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More Evidence Emerges FDA Permitted Illegal Timber Export

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Top: The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) permitted West Water Group (Liberia) to export 797 logs in March. However, over half of the consignment was illegally harvested. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By James Harding Giahyue and Derick Snyder


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

  • In February, the FDA’s log-tracking computer LiberTrace red-flagged 413 logs in West Water’s consignment with multiple problems. Yet the Forestry Development Authority ignored the warnings and approved the shipment.
  • The FDA dismisses DayLight’s initial investigation of the illegal export as an “intentional misinterpretation” of the facts
  • But DayLight traced some of the illegal logs back to the stumps of the trees from which they were harvested, supporting LiberTrace’s findings
  • A relook at the LiberTrace analysis found several discrepancies, indicating a cover-up
  •  Last year, West Water did not have a valid harvesting certificate, FDA’s records reveal
  • The illegal approval reduced government taxes on the logs and encouraged unsustainable logging and impunity

GAYEPUEWHOE TOWN, Grand Bassa County – Last month, a DayLight investigation uncovered the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved the export of 797 logs (4,702.679 cubic meters) valued at an estimated US$1 million for a company.

The investigation was based on an analysis of the consignment generated by the FDA log-tracking computer system or LiberTrace. The report cited a screenshot of LiberTrace’s history of West Water Group (Liberia) Inc.’s logs. 

Details of the red-flagged logs appeared on the export permit and a National Port Authority document. That proved the FDA did not ensure West Water corrected the issues LiberTrace raised before sanctioning the export.  

West Water had harvested the logs in the District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County, where the Chinese-owned company has a 15-year logging contract with villagers. The logs were loaded on the MV Tropical Star, a cargo ship that left Liberia on March 16 and arrived in China on May 26, according to the vessel information provider Marine Traffic. Satellite images show cranes offloading the logs.

The second part of this series found that West Water owed the community forests in Bassa and another in Nimba over US$100,000, a violation of a payment regulation.

The FDA dismissed the investigation, calling it an  “intentional misinterpretation” of the facts, and an alleged smear campaign.

But additional evidence gathered from three visits to the forest and interviews with villagers knowledgeable about West Water’s operations corroborates the first investigation. Also, a relook at the LiberTrace analysis and other documents provided additional clues.

The DayLight traced several of the problematic logs to the stumps of trees from which they were harvested, using identification tags from the LiberTrace document. Once reporters matched the tag of red-flagged logs in the document to stumps, they measured the corresponding stumps with a tape rule, videotaping the process.  

For instance, reporters traced one tree tagged “AF402RXT” that was red-flagged for multiple problems, including its size. When the reporters measured it, the reporters found the diameter of the tree was 65 centimeters. That is 10 centimeters less than the figure on the export permit and 15 centimeters less than the FDA-approved size for that species, dahoma (Piptadeniastrum africanum).

‘We will be the loser’

Unlike the tree stumps, reporters faced no difficulty in finding other pieces of evidence of undersized logs. A sea of immature logs with West Water tags decorated the forest and the roads leading to it.

A stump of one of the logs LiberTrace red-flagged for being unauthorizedly felled, undersized and other things. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

Villagers, including those knowledgeable about West Water’s operation, said undersized logs were a normal thing there.

“I saw many trees that did not reach the complete diameter and they harvested them,” said Isaac Doe, a villager and an ex-West Water worker.

“If they keep cutting the under-diameter trees, we will set up [a] roadblock and stop them,” said Isaac Jimmy, an elder of that region.

“We will be the loser when they continue felling young trees,” added James Kawee, one of the community forest leaders.

Evidence of undersized logs lay bare in the forest but hid in plain sight in the LiberTrace analysis. When reporters took a closer look at the document, they made a stunning discovery.

Of the 413 problematic logs, 217 were below their harvesting sizes, known in forestry as the diameter cut limit. A total of 266 had been harvested without the FDA’s approval, the sources of 46 logs were unknown, and 55 had no GPS coordinates for tracking purposes. Each log had multiple legality issues.

All of the problematic logs were harvested in two weeks between late January and mid-February, during the post-elections transition.

There were five rounds of harvesting. The first occurred on January 29 with a mammoth 251 logs. It was followed the next day with 11 and the day after 25. Harvesting resumed on February 12 with 106 logs and the following day with 10.

Some villagers said they witnessed West Water felled and transported the wood at night. Their accounts are consistent with LiberTrace, which shows some felling occurred between 8 pm and 9 pm.

“I want the government to implement their rules and regulations to stop them,” said John Flomo, an elder in Paygar Town, one of 14 towns and villages that own the forest.  

Reporters filmed West Water trucks transporting logs at night on a major route during their third visit to the forest. FDA’s regulation on timber traceability prohibits nightly transport of logs on public roads. West Water did not respond to queries for comments on this story.

Undersized logs adorned West Water’s contract area of the District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

LiberTrace is a crucial component of timber traceability or the chain of custody system. Meant to prevent illegal wood from entering domestic and international markets, the system traces logs from their origins to their final destinations. The European Union and the United Kingdom funded LiberTrace.

But that was not all the evidence The DayLight gathered. The investigation found that West Water did not have a harvesting certificate when the felling took place. The one Merab shared with The DayLight was not signed by then Managing Director Mike Doryen or a deputy.

