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Boakai’s Justice Minister Pick is A Serial Illegal Logger


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’


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


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


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).

Sierra Leoneans Conduct Illegal Logging in Nimba


Top: A graphic depicting an illegal logging operation conducted by a group of six Sierra Leonean loggers for a Liberian company called Libfor Forest Corporation. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte

By Mark B. Newa

KARNPLAY –  A  group of Sierra Leoneans, hired by a Liberian businessman, are conducting an illegal logging operation in a forest in Nimba County, according to documents, interviews and photographs.

With the help of locals, the operations are producing thick timber near the Ivory Coast border in Karnplay, Gbelay-Geh District.   

The Sierra Leoneans’ operations violate the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, which bars non-Liberians from working in the subsector, evidence shows. Their products go against the standard measurement for planks, matching a form of logging recently banned by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

From Bo to Nimba

In early May, a representative of Libfor Forest Corporation, met  Aruna Kamara, Bobson Lusainy, Philip Sungu, Sorie Bangura and two other men in the Sierra Leonean eastern province of Bo. The representative asked them to travel to Liberia and serve as chainsaw operators of Libfor, a small-scale logging company established in 2021.

By May 30, the six men headed to the Liberian border at Bo Waterside. There, the company’s representative arranged for emergency travel certificates for the men, according to the documents seen by The DayLight. 

Not long after, the men found themselves in Ganta, some 303 miles away from home. They signed a contract. Tejan Jalloh, a Sierra Leonean who works for Libfor, signed for the company, while Sungu signed for the men.

They agreed to harvest timber, with a payment of L$600 per piece, according to their contract, obtained by The DayLight.   

Two of the Sierra Leonean pitsaw operators, Aruna Kamara, Borbor Lusainy caught on the reporter’s camera in Gbehnehylay, near the Ivory Coast border. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa

The six men were then transported to Trorplay, a village in the Gbeh-Somah Clan, Gborplay Chiefdom.

They cut down trees on the farms of individual farmers between L$1,500 and L$3,000. They have already harvested 460 planks, according to Kamara, the oldest of the men.  

“We hauled some on the road and the rest are in the bush,” Kamara, the oldest of the six men, told The DayLight in an interview.


Our reporter photographed stacks of the illegal timber by roadsides and in several other locations. They match the profile of Iroko, a durable wood species used for shipbuilding, furniture and outdoor construction. Currently, it is selling up to US$390 on the international market.

Community leaders are unhappy with the loggers for three reasons. First, they think the Sierra Leoneans are buying the trees too cheaply. Second, they feared that cutting the trees would make their community vulnerable to rainstorms. Locals use the Iroko trees for herbs.  

“The tree can protect our towns and villages from strong wind. Iroko is a very strong wood and it also has a kind of value for traditional herbs,” said Anthony Wopleh, a farmer in Trorplay.


Over 100 pieces of Iroko timber risked shrinking in the sun in Trorplay where the Sierra Leonean loggers are stationed. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa
Some pieces of sewn Iroko packed near the road between Trorplay and Gbehnehylay in Twa River Administrative District in Gbehlay-Geh, near the Ivory Coast border. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa

“This is a tree that our people use to heal sicknesses like rheumatism and it is very helpful in treating other diseases,” Wopleh added.

“Cutting down the trees and carrying them like that, [with] nothing remaining here for our community is not good. Look at our roads, from here to Karnplay is so bad,” said Samson Zreakpa, a chief in the Gbeh-Somah Clan.

Local chainsaw millers are also upset with the Sierra Leoneans for “undermining” their efforts. “The guys have infringed on our movement and they have entered into the bush, telling our people negative things,” said Emmanuel Gongor, who ran illegal operations in the region exposed earlier this year by The DayLight.

Amara Fofana, the sole owner of Libfor, based on its article of incorporation, denies the allegations. “My power saws are registered with the local chainsaw union, and they know me good,” Fofana told The DayLight via phone.

‘I cannot fight the government’  

The accusations against the Sierra Leoneans may be true or not but the illegality of their operations is obvious.  Under the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, non-Liberians are debarred from making planks. The subsector, started by ex-combatants following the end of Liberia’s bloody civil wars in 2003, is primarily meant to supply the domestic market and provide jobs for Liberians.   

Also, Libfor does not have a chainsaw milling permit and the farmers who are selling to Sierra Leoneans do not have the authorization to do so. However, that level of violation is commonplace in the subindustry. Apart from imposing fees on chainsaw millers, the FDA has failed to regulate the lucrative trade in its 20 years of existence.

Moreover, the size of the wood the Sierra Leoneans are producing is prohibited. Normally, the FDA allows only up to two-inch-thick planks in the subindustry, and not three-inch.

Sorie Bangura, spokesperson for the Sierra Leonean chainsaw operators stands before piles of Iroko sprawling on the sun in Trorplay, the village where they are stationed. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa

Over the last decade or so, the FDA secretly sanctioned the production of oversized timber, commonly called “Kpokolo.” In February, the agency announced it had “banned” kpokolo, following a series of reports by The DayLight. The agency admitted it had permitted kpokolo producers to supply sawmills across the country but that permit was abused.

In the phone interview, Fofana said he was harvesting Iroko to make furniture at his own sawmill. He said he expected some machines soon.

