed ones he had made on posts on The DayLight’s Facebook. He presented some documents related to kpokolo productions in communities in Gbarpolu, one dating back to 2018. He said Trans World did not export any timber under the permit, a claim The DayLight could not independently verify.

A pile of Kpokolo in Kolahun, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Kamara dismissed Kpoto’s “misconceptions.”

“Mr. Kpoto was never registered and issued an annual permit/certificate to harvest logs or buy logs from chainsaw milling operations for export,” said Kamara, who announced a ban on kpokolo Wednesday, February 15.   

Kamara claimed the FDA had issued “tens of these documents” to businesses across the country. He did not state how the FDA intended to prevent illegal timber trade having issued the permits outside of  LiberTrace. And he also did not say why the FDA did not make payments for the permits and waybills to the LRA, or published them.  

“We appreciate you all and we understand the anxiousness as [you] endeavor to satisfy [your] funding sources by running away with any story without understanding the rationale,” Kamara said, though he was responding to interview questions.

Doryen did not respond to a set of emailed questions. But the FDA has repeatedly accused The DayLight of “paid journalism deployed by our detractors to paint the FDA ugly in the eyes of the public.” On World Forest Day last week, Doryen accused partners of “double-standard games” for supporting “black hands” in the media.

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

FDA Bans ‘Kpokolo’ Timbers

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Top: A kpokolo operation site in Gbaryama, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has banned the transport of squared timbers, commonly called “kpokolo,” to curtail illegal exports.  

In Kpokolo logging operations, individuals sign agreements with villagers to harvest logs, and mill them into thick, heavy timber blocks. The woods are then packed into containers and smuggled out of the country.

The illegal activities —alongside other illegalities—have rocked the forestry sector, bringing Liberian timber once more to international disrepute.  

“We have ordered all our checkpoint staff members to stop the issuance of waybills for all sawn timbers with a thickness above two inches because this is the dimensional range of thickness that is prone to illegal exportation,” said Edward Kamara, FDA’s manager for forest marketing and revenue forecast. He was responding to an email inquiry by The DayLight after reports of a likely ban on the activities began to emerge.

Kamara said the ban does not cover similar timbers produced by licensed sawmills, which resize timbers to meet local customers’ demand. He said the FDA had allowed chainsaw millers to also trade the woods locally but they went beyond their limits.  

“It had been observed that most of the timber arrested for attempting to illegally export consisted of these dimensions,” Kamara told The DayLight. “Therefore, it is the chainsaw milling block wood… that is banned to be brought to the market, especially in Monrovia.”

Kamara did not say when was the ban imposed but rangers and kpokolo producers had put it to as early as September last year.

The announcement of the ban comes barely five months after the first report on kpokolo emerged in the press.

Businesswoman Vows to Stop Illegal Logging But Still Faces the Law

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Top: Timber illegally harvested by Binta Bility in a forest in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series that exposes illegal logging operations conducted by a businesswoman.


COMPOUND NUMBER ONE, Grand Bassa County – Binta Bility, a businesswoman whose illegal logging activities were first exposed two months ago, has promised to work in the confines of forestry laws and regulations. But it may not be that easy, as she has to account for the wrongdoing she has committed.   

Bility has been producing timber for months in Bassa. Last month, her consignment of 79 illegal timber was seized by police in the Nimba town of Bahn. A ranger with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) had noticed that the woods were oversized and stopped the transport.  

Bility had insisted she was doing the right thing, labeling The DayLight as “fronting to promote confusion and instability among forest-dependent communities” in the Analyst newspaper. However, in a complete turnaround, she has admitted that her activities are unlawful.

“From now on, I will do everything legally,” Bility told The DayLight in a WhatsApp interview about the woods seizure and her other illegal activities. “I don’t intend to do anything illegally.”

Just before the arrest in Bahn, Bility had continued with her illegal activities.  She had sealed a deal with villagers in Teemor, Grand Bassa, not far from the site of her initial operations in Compound Number One. She signed an agreement with locals to harvest 500 pieces of boxlike timber, commonly called “Kpokolo” in exchange for L$45,000. Three hundred has already been produced, with a thickness of nearly five and a half and eight inches, and seven feet long.  