The invalid certificate ran from March to September last year and the valid one runs for the same period this year. Once more, this proves that all 413 logs West Water harvested in January and February this year were illegal, even by the FDA’s lowered standards.

A portion of the District Three B&C Community Forest in Wee District, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Philip Quwebin

That likely explains why LiberTrace red-flagged the dates all the 413 problematic logs were felled. It also appears to explain why the FDA’s legality verification department (LVD) provided a flawed breakdown of LiberTrace’s warnings.  

“Out of 797 logs, 50 percent are traceable with red label because of diameter…,” Gertrude Nyaley, the Deputy Managing Director for Operations, who was the technical manager of LVD at the time of the export, handwrote the document.

“Based on the above results, we recommend that West Water… export permit be issued.”

Nyaley reduced the magnitude of the issues LiberTrace highlighted. The computer had listed up to 13 legality issues with the logs, including unauthorized harvesting.

The LiberTrace screenshot of the logs’ history shows West Water requested the export several hours before conducting the last harvesting.

Christian Barh, an LVD staff, rejected the request on February 19, 2024, by 3:03 PM, citing “major traceability errors.”

From L-R: FDA Managing Director Rudolph Merab approved the illegal timber, based on Deputy Managing Director Gertrude Nyaley’s advice. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The next day, Barh accepted the request and passed it on to Theodore Nna, SGS’ forestry project manager. SGS is a Swiss verification firm that built and powers LiberTrace.  Nna okayed the request less than 48 hours later. Rudolph Merab would approve the illegal export in one of his first acts as the Managing Director of the FDA.  

Nna flouted SGS’ sustainability standards by endorsing the export. The standards ensure traders and users that the timber they trade or use comes from sustainably managed forests, according to SGS’ website. Nna did not respond to emailed queries for comment on this story.

Cover-up exposed

Merab claims the errors and warnings were usual, and that some of them were corrected. “After log yard verification and physical scaling, the log will be exported,” Merab told The DayLight in a letter. “It’s a normal occurrence and we are open to [verifying] such an occurrence with you the DayLight.” 

Those comments are not backed by facts. The export permit spec, which details the information on each log in the consignment, shows the issues were never fixed.

“[Merab’s] explanation is in line with the SOP but in contradiction of the action on the export permit approved,” one chain of custody expert, who prefers anonymity over fear of retribution, said.

“If and only if measures were taken to do the timber yard correction, this action could not reflect in the approved export permit.”  

The expert was referencing LVD’s standard operating procedures (SOPs), which require errors corrected at different levels, not only during export. For instance, the FDA’s felling SOP requires LVD to ensure a company corrects any errors LiberTrace catches upon felling.

Several documents the FDA provided contain inconsistencies, suggesting they were forged as part of an all-around cover-up.

One document is dated 2019 and 2024, listing Nyaley as head of LVD. Nyaley was the technical manager of the community forestry department that year, appointed to LVD in 2022. And West Water did not have a contract in Grand Bassa or anywhere in 2019, at least not a direct one.

Another document puts West Water’s export (3,275 logs) above its production (2,782). That is a difference of 493 logs.

Unlike for the initial investigation, Merab did not respond to The DayLight’s queries for comments on this story. He did not grant the newspaper’s access to West Water’s contract and harvesting maps, guaranteed under various legal provisions. The FDA had said it would not return future questions from DayLight regarding export permits.

A screenshot of LiberTrace’s history of the 797 logs shows the FDA some of the trees were still standing when West Water requested to export them. It took the FDA’s legality verification department less than 48 hours to approve the request after rejecting it over “major traceability errors.”

By approving the export, the FDA violated its laws.

Cutting trees without authorization and harvesting undersized logs constitute a fine per the FDA’s confiscated logs regulation. A violating company faces a fine of two times the value of the illegal logs and a public auctioning of the wood. That means West Water would have paid more revenue for the March export.

Jonathan Yiah, the lead forestry campaigner at the Sustainable Development Institute, criticized the FDA for not confiscating the logs and undermining LiberTrace’s credibility.  

“Focusing on enforcement,” Yiah said, “will demonstrate and ensure both revenue generation and sustainable management and harvesting of our forest resources.”


[Emmanuel Sherman and Philip Quwebin contributed to this report]

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

Company Exports Timber Amid Outstanding Community Projects

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Top: A West Water skidder in District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Philip Quwebin


By Emmanuel Sherman and Gerald Koinyeneh  


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

TONWEIN, Nimba and GAYEPUEWHOE, Grand Bassa – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) authorized a company to cut thousands of logs. However, it did not execute its social agreement with communities, violating a harvesting regulation.

West Water Group (Liberia) Inc. has operated in Blinlon and District Three B&C Community Forests in Nimba and Grand Basaa, respectively. During this time, it harvested 2,782 logs (20,095 cubic meters), according to the FDA. 

But West Water has completed just a few out of dozens of mandatory projects for the communities, a DayLight investigation found.

“We will make sure they do that. I just want our people to be patient because these projects have been overdue,” said Eric Dahn, a leader of Blinlon’s community forest leadership.

“So, if it causes us to stop the company from operating until they fulfill all the promises, we will do it,” Dahn added.