“I want to make furniture in Caldwell to compete with the Lebanese businessmen in Monrovia,” Fofana, said via phone, revealing he had 20 chainsaws in the Nimba belt.

Fafona added that he had hired Sierra Leoneans because he could not find any Liberian to do the work. Later, he claimed that Liberians were lazy, dishonest and counterproductive to his company’s vision.

“There are no good operators in Liberia,” Fofana claimed. “This is why somebody brought me those guys to work for me.”

Over the debarment of non-Liberians, Fofana argued that the ECOWAS protocol empowered the Sierra Leoneans to work anywhere in Liberia.   

That claim is wrong. People from ECOWAS countries are entitled to a 90-day stay in Liberia. However, they are not allowed to work without a residence permit, according to the Aliens and Naturalization Law. If they work without residence permits—as in the case of the Sierra Leoneans—they violate the law. In fact, the Sierra Leoneans should have obtained work permits before felling their first tree, according to the Decent Work Act.

The Emergency Travel Certificate bearing the name, Philip Sungu, a farmer from Sembehun Selinda in Bo District, Sierra Leone. TheDayLight/Mark B. Newa
The signature page of the contract between six Sierra Leonean chainsaw operators and a Liberian-owned company called Libfor Forest Corporation. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

Apparently conceding, Fofana said he would send the men to Gormahplay in the Bu-Yao District, toward the Ivory Coast border at Butuo.

Further in the interview, Fofana lied that he was not aware his Sierra Leonean workers were harvesting oversized planks. However, The contract his company signed with the Sierra Leoneans exposed him. It clearly obligates the men to harvest timber measuring three inches in thickness, 13 inches in width and 15 feet in length.

Told of the clause of the contract that speaks about the height of the wood, Fofana conceded.

“Actually, I do not know that one,” he told our reporter. “When the wood is above the size required by law, I will reduce it because I cannot fight the government.”  

It was easier for Fofana to have said those words than it is done in forestry. Illegal timber harvest is punishable by a fine of three times the industry’s price of the wood and the total cubic meter of the wood in question. Violators could also face a six-month prison term or both fine and imprisonment, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

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

FDA Authorized Firm’s Illegal Harvest on Private Land


Top: A graphic depicting an elder, illegal logs, abandoned logs and camp, and harvesting maps from an unlawful plan the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) approved. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte

By Esau J. Farr

CONIWEIN, Grand Bassa County – One day in late 2020, Abednego Davies spotted some loggers felling trees on the way to his farm.

The forest does not fall within the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest so, what were they doing there, Davies thought to himself. The land belongs to Coniwein a section in the Marblee Clan in Grand Bassa’s District Number Two. 

Surprised and suspicious, Davies headed back to his village and told the elders, who proved his suspicion was right. In no time, the elders summoned a representative of the African Wood and Lumber Company and halted the illegal operations.

African Wood conceded it encroached on the villagers’ territory and began to negotiate to continue but that would not happen, according to documents The DayLight obtained and elders we interviewed.

The elders knew the harvesting was happening on the Coniwein’s land and so it was illegal. Back in 2019, Coniwein had opted to be part of the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest but African Wood refused, according to Gonaweh Gbiahgaye, one of the elders. The following year,  the elders had warned African Wood from their land while the company prepared to harvest.  

“Coniwein is a section with a substantial deed, which, if you want to do anything, you should meet the citizens,” villagers said in a May 2020 letter to African Wood at the time. Coniwein’s land covers 6,760 acres, a copy of the community’s deed, seen by The DayLight, shows.

Having ignored Coniwein’s warning, African Wood now tried to convince the elders to continue the illegal operations. A meeting by the parties ended in deadlock, according to Gbiahgaye.

The elders wrote Joshua Howard, a manager of the African Wood, rejecting its proposal to keep the logs in question and cut additional ones. Then they asked the company to pay for the logs it had harvested.

“We are telling you not to touch any of the logs or cut down any logs until we all meet and come down to one conclusion,” the January 2021 letter read.

The DayLight photographed the stumps of trees of African Wood and Lumber illegally harvested in Coniwein private forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Such negotiation is prohibited in forestry. Communities are under a legal obligation to inform the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in such matters, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products. It requires the FDA to investigate and seek a court’s approval to confiscate and then auction the logs in question. It also sets a penalty for logging outside a contract area.

But amid their rowdy negotiation, a huge pile of the illegal logs adjacent to Davies’ farm disappeared between March and July, according to some villagers.

African Wood had taken the logs not long after Davies discovered the illegal operations, former workers of the company said. One account had it that the company smuggled the woods overnight. However, The DayLight could not independently verify the claim.

“When they felled the logs, they took some and some remained in the bush. Our work was to extract logs from the bush for the company,” said David, whose duties included fastening the tags bearing barcodes to the logs.   

Another former worker, Daniel Muopoe, corroborated the account. He said, “[African Wood] felled our logs from our community but they never carried [all of them].”

A handwritten letter from Coniwein to African Wood, warning the company against its encroachment on the community’s land. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

In total, African Wood harvested about 200 logs, according to Muopoe and other ex-workers who participated in the illegal operations.

A team of reporters from The DayLight photographed and videotaped some of the logs in a forest near a town called Wayglon before and after the disappearance. White tags clearly brandishing “African Wood & Lumber Company” were attached to the wood. Some standing trees had tags on them, suggesting they had been earmarked for harvesting.  Felled trees lay in the forest in a number of locations, some rotting.

