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Villagers’ Hopes Hang as Loggers Battle in Court


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

By Emmanuel Sherman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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