This investigation adds to another published earlier this month, which found the FDA violated a payment regulation by approving West Water’s exports amid its indebtedness to the communities. Both payment and harvesting regulations empower local communities to benefit from forest resources.  

The villagers’ plight had been thrust into the spotlight after an initial DayLight investigation found the FDA approved the export of West Water’s illegally harvested timber in District Three B&C.

West Water did not respond to questions for comment.

Failed promises

In 2020, West Water, a Chinese-owned company, signed a 15-year contract with Blinlon Community Forest for its 39,409 hectares of forestland in the Yarweh-Mehnsonneh District near the Nimba- River Cess border.

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

The company promised the villagers a series of projects across Blinlon including a school, clinic, handpumps, roads and concrete bridges.

Nearly four years on, West Water has only done two out of 14 handpumps and has just started paving mandatory roads, which should have happened at the beginning of the contract. It has not done the school and clinic, which should have commenced in 2021, according to the contract.

The company only jumpstarted the roads after townspeople protested, blocking its workers from entering the forest in March. Both parties later resolved on March 5 to end hostilities.

“We will make sure they fulfill all the promises,” added Dahn.

Protest and Interference

The tension in District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa is higher. It mirrors a string of controversies, which have marred the community since it obtained community forest status in 2014. (communities own forestlands but must complete legal requirements to sign logging contracts)

At that time, the community forest contracted Renew Forestry Group to operate its 49,728 hectares of forest on the border of Grand Bassa, River Cess and Nimba.

However, a conflict erupted. The forest leadership recognized Renew Forestry Group, while the local and county authorities sided with West Water.

Ultimately, the forest was split between the two logging companies. Renew Forestry Group took Community Forest One, and West Water Community Forest Two. 

Then in 2021, West Water signed a 15-year contract with District Three B&C  Community Forest of 24,175 hectares of woodland. The company promised to build roads, concrete bridges, a clinic, a school, market tables, town halls and hand pumps.

Like its Blinlon contract, West Water has not lived up to its contract with District Three B&C. It has completed just one out of eight hand pumps, while villagers drink from polluted creeks. Three years into the agreement, it has not done the major roads, bridges, clinics, town halls and market tables.  According to the contract, most of these projects should have been completed in two years.

“West Water is not doing anything good for us,” Alex Bonwin, a member of the community leadership said. “If the company is not doing what they’re supposed to do we revoke their document to get out.”

West Water’s failure to honor the contract has led to tension, with three protests already this year. In the latest one, which occurred last week, townspeople stopped seven log-loaded trucks from leaving the community.

Alfred Flomo, the representative of Grand Bassa Electoral District Four, where the community forest lies, interferes in the matter.

Gayepuewhoe Town is one of 14 communities that own the District Three B&C Community Forest. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

In a May 12 meeting, Flomo asked the company to stay off the forest until it addressed issues the villagers raised, according to the meeting’s minutes seen by The Daylight. That was the second time he had taken such action.

Under the community forest law, lawmakers are members of the community assembly, the highest decision-maker, and the executive committee. However, they cannot unilaterally halt a company’s operations.

Flomo and the townspeople’s actions also violate the contract between West Water and the community. Both parties agreed to settle their dispute between themselves or through an arbitration procedure. Flomo did not reply to The DayLight’s emails and text messages for an interview.

The FDA did not respond to queries for comment on this story. However, in a recent interview, Director Rudolph Merab told the Associated Press he would work to scale back regulations. Those comments echoed ones he made during his induction in February, saying forestry reformers created laws “that cannot work.”


[Additional reporting by Philip Quwebin and Derick Snyder]

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

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.

Investigation Discovers Illegal Timber Trafficking Web at CARI

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Top: A poster exposing an illegal timber trafficking company that operated at CARI, abandoning a lot of wood there. The DayLight/Rebazar D. Forte


By Rebazar D. Forte


SUAKOKO, Bong County – Planks and wood machines are everywhere: near a nursery and on the basketball court, by an abandoned vehicle and even along an indoor corridor. The grayish coloring of the planks suggests that they have been here for a while.

This is not your regular sawmill. It is the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI) in Suakoko, Bong County, and the piles of timber are remnants of an illegal timber trafficking syndicate that operated here for several years.

Smugglers under the banner China Turkish Liberia Industries (CTL Industries) ran the secret sawmill for about three years, according to documents, members of the syndicate and people familiar with the illegal operation. Two Chinese men, Chaolong Zhong and Guoping Zhang; a Turkish man Mehmet Onder Erem; and a Liberian Terrence Collins, owned and ran the syndicate.

The syndicate kept timber everywhere at the China Aid building at CARI, including on this basketball court

“They got over there with a different plan,” said Dr. James Dolo, the Officer in Charge of CARI, in a phone interview. “They said they wanted land to set up some demo and start some production…  but those guys came and they started bringing logs in overnight.”

Mr. Chaolong has 35 percent of the company’s shares, Mr. Erem 20 percent, Mr. Collins 15 percent and Mr. Guoping 10 percent. The remaining 20 percent is outstanding, according to CTL Industries’ article of incorporation.