With no logs nor money and three years after Davies’ discovery, Coniwein has decided to inform the FDA about the incident.

Actually, elders attempted to inform the agency but a townsman tasked to lodge a complaint did not do so. “I have not gone to the FDA because I don’t know how to get to them,” Patrick Karngbo, who serves as Coniwein’s land administrator, told The DayLight.

What Coniwein did not know was that the FDA had authorized the harvesting on their land.

The FDA had illegally granted African Wood and six other companies access to excess forests to harvest in short timeframes.  The most infamous of the seven was the West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI). A Ministry of Justice investigation discovered WAFDI had harvested the illicit forest area for nearly three years, exporting thousands of round logs.

Gonaweh Gbiahgaye, an elder of Coniwein Section in District Number Two, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

But African Wood’s harvesting of the illegal FDA-approved forest area remained unreported—until now.

African Wood’s harvesting plan for 2019-2020 shows the FDA authorized the company to cut trees on 5,600 hectares. However, the plan further shows that 6.95 percent of the FDA-approved area was outside Marblee & Karblee, including in Coniwein. 

Doryen wrongly claimed in the letter that the plan conformed with the Guideline for Forest Management Planning and the Regulation on Pre-felling Requirements. “After thorough review… by the joint team…, we hereby approve said plan, having met all basic requirements,” Doryen wrote African Wood’s CEO Cesare Colombo on June 17, 2019.

On the contrary, the plan broke all those legal instruments. Doryen did not respond to questions The DayLight emailed to him for this story.

African Wood’s operations in Coniwein are not the company’s first logging offense.

In December 2020, the company harvested 550 logs in a forest in River Cess without the FDA’s approval. The FDA replaced a ranger in responsible for that region but did not take any known required action against the firm.

Adjacent to Coniwein’s woodland, African Wood has neglected the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest, leaving the landowners with about a US$140,000 debt and abandoning 2,682 logs, according to official records.   

Colombo did not respond to questions for comments.

Lofa Superintendent Extorting Money From Plank Dealers


Top: The Superintendent of Lofa County William Tamba Kamba unlawfully imposed fees on planks produced in the county. Graphic by Rebazar Forte

By James Harding Giahyue and Mason Kollie  

  • The Superintendent of Lofa William Tamba Kamba illegally collects money from plank producers and dealers in the county
  • Forestry laws and regulations do not give a superintendent any power to impose fees on wood
  • Vahun District fought against the Kamba toll system and halted all payments to him
  • Kamba has failed to account for the funds he has collected in three years and counting

VOINJAMA –  The Superintendent of Lofa William Tamba Kamba collects fees from plank producers and dealers in the northwestern county, breaking the law and regulation governing a lucrative but secretive subsector of forestry.

Under the National Forestry Reform Law and the Chainsaw Milling Regulation, superintendents have no such power. Practically, only the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the plank workers union, communities or individuals who own forestlands have.

But since 2020, producers and dealers have had to pay Kamba up to L$1,500 to make or transport planks, according to documents and interviews.

Kamba, who recently constituted a committee on illegal logging and mining, organized a toll taskforce at major FDA checkpoints to collect the so-called “superintendent toll” or “county toll.”

Dealers who transport the woods outside Lofa pay L$1,000 or L$1,500 per truck, depending on the size of the vehicle. Dealers within Lofa pay L$1,500, receipts obtained by The DayLight show. In fact, truck drivers transporting planks must present their toll receipts to pass an FDA checkpoint. Our reporter witnessed some of the payments and checks in Voinjama and Zorzor.

“Now as we are talking, I get two trucks on their way coming I know they took the county fees and the town toll as well,” David Kesselly, a wood dealer in Paynesville, said earlier this month.

Even people who fell trees to make planks, known in the forestry industry as chainsaw millers, pay L$15 per plank and sometimes more.

Kamba introduced the fees in Vahun in 2020 before replicating it across Lofa, plank dealers in the district said.

By then, Vahun’s plank producers and dealers were smuggling planks across the border to Sierra Leone with the help of district officials. Kamba may have taken advantage of a leadership crisis in the district following the suspension of its commissioner in January 2020.

A truck carrying hundreds of planks. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Initially, local officials supported the scheme, according to Duana Momo Kamara, a resident who collected the fees for Kamba at the time. “Many planks were piled in the area as the result of that conflict,” Kamara recalled.

Despite a partial ban on the exportation of planks, those who paid were permitted to export their planks to Sierra Leone, Kamara added. The ban is meant to stabilize the supply of planks on the domestic market, which largely depends on the chainsaw milling subindustry for everything from furniture to construction. Under the regulation, planks can only be exported when barcoded and registered into Liberia’s timber-tracing system, something forestry authorities are yet to put in place.

A toll receipt Superintendent William Tamba Kamba’s office issued to a plank dealer late last year. The DayLight/Mason Kollie
A receipt shows records of Superintendent William Tamba Kamba’s collection of illegal fees from plank dealers in Vahun, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
A receipt a truck driver received from the Office of the Superintendent of Lofa after paying L$1,000 on New Year’s Day. The DayLIght/Mason Kollie

One receipt from Kamara’s records shows he collected L$53,125 at one point in 2021. Out of the amount, L$5,000 was for Kamara, L$10,000 for the Office of the Commissioner of Vahun and L$3,500 for Garmai Kennedy, Lofa’s chief accountant. Kennedy signed several other receipts seen by The DayLight. She declined an interview, referring our reporter to her bosses instead.