In a one-sided article in the Analyst newspaper over a month after the investigation, Bility claimed The DayLight was misleading the public and accused the online newspaper of instigating confusion in forest-dependent communities. She, however, offered no proof to back that accusation. “My pit-sawing activity, which is far from logging activities, continues to bring relief to rural dwellers,” she said in the article at the time.

Binta Bility has vowed to discontinue her illegal logging activities but has to face the law. Photo credit: Facebook/Binta Bility

But those claims were wrong because pit-sawn or chainsaw-milled woods are different from the ones Bility produced. She initially lied that she was not the person harvesting timber in that area but somersaulted after the publication profoundly proved it was her. Fondly called “Mammie” by locals, she had worked there as a chainsaw miller for several years before shifting to kpokolo earlier this year. Under the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, planks must be at most two inches thick, 12 inches wide and 14 feet long. The thicknesses of the Kpokolo she produces are two and four times the legal size for planks. It sometimes takes an entire football team to lift them. The regulation was introduced to bring chainsaw milling on par with the best forestry practices, including sustainability, legality and community benefits.

“I will resize all those woods to two inches,” Bility said, blaming her previous activities and previous comments on the lack of awareness of the regulations. “We have already started resizing them.” She then provided a photograph of two young men milling two-inch planks in a forest, she said, in Grand Bassa.  

While Bility’s pledge may be good, it does not matter to the woods in the hands of the police in Nimba. Retrieving the timber will take a court order, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the FDA legal team, said the police were investigating Bility’s operations in Nimba. “The wood there is important evidence,”  Dolo told The DayLight.   

Size aside, the source of Bility’s timber in Grand Bassa also renders them illegal, a graver offense. The woodland where they were harvested falls within the Worr Community Forest. Covering 35,337 hectares, the forest is contracted to Magna Logging Corporation. Magna transferred its right to operate the forest to Masayaha Logging Company, a Lebanese firm, more than three years ago.

The townspeople interviewed said they told Bility about this situation but both parties forged ahead with their deal. While Bility saw Teemor as an opportunity to extend her logging activities, local chiefs and elders took advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

Masayaha has failed to build or repair roads, schools and clinics, and it owes locals land rental, log-harvesting and scholarships fees. Apart from that, the community does not know about Masayaha’s takeover of their agreement with Magna, a violation of the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. Masayaha has cut logs outside the forest, even though it abandoned a good number of the ones it felled in the community forest. Brewing tension led to a protest in October.

“The company let us down and we don’t know what to do. So, we are just trying to find means,” said Daniel Goee, assistant town chief of Norr Town, where the timber was illegally harvested.  

“We want to use the percentage to maintain our road ourselves,” added Teleco Lincoln, a spokesman for the youth in that area.

Timbers illegally harvested by Binta Bility are seen piled up in a town in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Morley kamara, Magna’s owner and CEO, did not return queries emailed to him. Despite being mandated by law to grant public access to logging information, Kamara had asked The DayLight not to contact him anymore following our series on his company and Masayaha’s unlawful deals.

Bility denies being told of the Magna-Masayaha agreement and insists “I am not working in any company’s forest.”

But there is no justification for an illegal deal in forestry, and whether or not Bility was aware of Masayaha’s complicated agreement does not undo the harm already done. Harvesting in another company’s contract is prohibited, and Bility faces a fine, a six-month prison term, or both a fine and imprisonment under the confiscated timber regulation. Her punishment could be a US$25,000 fine and a year of imprisonment, according to the National Forestry Reform Law.  

Yei Neagor, the FDA regional officer responsible for Grand Bassa, Nimba and River Cess, declined to comment on the matter.  Neagor, who helped expose a firm’s illegal logging activities in River Cess and was promoted to her current position shortly after that, had investigated Bility’s initial operations in Compound Number One but no actions have been taken against the businesswoman.  

Dolo, the FDA’s lawyer, said the FDA was investigating Bility’s operations in Bassa and would make a statement on Friday.

Two men mill planks in a forest in this photo shared by Binta Bility as proof that she has stopped producing boxlike timber, commonly called “Kpokolo.”

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

Police Seize Illegal Timber in Nimba

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Top: The arrested illegal timber dumped at Bahn police station. The DayLight/Mark Newa


By Mark Newa

BAHN – Police in Nimba have arrested a truckload of illegal timber harvested from forests by a businesswoman. 