It was unclear whether Mr. Chaolong worked with China Aid, which collaborate with CARI as part of an agriculture program between Liberia and China. A ringleader of the group, he, however, apparently used his Chinese connections to set up the sawmill sometime in 2021, according to former a member of the syndicate. The source and other sources The DayLight interviewed asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

China Aid building at the Central Agriculture Research Institute in Suakoko, Bong County

Mr. Erem operated and supervised CTL Industries’ machine works. “He used to operate the forklift most often,” said another former worker. The Turk’s involvement with the syndicate was cut short over a misunderstanding with Mr. Chaolong, the ex-worker said.  Mr. Erem left CARI to start another operation but remains a shareholder of CTL Industries.

Mr. Collins, aliased TC, conducted all the paperwork for the syndicate. He secured all the company’s documents, including the article of incorporation and business registration.

CTL Industries is not Mr. Collins’ first illegal activity. In February, a DayLight investigation found his company Quezp operated two mines in Montserrado County without licenses. The EPA later fined the company for mining without an environmental permit.    

Victor Sumo, the head of CARI at the time, was aware of the trafficking network and appeared to have benefited from it.  Dr. Sumo and Mr. Chaolong would have problems with money. At one point, he stopped the operation in demand of his share of the money, according to the manager, corroborated by other people.

“Victor Sumo put a steel gate immediately after the main road coming to the Chinese building. Some money was playing in hands and timber was coming in and something was not going somewhere,” the staff said. “Some high government officials along with staff at CARI came and settled the matter between Dr. Sumo and CTL Industries.”  Dr. Sumo did not return questions via WhatsApp for comments on this story and did not answer several phone calls this reporter placed to him.

Dolo claimed Dr. Sumo shuttered the entrance to China Aid to halt the operation, not for money. “So that’s how it stopped,” he said.

Three ex-workers refuted Dolo’s claims, saying the operations continued long after that episode. They said Sumo authorized Mr. Chaolong to reopen the operations and reclosed the gate in demand of US$10,000. They added that CTL Industries closed just before last year’s elections, promising to resume after the polls but deserted the operations.

‘Big trucks’

CTL  Industries had at least 33 staff, based on the company’s roosters obtained by the DayLight. Workers enrolled timber on log sheets, showing wood size, quantity, quality and species. 

Up: A rooster showing 33 staff of China Turkey Liberia Industries. Here: a log detailing China Turkey Liberia Industries’ timber purchases on December 17, 2021.

“When the woods came at the gate, we used to record the woods based on the type. If it is not in a good condition, we will record it as condemned, which means the buying price will not be the same,” said one ex-worker.   

“Yellow big trucks used to come at night with woods and they used to pass through the second (exit) gate. The woods were taken from Lofa County, Bong and even Nimba,” the ex-worker said. A resident of Zorzor who is familiar with the forestry industry, and also preferred anonymity, said the same thing. The gate in question is now closed for use.

Another person knowledgeable about the operation added that woods were transported even during the day, suggesting the illegal operation was an open secret. The company also bought wood from local vendors and chainsaw millers in Suakoko.

The traffickers exported the timber in several containers, pictures The DayLight obtained reveal. Several pictures show timber being loaded into containers for export. Others show men, including an unidentified Chinese man, sealing up the metal boxes.

The export of the wood cements the cabal’s criminal profile. Exporting planks is prohibited in forestry, while chainsaw milling activities are restricted to Liberians. CTL Industries is registered in LiberTrace, the legal system to export timber from Liberia. However, it has not used the system before, LiberTrace’s record of the company shows.

The pictures reveal other things, too. They show that CTL Industries operated at another location before moving to CARI.  One picture shows Mr. Chaolong and two unidentified Chinese nationals standing by a wood machine. Other pictures feature a house filled with timber in a yard. Tire impressions matching container trucks are seen on the driveway of the house.

One ex-worker said the house in the picture was where the company had operated on the Robertsfield Highway, adjacent to the Baptist Seminary. The company’s business registration certificate supports that location, which is Mr. Collins’ address, according to the company’s article of incorporation.

Up: A picture revealing CTL Industries’ previous sawmill before it moved to the Central Agriculture Research Institute (CARI). Here: An unidentified Chinese man appears to take a record of a fully loaded container.

‘Selling vegetables’

The CARI-China Aid collaboration was established in 2009  for Liberian and Chinese scientists to conduct research. It was meant to train Liberian farmers to produce rice, corn and vegetables initially and fisheries and husbandry later. “It is a capacity-building project or a ‘fishing project’ that teaches people how to fish,” Zhou Yuxiao, then Chinese Ambassador to Liberia, said at its handover in 2010. The US$6 million project was part of Beijing’s efforts to promote agricultural technology in Africa.

CTL Industries’ activities overshadowed the work of China Aid, as the number of plant nurseries was dwarfed by the abandoned timber at CARI. Dolo said China Aid seemingly stopped operating either in 2013 or the following year.

One source said that the Chinese have turned the facility into a vegetable business, supplying Chinese restaurants, a claim Dolo appears to agree with.

“Right now the guys that are there if you visit the compound are only producing vegetables. I think they got this big program there. I think whatever they are doing with it I don’t know. Maybe they are selling it or supplying some,” Dolo said. The Chinese Embassy did not respond to The DayLight’s queries for comment on the China Aid program at CARI.

Dolo said his administration would investigate the CTL Industries’ activities. “I can’t attach a timeframe because it is a process…,” Dolo said, “but I can guarantee you that we are going to get on it by next month.