Kamba’s Vahun collection continued until last year when Julie Fatorma Wiah, the Representative of Lofa County District #3 halted it. Local officials began to oppose it, over allocation issues and control.   

“I told them to stop giving [the] Superintendent money because he is receiving funding for operations from the government,” Wiah told The DayLight. “If the situation continues and we cannot find a common ground, we will have to inform the central government.”

Kamba eventually discontinued the toll system in Vahun sometime last year, with local officials now presiding over the illegal collection.

“I was not happy about the money that goes to the Superintendent because we’re supposed to use the money in the district,” said Christopher Brima, Vahun’s youth president. “We’re not supposed to give it to the Superintendent.”

There is no public record of the money Kamba has received in the three years of his toll system neither is there any account for its expenditure. Kamara claimed that some of the funds were used to transport players of Lofa in the 2022 County Meet but provided no evidence.

“Please help us as a journalist to find out from the FDA and the Superintendent where they are using the money they collect from us,” Armah Ansu, a wood dealer in Voinjama, told our reporter.

Kollie Zumah, a dealer at Liberia’s oldest wood dealership in Sinkor, expressed the same concern. “I cannot tell who the superintendent toll goes to,” he said.

The Office of the Superintendent evaded every effort by The DayLight to access the information. In November last year, Kamba referred our reporter to Kennedy, who said she needed permission from Flomo Jomah,  the Assistant Superintendent for Fiscal Affairs.  

A chainsaw miller at work in Kpasagizia, Lofa County in November 2022. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

When contacted, Jomah said he was in Monrovia, promising that he would give The DayLight a copy of the toll record upon his return to Voinjama. He has since been out of the county and other efforts to obtain the document up to writing time were unsuccessful.  

Plank dealers, who pay a variety of other fees, said Kamba’s toll hurt them. They said the toll—and a high gasoline cost—made them increase prices, with customers paying more for the same or lesser planks.

“As a business person, you will not like to lose. Therefore, for every expense made on the planks, I have to include it during the sale of the planks,” said Kesselly, the wood dealer in Paynesville. He said he pushed the price of his smallest plank from L$1,200 to L$1,350.

“So, obviously, the toll payment makes me increase the prices of the planks,” Kesselly added. The Liberian Chainsaw Miller and Timber Dealers Union (LICSATDUN) confirmed some of its members have complained about the toll.

‘Under our own creation’

Normally, plank dealers pay US$0.60 to the FDA and L$5 to the Liberian Chainsaw Miller and Timber Dealers Union (LICSATDUN) per plank. They also pay unspecified fees to the towns or villages where they fell trees, in some cases, farmers who claim forestlands or “bush owners.” 

These fees might be normal but they are not entirely legal.  The FDA has failed to regulate the plank sector over the past one-and-a-half decades since it emerged. It has not been transparent about the funds it collects from hundreds of chainsaw millers across the country. The agency did not respond to questions for comments on the matter.

Plank producers, known in the forestry sector as chainsaw millers, make planks in Berkeza, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In that November interview, Kamba wrongly claimed that the Local Government Act gave him the right to impose the toll, which he said affected other goods.

“We organized the toll system that is intended to really aid the county to be able to address the number of administrative and some issues that affect the county,” Kamba told our reporter. He claimed to use the fund to maintain the county’s roads and buy stationery “under our own creation.”  

But the Local Governance Act, one of the first two legal instruments President Weah signed into law back in 2018, does not give superintendents the power to levy fees on any good. It only gives local governments the authority to raise revenues, done by increasing prices and supplies of goods, etc. 

The law gives the power to levy fees or taxes to county councils, governance bodies that comprise chiefs, the youth, the disabled communities and pressure groups.  Moreover, the Lofa County Council has not been formed yet, only neighboring Bong County has so far. And  Superintendents are not even members of county councils, according to the law. 

During our interview, Kamba claimed that the toll system was “[un]functional in most parts of the county,” except in Voinjama, Zorzor and Foya. However, chainsaw millers in Kolahun, Berkeza, Kpasagizia and Salayea told The DayLight they were still paying superintendent toll and some provided receipts.

Kamba’s claim that he uses fees he collected from businesspeople for road repairs appears not to fit the reality. The main route to Lofa is generally currently impassable by vehicles, except for motorcycles and certain cars. It has been that way for decades.

[Emmanuel Sherman, Prince Mulbah and Tenneh Keita contributed to this story.]

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

How FDA Gave Loggers Over 14K Hectares of Surplus Forests


Top: Graphic showing FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen and different illegal activities of West Africa Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Rebazar Forte

By Emmanuel Sherman

GONO TOWN, Grand Bassa County – At the end of 2021, the Ministry of Justice concluded an investigation into a Chinese-owned company accused of illegal logging.  

The investigation confirmed that the West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) harvested logs in the Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest in excess of legal requirements. However, the investigation found WAFDI was not alone.