The illegal timber, owned by Binta Bility, were harvested from community forests in the Zoe-Geh and Bu-Yao districts, destined for Ganta when it was stopped earlier this month.

FDA rangers arrested the consignment after they noticed the timber was oversized. Under the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, planks must be not more than two inches thick, 10 or 12 inches wide and at most 14 feet long.

The 79 pieces of the four-inch-thick timber, commonly called kpokolo, were dumped at the main police station. The woods are slightly less thick than the ones Bility illegally harvested in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County.

Bility said she was not aware of the regulation restricting chainsaw millers to those sizes of planks.

“I agreed to reduce [the woods] to the legal two inches,” Bility told The DayLight via WhatsApp over the weekend. “I don’t intend to do anything illegal.”  

Arthur Gweh, the local police commander, and Emmanuel Gbeh, the FDA ranger who carried out the arrest, evaded the interview.

Under the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products, the FDA is required to petition the circuit court in Nimba to auction the woods.   

Bility, meanwhile, faces a fine of twice the price of the timber set by the FDA and could face up to 12 months in prison. She has not been punished for the ones she illegally harvested in Grand Bassa, though.

The news comes weeks after the FDA said it uncovered a string of illegal logging activities in Nimba and Gbarpolu and asked the public for their cooperation.

Swiss Firm Says FDA Lied in Defending Illegal Permits

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Top: The Forestry Development Authority issues illegal export permits, including some from a shadowy contract in Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman

WHEIN TOWN, Paynesville – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) lied that its Swiss contractor had declined to register logs from a plantation in Nimba County, which led it to award illegal permits, the quality company has said.

Responding to The Daylight’s investigation on the permits, the FDA had claimed that Société Générale de Surveillance “declined to certify teak logs within LiberTrace.” Without showing any evidence, it said  the woods did not meet “technical requirements.” LiberTrace or the chain of custody is the system SGS created to track logs from the forests to the end users.  

But the SGS vehemently dismissed the assertions.

“SGS has never been informed of any scientific management plantations to be applied in LiberTrace,” Theodore Aime Nna, SGS’ forestry project manager, told The DayLight via email over the weekend.

“Logs could be rejected through LiberTrace only if they are not traceable or illegally produced. Moreover, SGS does not certify any log in Liberia, but only verifies their history…,” Nna added.   

The illegal permits mentioned in the report were granted to a Liberian-owned company called Rosemart Inc., and an Ivorian-owned Polgal Enterprise Inc. Rosemart secretly operates the Kpaytuo Plantation in the Tappita region. Polgal’s permit was tracked down in Cote d’Ivoire earlier this year by forestry officials there, according to a communication seen by The DayLight.  Nearly all of the export fees the companies paid did not go to Liberian Revenue Authority (LRA), a review of their tax histories shows.

FDA published more of the permits in its justification of the violations, despite earlier denying this newspaper‘s request for them. The documents now show Rosemart has sold more than 2,000 teak logs between 2016 and 2020, valued at more than US$100,000, according to our analysis of the permits published so far.  That is a far cry from the US$ 1-2.5 million Rosemart alone has traded, according to Trade Key, a Saudi Arabia-based online platform it trades on. Teak logs are expensive, long-lasting woods use in making bridges, ships and firearms.

SGS’ rebuttal aside, FDA’s excuse for awarding Rosemart the permit outside the legal system does not hold. Rosemart illegally exported 88.625 cubic meters of logs in 2020. That same year, Regnals International—which runs another plantation—exported only 62 cubic meters of logs, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). That is a difference of more than 26 cubic meters. Also, the FDA wrote on the permit that the logs were abandoned was another lie, as there is no record that the agency sought a court order to auction the woods as required by the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

SGS created LiberTrace as a part of the reform of the forestry sector. The system is a crucial component of Liberia’s trade agreement with the European Union (EU) called the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). It has turned over the system to FDA’s legality verification department (LVD) after it was established but still plays a role there.  

SGS is one of the world’s best quality companies. It has been listed a number of times as one of the  2,000 largest companies in the world by Forbes, an American business magazine that tracks such records. It has about 2,600 offices and laboratories worldwide as of July last year. It scored the highest mark between 2014 and 2019 on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, a key global ranking for the quality industry. 

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