Efforts to interview Messrs. Chaolong and Collins did not materialize.

Mr. Chaolong did not respond to WhatsApp calls and messages. At one point, he answered a phone call and requested our reporter to text because he could not understand English. He did not respond to that message.

Mr. Collins referred The DayLight to speak with his lawyer Francis Tuan. Tuan did not return WhatsApp messages for his client.


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

Kpokolo: Illegal Logging Returns Despite ‘Ban’

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Top: New pieces of kpokolo in Gbaryama, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Gabriel Parker


By Esau J. Farr and Philip W. Quwebin


GBARYAMA – People in Gbarpolu are secretly harvesting Kpokolo, a boxlike timber the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) said it banned last year.

In late January, The DayLight photographed newly produced kpokolo in Gbaryama, a town in the Gbarma District about 79 miles from Monrovia. Hundreds of fresh kpokolo were placed on an open field just outside the town.

Townspeople revealed smugglers, who reside outside of the town, hired a gang of chainsaw operators to harvest kpokolo. Once harvested, the woods are transferred by a crane to a pickup, which then brings them to a location. Thereafter, they are loaded onto a container truck at night.

“They can hide it and take it away at night so, people can’t easily see them in the day,” Armah Dukuly, the Town Chief of Gbaryama Town. “We don’t get that power to stop them.”

More than three weeks later, The DayLight revisited Gbaryama and found that the kpokolo had been taken away. Journalists photographed tire impressions matching the description of a truck on the now-cleared field. About 14 pieces of the illegal wood remained there. The illegal loggers had transported the rest.

There were other kpokolo in the forest. DayLight journalists took a 15-minute ride from Gbaryama on a motorcycle taxi to a forest footpath leading into the woods.

In the forest, reporters saw short round logs that were meant to produce kpokolo. Timber remnants could be seen on the floor of the forest. Loud vroom noise from at least four chainsaws buzzed at different locations.  

Dukuly and other chiefs and elders told The DayLight the four men negotiate with farmers in Gbaryama, enter into a verbal agreement and start the harvesting. They said the operators pay the farmers up to L$550 for a piece of kpokolo, corroborating previous reports of locals’ involvement in the illegal trade.

People said the illegal loggers built tents made of tarpaulins in the forest to conduct their operations.

“Most of the time, they are in the forest.],” said Varsay Sirleaf, one of the oldest persons in Gbaryama Sirleaf.

A recent report by the US-based Forest Trends found that kpokolo threatens local communities, chainsaw millers and Liberia’s revenue. It uses the chainsaw milling subindustry to veil its activities, using the same workforce and timber sources, the report said.

But the difference between them is stark. Chainsaw-milled timber measures two inches and below, while Kpokolo can be up to five times thicker, or more. 

A few kpokolo remained in an open field more than three weeks after The DayLight photographed piles of kpokolo there. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

The kpokolo in Gbaryama were between two and four times the industry-accepted size of chainsaw-milled timber. The ones on the opened field were about six inches thick, based remaining ones there.

‘I felled few’

Four men conduct the kpokolo activities in Gbaryama, three of which The DayLight had previously investigated. The men are Saah Joseph (not the Montserrado lawmaker), one only identified as Sahyo, James Kelley and Richard Flomo.

Joseph has harvested kpokolo in Gbaryama for over two years, according to elders and chainsaw millers. Dukuly said Joseph recently resumed his kpokolo operations in the town after negotiating with some farmers.

The DayLight gathered evidence of Joseph’s illegal activities in December 2022. Locals said a pile of kpokolo in the middle of the town and the forest belonged to him.

“I think he has some in the bush and he is supposed to come for it,” said Molubah Korlubah, a kpokolo logger, who said he worked for Joseph in 2022.  

“The FDA people don’t come here. They focus on the gate,” Korlubah added.

Sahyo is a more conning operator than Korlubah, the evidence suggests. Originally from a town called Supermarket in Bopolu District, Sahyo harvests kpokolo even without the consent of farmers. Dukuly said he had had an encounter with him the night before The DayLight’s third of four visits to the town.  

“I asked him how he entered there to [harvest] kpokolo. And he only said, ‘I entered there, I saw kpokolo and myself [harvested] the logs…. I felled few.’

“Then I asked him, ‘Who [did] you ask?’”

“I stopped him,” Dukuly added.

Morris Kamara, a resident farmer, confirmed Dukuly’s account of Sahyo.

“This year, Sahyo [harvested] in my forest and produced kpokolo there and left,” Kamara revealed. “They have already transported it out of the forest to Monrovia.

“He is presently in another person’s forest producing but I don’t know where.”

Efforts to contact Sahyo and Joseph on their kpokolo operations were unsuccessful. Everyone The DayLight interviewed in Gbaryama said they did not have the duo’s contacts. Follow-up phone calls to other townspeople yielded no other results.

‘From one forest to another’

There were indications Kelley and Flomo were bigger operatives and more familiar with Gbaryama than Joseph and Sahyo.

Kpokolo townspeople said owned by Saah Joseph (not the Montserrado lawmaker) were seen in plain sight in Gbaryama in December 2022.  The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Kelley lodged in a house in the town, where The DayLight interviewed him in December 2022. A middle-aged, light-skinned man, Kelley has been in Gbaryama since September that year, he said at the time.