It turned out, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), which had recommended the official inquest, had illegally awarded WAFDI about 14,460 hectares of extra woodland in Grand Bassa’s Compound Number Two. The agency had approved Gheegbarn’s entire 26,363 hectares to be harvested over two times faster than normal forestry regime demands.

What happened in Gheegbarn was the peak of illegal logging activities in at least seven community forests in four counties. It could be the biggest logging scandal after the FDA illegally awarded about 2.5 million hectares of forestlands to companies over a decade ago.

‘We hereby approve…’

It all began in December 2018 when WAFDI signed a seven-year agreement with the leadership of Gheegbarn #1. (They call it that way to distinguish it from Gheegbarn #2, a neighboring community forest). WAFDI is owned by a Chinese named Wang Chenchen. It has a link with Augustine Johnson, the manager of  Mandra, an Asian-owned company the FDA recently penalized over its abandonment of thousands of logs.

One year on, WAFDI presented the FDA with its harvesting blueprint for five years, known in the industry as a forest management plan. Then it broke down the plan into seasons.

Season 2018-2019, the first, targeted about 3,700 hectares, the documents show. The other plans featured larger harvesting areas, including about 4,000 hectares for the season 2024-2025, according to The DayLight’s estimate.

The unlawful map of WAFDI’s operations in Gheegbarn #1 shows the company’s plan to harvest all the community forest within just seven years, more than two times faster than the normal rate.

The FDA confusingly illegally approved WAFDI’s plans twice, first on July 4, 2019, and then on August 26, 2020, according to official documents.

“We hereby approve said plans having met all basic requirements,” FDA’s Managing Director Mike Doryen said in communications to the company. It ironically hyped the plans for being “complete,” “accurate” and containing “quality information.”

“Therefore, management anticipates full compliance in the implementation of these plans as we strive to ensure sustainable forest management in Liberia,” the letters added.

Plans approved, WAFDI began to operate in 2019, according to official records.

But barely two years later, the FDA disapproved of WAFDI’s attempt to export 601.801 cubic meters of logs. The FDA accused WAFDI of harvesting timber in forest areas it had not permitted.

Later on, the FDA asked the Ministry of Justice to investigate, which it completed in about two months. SGS had reported the matter a month earlier in a monthly publication.

By that time, WAFDI had harvested 6,007 or 32,347.855 cubic meters of logs, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), citing FDA and company records. It exported some 29,104 cubic meters. In 2021 alone, WAFDI sold US$531,460, LEITI records show.

The investigation did more than book WAFDI over the embattled swathe of forest. It found that the FDA was largely responsible for the situation.

Top: A worker watches as logs of West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI) harvested with an illegal plan are loaded onto a container truck. Here: Four container trucks loaded with logs WAFDI illegally harvested in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The investigation found that other logs from the purported unapproved blocks were previously approved and export permits were signed by the FDA… and SGS,” Minister of Justice Frank Musa Dean wrote to Harrison Karnwea, the chairman of FDA’s board of directors, on December 2, 2021.

“WAFDI took advantage of [FDA’s illegal approval] and requested to commence operations and same was granted by FDA beginning 2019,” Dean’s letter further read.

It said FDA and SGS had sanctioned the company’s harvest and export under the very illegal plan FDA. SGS is a Switzerland-headquartered firm that helps track Liberian logs from their sources to final destinations.

The FDA broke the law in the first place by approving the company’s plan to harvest all 26,326 hectares in seven years, the investigation found.  The National Forestry Reform Law requires the FDA to monitor all harvests and ensure they are legal and sustainable. The Code of Harvesting Practices, on the other hand, restricts the rate of felling trees to 15 years.

The investigation unearthed FDA had endorsed the WAFDI-Gheegbarn deal to last for seven years, instead of the 15 years in the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands.

The DayLight’s review of the illegal harvesting plan showed FDA awarded all of Gheegbarn’s 26,326 hectares in just seven years. The regulator further okayed the company to operate somewhere between 3,700 and 4,000 hectares. That was more than doubled the forest area the code requires.

Overall, the FDA granted WAFDI an area in excess of 14,460 hectares of humid, Bassonian forest, according to our calculations. And by the time of the ministry’s inquest, WAFDI had already harvested 11,600 hectares an unlawful bonus of 6,500 hectares. That means, in less than three years, WAFDI cut trees which would have taken seven years to do legally.  

WAFDI was not the only company in the scandal. Within that same period, the FDA illegally approved six other agreements in Grand Bassa, River Cess, Nimba and Gbarpolu.

Like WAFDI, the FDA authorized the companies to harvest all of their contracted forests within the duration of their agreements.

The scandal mirrored another one in Zorzor, Lofa County, where the FDA permitted a company to harvest an estimated US$2 million worth of logs outside its contract area. The FDA replaced its staff who supervised the county at the time.

‘Restore the Sanctity of the FDA’

The Ministry of Justice urged FDA’s board to take action against individuals “to restore the sanctity of the FDA.”

C. Mike Doryen oversaw the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal community forest agreements from 2018 to 2020 that granted companies excess forest areas. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

The board of directors heeded the ministry’s advice. It passed a resolution on January 26 last year, calling for the dismissal of Jerry Yonmah and Simulu Kamara, the technical managers of the commercial and legality verification departments, respectively.

The resolution also called for the dismissal of Abraham Sheriff and Jessie Vannie, the operations and data information managers of the legality verification department, correspondingly. They deny any wrongdoing.

Gualberto Ojo, right, and some of WAFDI’s workers at an event in March. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Five days after its resolution, the board asked President George Weah to sack and retire Joseph Tally, FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Operations. The board accused Tally, who the resolution listed, of aiding in the illegalities.

“This will send a strong message to would-be violators,” Karnwea’s letter to President Weah read. It said the scandal had “eroded the credibility of the management team, thereby affecting donors’ behaviors.”

Though the resolution spared Doryen, who approved all of the illegal documents, he was clearly reprimanded. The resolution advised him not to sign any future documents without the counsel of the FDA’s legal department and that he must attend important meetings to be abreast with forestry matters.

President Weah did not heed the board’s recommendation and Tally remains in his position. Tally told The DayLight in June the matter was now “water under the bridge,” praising “dynamic” and “prudent” President Weah for retaining him.

Also, none of the accused masterminds was fired. However, they were all replaced, giving way to new heads of the commercial, legality and community forest departments.

The Aftermath

In the end, WAFDI’s agreement with the villagers was amended from seven years to 15 years. Subsequently, work in Gheegbarn ceased for about 11 months.  It was unclear whether the FDA and WAFDI corrected its harvesting plan as the Ministry of Justice had instructed. The FDA did not grant The DayLight’s request for that and other documents, a violation of several forestry legal instruments.

As the scandal shook the FDA to the core, it took a toll on Gheegbarn.   

In their agreement, WAFDI promised to build roads, schools, a clinic, and latrines, construct handpumps, and pay scholarship fees. However, the company has not met its obligations.

“They are using the halt as an excuse to not do our projects,” said Junior Wesseh, the head of the community leadership. “They have been operating for five years, only two handpumps and a latrine they dealt with.”

One of the two handpumps in Gono Town, WAFDI constructed. It is obligated to construct eight of them by now. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

Apart from community projects, the company also failed to pay harvesting fees before its operations ceased.

“They said they were not responsible for our cubic meters fee, because they lost US$1 million dollars,” said Larry Tuning, the secretary to the community leadership.

Based on The DayLight’s calculations, WAFDI should pay Gheegbarn US$64,695 for the logs it produced from 2019 to 2021, at least according to official data. We could not independently verify Tuning’s claim in the absence of payment records. By law, WAFDI and the FDA should have published the figures in the newspapers and the agency’s website.

Junior Wesseh, head of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest leadership. The DayLight/Carllucci Cooper

WAFDI called off an interview with The DayLight in its third minute upon Johnson’s orders. Johnson said the newspaper had not given prior notice. He did not respond to emailed queries afterward.  

But responding to criticisms from Gheegbarn’s leadership when the European ambassador visited the area in March, Gualberto Ojo, a WAFDI representative, blamed the company’s indebtedness and failures on the U.S-China trade war and illegal chainsaw milling. The ambassadors had chosen the region as a case study to understand the challenges of community forestry.

Ojo—and the FDA managers present—avoided talking about perhaps forestry’s biggest scandal in the last decade.

The FDA did not return The DayLight’s queries for comments.

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

Women Want to Continue Roles in Troublesome Community Forest


Top: Dugbormar Kwekeh, a member of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest tells European envoys about challenges with commercial logging in that part of Liberia in a March meeting. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Emmanuel Sherman

JIMMY DIGGS TOWN – A logging contract between a community forest and a Chinese-owned company in Compound Number Two, Grand Bassa County is perhaps forestry’s most troublesome agreement today.

But women on the leadership of Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest, which has a contract with West African Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI), desire to continue their roles as elections draw near.

“We will be willing to work again if elected because we want to develop our place,” says Dugbormai kwekeh a member of Gheegbarn’s community assembly (CA). She and other women spoke in the Bassa language through an interpreter.

“We want our children to go to school, we don’t want them to be like us,” Kwekeh added.

Elections for a new corps of officers for the community’s forestry leadership are slated later this year.

Every five years, a forest community elects new members to its community assembly, which represents towns and villages that own the forest. Members of the new assembly then elect officers of its executive committee, the highest decision-making body in community forest governance. The assembly also elects members of the community forest management body (CFMB), which runs the affairs of the community forest. The CFMB tenure ranges from two to five years. The Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands requires at least a slot for a woman on the CFMB.

Oretha Toway, a member of the CFMB  hopes to serve another term. “If appointed again, I will help the new leadership to build the community,” says Toway. “We don’t have any school, hospital.”

Illegal Logging

Gheegbarn’s trouble began from the very beginning in 2018. The FDA illegally approved the community’s Forest agreement with WAFDI with a lifespan of seven years, not 15 as required by law.

After that, the FDA authorized WAFDI harvest of more than three times the size of the forest as the law mandates. It took over three years for the Ministry of Justice to discover the scandal in an investigation.

The ministry later reprimanded FDA, SGS, the firm that created Liberia’s timber-tracking system, and WAFDI for breaking forestry laws and regulations.

The scandal tore off the roof of the FDA and the towns and villages of Gheegbarn. Logging activities in Gheegbarn were halted for nearly a year.  FDA board of directors asked President George Weah to dismiss several senior managers of the agency. That did not happen but a major reshuffle took place. Gheegbarn and WAFDI have retroactively signed a new contract for 15 years.