Dukuly said Kelley asked him recently to harvest kpokolo on his farmland but he disagreed. Kamara and Moses Thompson, another elder, corroborated Dukuly’s account.

“Kelley is here among the [kpokolo operators] but I don’t know whose forest he is working in. They move from one forest to another in search of more woods,” Thompson added.

Kelley’s phone number did not ring when The DayLight tried to contact him. However, in that 2022 interview, he revealed that he had been involved with kpokolo since 2014. He produced kpokolo in Buchanan before coming to Gbaryama.

“Here in Gbaryama, our dimensions were 4X12X9.5 and 4X10X9.5,” Kelley said back in 2022.  He meant four inches thick, 10 or 12 inches wide and nine and a half feet long.

But of all the kpokolo operators in Gbaryama, Flomo appeared to be the kingpin. Every farmer or resident The DayLight interviewed said they knew him. Even Kelley said in that 2022 interview Richard was his boss.

Dukuly said he called Flomo recently and informed him to halt the kpokolo operation but his order fell on deaf ears.

“He said, ‘Oh Chief, that one I just want y’all to give us a chance.’

“I said no. If I see it, you will lose it,’” Dukuly said. He added that Flomo tried to convince that it was the kpokolo operators that risked an arrest, not the townspeople.

Korlubah, the chainsaw miller, said he had harvested a container load of kpokolo for Richard in 2022. “There were 250 pieces of Kpokolo, 4X12 and 4X10,” Korlubah said then, confirming Kelley’s story.

“I worked for him in November. He paid me one piece for LD500.”

People said Flomo combed the region in this pickup in search of forest to produce kpokolo. They said it was he who introduced kpokolo to Gbaryama.

Efforts to contact Flomo did not materialize. No one in Gbaryama said they had his contact and Kelley had refused to share it back in 2022.

Molubah Korlubah, a kpokolo producer in Gbaryama, said he worked for Richard Flomo a kpokolo smuggler. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

‘There is no ban’

In February last year, said it had banned kpokolo. The unofficial pronouncement followed months of reports of widespread kpokolo activities involving the regulator.

Edward Kamara, the FDA manager for forest marketing and revenue forecast said kpokolo had become “prone to illegal exportation.”

The FDA has not published the ban or made awareness of it, except to discuss it in a meeting on Liberia’s timber trade agreement with the European Union last June. Forest Trends called on the Joseph Boakai administration to officiate, publicize and enforce the ban on kpokolo.   

In Gbaryama, people are aware of the so-called ban but chiefs and elders find it difficult to keep the ban.

“If you ban kpokolo in someone’s forest, the forest owner will get vexed [at] you. That person will feel that you want to stop their family’s income,” said Dukuly.

Morris Kamara, the Gbaryama resident, blames the FDA for the illegal activities. “We are getting that information [about banning kpokolo] as rumors. I believe if the FDA banned kpokolo, they could not allow kpokolo to pass [through] their checkpoints.

The FDA has major checkpoints on Bopolu-Monrovia and Tubmanburg-Monrovia highways. There is one each at Sawmill, not far from Gbaryama, and Klay in Bomi—to name two.

“If the people [are] still passing with kpokolo, then it means that [there is no ban] on kpokolo,” Kamara said.

The FDA did not respond immediately to comments. The DayLight will update this story once it does.


[Additional reporting by Gabriel Parker]

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

Boakai’s Justice Minister Pick is A Serial Illegal Logger

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Top: This cartoon depicts Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah in a conflict of interest when he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Then Minister Kruah retained his shares in the Universal Forestry Corporation, which ran a forestry contract and held several mining licenses between 2018 and 2023. Illustration by Leslie Lomeh for The DayLight.


By James Harding Giahyue


  • MONROVIA – Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah is a repeated forestry offender, with his company involved in illegal logging operations dating back to the Liberian Civil War era.
  • Kruah’s Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) was debarred from forestry in 2006, based on the United Nations Security Council’s recommendation
  • UFC crept its way back into the sector—with assistance from forestry authorities—and continued its illegal activities
  • UFC was involved in the infamous Private Use Permit Scandal in which it illegally received two permits at the detriment of local communities
  • Later, UFC signed an agreement with a community forest in Nimba. Then the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Kruah remained one of its shareholders—a violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and forestry’s legal instruments
  • Kruah presented a fake document, which misspells his son’s name, to cover up his conflict of interest
  • UFC persisted with its offenses, abusing the rights of local people, conducting illegal harvesting and transport

MONROVIA – Cllr. Cooper Kruah, the Minister of Justice-designate, has a long history of being a forestry offender. His nomination contradicts the role of the Attorney General and undermines President Joseph Boakai’s expressed quest for accountability and the rule of law.

In his Inaugural Address, President Boakai promised to fight corruption and restore Liberia’s lost image in the comity of nations. Boakai restated that in his first State of the Nation Address.

Last month, Boakai appointed Kruah, a stalwart of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction whose support was instrumental in the Unity Party’s victory in last year’s elections.

Kruah is expected to appear before the Liberian Senate for confirmation. If confirmed, his job would be to prosecute individuals for alleged wrongdoings, sign concessions for Liberia and conduct oversight of several government offices.