The women-member of Gheegbarn are aware of the impacts of the scandal on the community, including the over-exploitation of the forest in the last three years. (WAFDI exported 29,104 cubic meters of round logs during that time, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, citing FDA figures). However, it motivates them more.

(L-R) Dubormai Kwekeh, Oretha Toway and Markoni Geezee, members of Gheegbarn Community Forest leadership. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

“I will agree to serve as a member of the assembly, provided there will still be logs in the forest,” says Etta Diggs an assembly member.

The women want to cancel the agreement with WAFDI because it has not lived up to the agreement.

By now, WAFDI should have constructed two schools, connected four farm-to-market roads, and 10 handpumps by now and employed 60 percent of its workforce from Gheegbarn.

“We don’t want the company anymore. They brought poverty on us,” Kwekeh adds.   She had made the same point when EU ambassadors visited the community back in March. Kwekeh’s comments are backed by the law, as villagers can choose to cancel contracts with companies.

But amid the rigmarole with WAFDI, Gheegbarn also has an internal wrangle, which the women also want to address. The executive committee chair Robert Zeogar and the secretary to the CFMB Larry Tuning are at loggerheads with the chief officer of the CFMB Junior Wesseh, according to Wesseh and the women. Efforts to speak to Tuning and Zeogar on the issue did not materialize. Both men were not present during this reporter’s two-day stay in the area and their phones were off.

Wesseh, Zeogar and Tuning are signatories to the account, contrary to the community rights regulation. The regulation mandates the chief officer, the treasurer another authorized community member approved by the assembly.

“The EC chair [Zeogar] and CFMB secretary [Tuning] have been making unauthorized withdrawals with alerts coming to the CFMB chief officer [Wesseh],” says  Jonathan Yiah. Yiah’s NGO, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), works with Gheegbarn’s leadership.  

Markoni Geezee, a member of the assembly would only serve another term given that Tuning and Zeogar are replaced.  She accuses the duo of enriching themselves at the expense of the community.

“We walked till our slippers cut along the way for the company to come but now we are the losers,” says Geezee.  “You only have a few people getting rich from the forest.”

Gheegbarn #1 Community Forest has been a scene of forestry’s biggest scandals in a decade. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Funding for this story was provided by the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over its content.

FDA Illegally Cut Contracts Term And Gave Companies More Forests

created by dji camera

Top: The Forestry Development Authority unlawfully authorized companies to harvest trees in forests in excess of the legal requirements. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By James Harding Giahyue

  • For three years, the Forestry Development Authority illegally approved community forest contracts with reduced tenures, according to official documents
  • The FDA then authorized logging companies to fell trees in forest areas in excess of the legal requirements. Subsequently, the companies were to harvest up to three times more than the lawful timeframe
  • At least one of the companies harvested in an extra forest area for three years before the scandal broke out
  • A Ministry of Justice investigation found the FDA, its partner SGS and a company liable for at least one case

MONROVIA – From 2018 to 2020, the Forestry Development Authority unlawfully approved several contracts in community forests with reduced lifespans. Then the FDA authorized some of the contracted companies to harvest logs yearly in areas more than twice the legal sizes, according to unpublished official documents and an investigation report by the government.  

In those three years, the FDA sanctioned seven logging agreements whose lifespans were sliced from 15 years to between five and 14 years, the documents show.

Thereafter, the agency permitted five companies to operate thousands of hectares of excess forestlands, breaking legal frameworks. At least one of the companies harvested in the extra area about three years before it was discovered in 2021, according to the Ministry of Justice report.  

“The advent of illegality in the forestry sector has eroded the credibility of the management team, thereby affecting donors’ behavior,” Harrison Karnwea, Sr., the chairman of FDA’s board of directors, told President Weah in a letter last January.

“We have started to see the negative impacts on their support to our National Budget,” Karnwea added.

The FDA suspended and replaced four top-level managers after the ministry’s inquest, including Jerry Yonmah, the former technical manager of the commercial department. Yonmah denied any wrongdoing.

FDA board of directors asked President Weah to dismiss Yonmah, the other managers and Deputy Managing Director for Operations Joseph Tally— particularly for Gheegbarn #1. It also asked for the retirement of Tally, who had served the agency for over 30 years at the time. Yonmah had denied any wrongdoing.

Joseph Tally, the deputy managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) speaks at an event when European Union ambassadors visited Gheegbarn #1 in March 2023.  The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

But none of the dismissals happened. Yonmah and the other managers were transferred to new departments, while Tally retains his position. Tally dubbed the matter “water under the bridge” in an emailed statement to The DayLight on Wednesday and said he had a “creditable reputation.”

The scandal was similar to one in Bluyeama, where the FDA sanctioned a company to harvest trees outside its contract area valued at an estimated US$2.2 million.

Illegal Contracts

An agreement between Kparblee Community Forest in Nimba and Sanabel Investment Incorporated was reduced to 14 years. The same happened with Korninga B in Gbarpolu and Indo Africa Plantation Liberia Limited.

Another between Gheegbam #1 and the West African Forest Development Incorporated in Grand Bassa was shortened to seven years.

The FDA also sliced four other agreements to five years. They include Marblee & Karblee and African Wood & Lumber Company, Tarsue and West African Forest Development Inc in Grand Bassa. The Gbarsaw & Dorbor and African Wood & Lumber, Ziadue & Teekpeh and Brilliant Maju agreements in River Cess complete the quadruplet.   