But desk research, based on official records, United Nations reports and previous investigations by The DayLight reveals that Kruah may not be the right person for the post. It shows Kruah has broken forestry laws repeatedly with impunity, making no efforts to atone for his wrongdoings.

Kruah has refused to grant The DayLight an interview in each of the two times the newspaper contacted him. He preferred not to be recorded on the matter, which goes against The DayLight’s editorial policy.

Wartime logging

Kruah established Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) in 1986, holding 25 percent of the company’s shares, according to its article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. One Peter Goankeh held 25 percent while the remaining 50 was outstanding.

UFC was active in the early 1990s and early 2000s when Liberia became known for “conflict timber” or “logs of war.” Warring factions traded timber for weapons in two civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people.

The trade violated several United Nations arms embargoes on Liberia, leaving the Security Council to impose sanctions on Liberian timber.  To lift the sanctions, the Liberian government at the time submitted itself to reform led by the UN and national and international civil society organizations.

Following a review of forestry concessions in 2005, the administration canceled all logging contracts, including UFC’s. The review found that UFC was not compliant with the industry’s laws and that its contract was not even ratified by the Legislature.

As part of the reform agenda, UFC and 69 other companies were expelled from doing logging business in Liberia. That move was further carved in the 2007 Regulation on Bidder Qualifications, which partially debars individuals associated with wartime companies from forestry activities.

An Illegal Return

In 2007, UFC amended its legal documents to add new shareholders. Kruah retained five percent shares in the company and the others were distributed among four other people, including former presidential advisor Edward Slangar and two non-Liberians: Jin S. Kyung and B.J. Kim.

In 2007 and 2008, UFC signed two illegal MoUs with Geetroh in Sinoe and Rock Cess in River Cess for logging rights, respectively, according to a 2018 Global Witness report. The communities had not gotten their community forestry status when the MoUs were signed. A 2009 law gives communities the right to enter into contracts with loggers upon the approval of the FDA.

Three years later, Kruah hustled his way back into the sector. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) ignored UFC’s wartime activities and its qualification regulation. UFC acquired two private use permits and logging rights granted for private lands.

But a two-year investigation by Global Witness, the Sustainable Development Institute and Save My Future Foundation found UFC and other companies were illegally awarded the permits. It became known as the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal.

A government-backed inquest uncovered a lot of irregularities with UFC’s PUPs. It found that UFC did not follow any legal processes, did not obtain an environmental permit and that fraudulent persons had posed to be the landowners of its contract areas.

It also found that UFC made payments into a personal bank account, its Grand Bassa PUP area was larger than the actual land size and the one in Sinoe was issued for communal, not private land.

A UN Security Council report revealed that UFC’s Sinoe permit covered the same area as Atlantic Resources, another company.

For the second time in its history, UFC’s permits were canceled alongside 62 others. The Managing Director of the FDA Moses Wogbeh was dismissed and prosecuted for his involvement in the scandal. A moratorium on the issuance of PUPs remains in force to this day.

Conflict of Interest

There is no public record of UFC’s activities after the PUP Scandal. However, UFC returned in 2020 with an agreement with the Sehzueplay Community Forest.

Kruah was the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications while serving as a shareholder and secretary of UFC’s board of directors when the agreement was signed.

That violated the National Forestry Reform Law of Liberia and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Both laws prohibit a government official from conducting logging activities. The violations were the subject of an investigative series by The DayLight in 2022.

Kruah tried to cover up his conflict of interest but ended up committing more wrongdoings. A 2019 document he claimed to be UFC’s amended article of incorporation was not recorded at the business registry as required by law. Also, UFC’s tax history at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) did not show it paid taxes for the amendment. UFC’s legal document at the business registry still carries Kruah and his five percent shares.

On the left is the real article of incorporation of Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC). On the right is the fake one Justice Minister-designate Cooper Kruah presented in 2022.  

Moreover, the content of UFC’s so-called amended article cemented the evidence of the document’s fakeness. The document misspelled the name of Kruah’s son. Instead of “Prince M. Kruah,” it read “Prince M. Kuah.”

Then FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen promised to act but failed to do so. Penalties for forgery in forestry are a fine between US$10,000 and three times the funds Kruah received from UFC, or a prison term of up to 12 months.

But Kruah did not know, or he ignored the fact that he would not have resolved his conflict of interest by transferring his shares to his son. The forestry reform law mandates him to relinquish, or turn over his shares to a blind trust or a person outside of his control.

Illegal harvesting

UFC carried out illegal logging and transport under his shareholdership. An August 2021 industry report found that UFC conducted “massive” illegal harvesting in and around the Sehzueplay Community Forest.

The report revealed that UFC was illegally transporting logs from Nimba to an illegitimate sawmill in Buchanan, Grand Bassa. Investigators suspected that UFC smuggled logs it had felled outside of Sehzueplay to the sawmill.

The DayLight had visited the forest and photographed some of the illegal logs mentioned in that report. It obtained a ranger’s memo to Kyung, UFC manager, informing him about the illegal felling.

“During our recent visit to your concession area, we discovered that you were doing illegal [felling]. You are fallen [trees] without being awarded a [harvesting] certificate,” the memo read, signed by Steve Kromah, the ranger responsible for forest contracts in the Tappita area.