The reductions go against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands and the Community Rights Regulation. The legal frameworks restrict community-forest contracts to 15 years, subject to a review every five years.

The frameworks are key pillars of Liberia’s agenda to share the benefits of forest resources with locals following decades of deprivation.

Leaders of the community forests affected scandal distanced themselves from the illegality of their contracts.

Abraham Cooper of Marblee and Karblee said last year, “We did not sign any agreement behind the government of Liberia.”  

Forest Bonanza

While the FDA cut the lifespans of the seven unlawful contracts, it authorized the companies to cut trees at faster rates to match the legal 15-year period.  In one case, the agency approved a company’s plan to harvest outside its contract area.  

C. Mike Doryen oversaw the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal community forest agreements from 2018 to 2020. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

For instance, the FDA approved African Wood & Lumber Company’s harvesting plan for 5,600 hectares in the Marblee & Karblee Community Forest from 2019 to 2020. It had authorized the company to cut trees on 28,000 hectares for all five years of the operations, according to one of the documents.  

That means the FDA endorsed the company to harvest 3,645 hectares of forest in addition to the 24,355 hectares of the community forest. The FDA even authorized African Wood & Lumber to cut trees outside the community forest. Nearly seven percent of the area crosses over to territories belonging to adjacent towns and villages, one document shows.

“After thorough review… by the joint team…, we hereby approve said plan, having met all basic requirements,” Doryen wrote African Wood CEO Cesare Colombo, approving its plan for the 2019-2020 harvest season.  

Doryen wrongly claimed in the letter that the plan contained accurate, complete and quality information. He incorrectly referenced the Guideline for Forest Management Planning and the Regulation on Pre-felling Requirements.

By law, African Wood & Lumber should have gotten 1,600 hectares per year, according to the guidelines and regulations Doryen cited. (It was unclear whether the company actually harvested in the extra area or outside the forest.)

Cesare Colombo, African Wood & Lumber owner and CEO, did not respond to emailed queries for comments.  

A screenshot of a page of a harvesting plan the Forestry Development Authority approved that illegally gave Marblee & Karblee 5,600 hectares of land, instead of 1,600 hectares. It also shows that the FDA authorized the company to cut trees outside its contract area in Grand Bassa’s Compound Number Two.

The height of the scandal was the West Africa Forest Development Incorporated (WAFDI). The company actually harvested logs in the extra forest area the FDA approved in 2018.

In late 2021, the Ministry of Justice uncovered that the company had been operating on an illegal harvesting plan. Ironically, the FDA and WAFDI had disagreed over the export of logs from the very illegal area the regulator had approved.  

But by then, WAFDI had exported some 29,104 cubic meters of round logs from 2019 to 2021, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). In 2021 alone, WAFDI sold US$531,460 million LEITI records show, citing FDA and company figures.

The ministry reprimanded FDA, WAFDI and SGS, a Switzerland-based firm that created Liberia’s log-tracking system, for the violations.

Minister of Justice Musa Dean said in a letter to Karnwea that Doryen approved WAFDI’s plan “although such management plan violated… the National Forestry Reform Law… and the Code of Harvesting Practices… 

“FDA was in gross violation of the law in failing to ensure that the approved management plan reflected the portion of the forest area that could be harvested within seven years… and not allow blanket harvesting of the entire area for five years,” Dean’s letter read.   

FDA’s board of directors urged Managing Director Mike Doryen, who approved all the illegal contracts and harvesting plans, to sign future documents with the advice of the FDA’s legal department.

The board also suggested that Doryen attended sector meetings to abreast himself with governance and operational matters. Doryen still skips those meetings, according to two regular attendees of the regular gatherings. At an international climate and forest conference Liberia hosted earlier this year, he had promised to attend the meetings. Doryen did not return a thread of emails we sent to him between last February and this month.

WAFDI called off an interview in its third minute with The DayLight at the company’s camp in Compound Number Two. A company executive said The DayLight did not inform them about the interview beforehand.

Abandoned Agreements

All of the other companies involved in the scandal have deserted their responsibilities to the government and the communities.

African Wood & Lumber has not worked in Marblee & Karblee in the last three years. It abandoned some 2,682 logs in Marblee & Karblee. And it owes the company an estimated US$126,029 community in land rental and harvesting fees.

Indo Africa has abandoned Korninga B, which had filed for cancellation of the deal following years of stalemate.

WAFDI no longer works in Tarsue, which did not have the right to sign an agreement when logging began there. Locals had considered terminating the contract.

African Wood walked out of the agreement with Gbarsaw & Dorbor, where it illegally harvested 550 logs in December 2020.    

Gbarsaw & Dorbor is one of the community forests for which the FDA approved an illegal logging agreement. The DayLight/William Q. Harmon

Similarly, Brilliant Maju has not been active for years, according to local media and a union of authorized community forests. The company has failed to fulfill its side of the agreement with Ziadue & Teekpeh.   

Sanabel abandoned 710 logs in Kparblee, and owes the Nimba community in land and harvesting fees, according to villagers.

“The agreements are dormant,” said Bonathan Walaka, the lead facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Management Body. “They are all dormant.”

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