The illegal harvesting was not UFC’s only offense. It unilaterally entered a subcontract with a logging firm. Sehzueplay or the FDA was not aware of the subcontract UFC signed with Ihsaan Logs Company (ILC), a forestry violation.

ILC is ineligible to conduct logging as Mohammed Paasewe, its co-owner, was still paying back funds he embezzled from the Liberian government when he served as Superintendent of Grand Cape Mount County.

The logs The DayLight photographed brandished, “UFC/ILC,” a reference to the unapproved subcontract.

Turns out, towns and villages that own the forest became the biggest victims. As of March 2022, UFC owed locals—and the government—US$155,000, the second-highest in the industry. It had yet to carry out a host of mandatory development projects there. That situation has not changed.

UFC illegally harvested logs in and out of the Sehzueplay Community Forest in Tappita District, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

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.  

7 Times the FDA Failed to Punish Illegal Loggers

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Top: The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has failed numerous times to punish forestry violators. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Ralitsa N. Massah


MONROVIA – On Monday, The DayLight published an investigation revealing the illegalities of a logging company named Delta Timber Corporation. The report shows how the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved Delta’s contract for a community forest in Sinoe despite a regulation disqualifying its owner, a well-documented wartime logger.

Apart from the illegal approval of Delta’s contract, the story also highlights how the FDA failed to penalize Delta for a string of unlawful activities—illegal logging, abandonment of logs, and prolonged indebtedness to local communities.

However, illegal operations are characteristic of the forestry sector and happen with impunity. Here are seven other times that cases of illegal logging have gone unpunished

Leaked Video Exposes FDA Ranger’s Illegal Logging Operations

In August last year, leaked videos and pictures exposed the illegal logging operation of Varney Marshall, a ranger of the Forestry Development Authority. The video shows an open field of more than a thousand timbers and exposed Marshall’s illegal logging operations, which led to his dismissal.  

Marshall was arrested and jailed in an unrelated case—and has not been indicted—but has faced no punishment for his illegal logging operation. He is a candidate for the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in District Two, Bomi County. He has not been sued for economic sabotage, the crime when an FDA staff conducts commercial logging activities.

FDA Fails To Punish Firm For Chain Of Illegal Logging

The Masayaha Logging Company used illegal deals with locals and harvested about 641 cubic meters of expensive, ironwood out of the Worr Community Forest in Grand Bassa, its contract area. The forest covers 35,337 hectares in Compound Number One “B” but the company traveled about 100 kilometers to the Doe Clan in Compound Number One “A” to harvest first-class logs. Harvesting out of contract area is a grave violation in forestry yet the company received no known penalty.  

Company Cuts About US$2M Logs Outside Concession

Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited illegally harvested probably 5,693 logs or 32,576 cubic meters of logs in the Bluyeama Community Forest in the Zorzor District on Lofa’s border with Gbarpolu. The harvest took place in a part of the forest not included in its contract with the community.  It is worth an estimated US$2.2 million. The company was also involved in the unlawful transportation of logs, a violation of the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products

Akewa: The Nigerian Company Breaking Liberia’s Logging Laws Unpunished

Akewa Group of Companies, a Nigerian-owned logging company, has repeatedly broken Liberian forestry laws for over a decade. The company has carried on illegal logging in Grand Bassa, Margibi, and Grand Cape Mount.

Akewa even used a fake tax clearance to bid for 49,179 hectares of the Gola Konneh Forest and won the bid. That constituted forgery and perjury, both serious crimes, punishable under Liberia’s forestry law and Penal Code. One of its shareholders established a new company and has a logging contract in Sinoe County, another forestry violation.

Except for a US$1,000 fine, Akewa has not been punished in line with the gravity of its offenses.

Rotten logs at the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County, owned by Delta Timber Corporation (DTC). The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Minister Breaks Laws With Shares In Mining and Logging Company

Cllr. Cooper Kruah held on to his five percent shares in Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC), a company actively mining and logging in Nimba, while he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.  That is a violation of the laws governing the mining and logging industries as well as the Liberian Constitution and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials.

The FDA breached the Regulation on Bidder Qualifications by approving UFC’s contract with Kruah as one of the company shareholders. It failed to take any actions against the company after its illegalities were unearthed. It remained that way until Kruah was dismissed in March in an unrelated incident.  

Deputy Foreign Minister Runs An Illegal Logging Company

Tetra Enterprise Inc. is a logging company run and likely owned by Thelma Comfort Duncan Sawyer, the Deputy Foreign Minister for Administration, according to letters and her lawyer. That violates the Liberian Constitution, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and the National Forestry Reform Law.

Tetra has bearer shares that are held by an unregistered individual, which Liberia’s Business Association Law prohibits. The Company has abandoned 28,039.6 cubic meters of logs and, as of March, it owed locals US$70,574.93.

The company began work in Garwin in the absence of a new agreement, which is against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands that created community forestry.  

Another Company Illegally Cuts 550 Logs in River Cess

The African Wood & Lumber Company illegally harvested 550 logs in the Gbarsaw and Dorbor Community Forest, a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law and the Code of Harvesting Practices. The company had signed a five-year agreement with Gbarsaw & Dorbor Community Forest in 2019 but did not obtain the FDA’s approval to harvest logs. The offense warrants a range of penalties, including a prison term, a fine and cancelation of the company’s contract.


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

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