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Weary of Logging Contracts, Locals  Doubtful of Carbon Deal


Top: Liberia’s proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates targets areas in Lofa County, which hosts logging agreements. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By Emmanuel Sherman 

MONROVIA – Forest communities across the country have shown reluctance over Liberia’s negotiation with UAE-based Blue Carbon fearing it would fail them like logging contracts.

Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the Royal family of the United Arab Emirates, signed a carbon credit memorandum of understanding (MoU) in March with the Liberian government.

The deal intends to cover over one million hectares of forestlands in River Cess, Sinoe, Gbarpolu, Lofa and Margibi, places that have had bad experiences with logging contracts.

“We are already challenged with [logging] that has a legal framework,” says Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), comprising some 500 logging-affected communities.

“Our fear is the actual benefit community should get may not get because we don’t know how it is and how it will be,” adds Zelemen.

Logging companies began signing contracts with forest communities over 15 years ago, a major component of Liberia’s forestry reform.

But most contracts have failed, with companies owing huge sums of land rentals and harvesting fees. They have failed to start or complete mandatory projects.  

Matthew Walley, an affected community leader of a 57,287-hectare forest that the proposed agreement targets, questions the proposed MoU’s payment method.  

“If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation? How will it be done? Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism,” says Walley.

“The government can’t just come and say this place is declared as a carbon area. We will not accept it,” says Walley.

Andrew Zelemen, national coordinator, National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC). The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Blue Carbon intends to avoid the pitfall of logging, according to the draft agreement, seen by The DayLight.  Communities stand to receive a credit royalty of 10 percent of the value of the carbon credits the forest will generate.

It proposes a payment scheme through a five-person committee, two each from the community and the government and one from Blue Carbon.

“Community will directly benefit from a dedicated Account, not the consolidated account,” says Adams Manobah, the Chairman of Liberia Land Authority (LLA). “And that benefit will go directly into their own account that will be controlled by the people themselves.”

The International community has criticized the proposed payment mode for being vague, according to a document seen by The DayLight.

But communities should not depend on Blue Carbon’s contract for their shares of carbon credits, according to Zelemen. There should be a “roadmap” for carbon trading.

In the roadmap, develop a legal framework that will guide the process of carbon trade like we have law guiding timber trade,” says Zelemen. NGOs have made the same call.

Both Blue Carbon and Liberia want the deal to help their climate targets.  Liberia has a commitment to reduce carbon emissions in its forestry sector in halves by 2030.  Blue Carbon, on the other hand, intends to remove carbon from the global economy with such MoUs in line with the UN agenda to combat climate change.

But communities have not been consulted, a violation of Liberia’s Land Rights Act (LRA) and the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Land, and other legal instruments.

These laws give the communities the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to land and forest-related concessions. A UN-backed doctrine, FPIC requires that villagers give their consent to contracts prior to any project or negotiation.

“I’m not aware [of] the negotiation between the government of Liberia and the Blue Carbon company from UAE,” said Jerome Poye, a member of an affected community in Gibi District, Margibi County, that the draft agreement also targets.

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).

FDA ‘Aide’ And LRA Agent Help Smuggle Planks to Sierra Leone


Top: A Sierra Leonean truck awaits locals in Vahun, Lofa County to smuggle planks into the neighboring country. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

  • A self-proclaimed aide of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and a customs officer collect fees on planks exported to Sierra Leone through Vahun, Lofa County
  • But the export of such woods is strictly prohibited under forestry legal frameworks
  • The smuggling of planks is an open secret and has been going on in that region for years
  • Vahun’s bad road networks and its closeness to Sierra Leone fuel the illicit trade
  • The FDA said it is investigating the matter

VAHUN, Lofa County – Planks produced in Liberia are not allowed to be exported. They are made solely to support construction works within the country since round logs are meant entirely for foreign markets.

But that rule does not apply in Vahun, Lofa County’s district on Liberia’s northwest border with Sierra Leone. Locals here smuggle planks in broad daylight, thanks to agents of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).

Instead of blocking the trafficking of wood, the agents do the exact opposite. Abraham Konneh, a villager who claims to be an aide, gets unspecified amounts on consignments of planks crossing the border. Richard Gbargondah, the LRA chief collector in that region, collects L$20 on each wood.

“The FDA people are aware that we sell the wood in Sierra Leone. LRA and the police, too,” said  Daoda Kromah, a chainsaw miller in the region.  The FDA and the LRA get toll.” Daoda Kromah is not his real. His and the names of other chainsaw millers in this story have been changed to protect them from any reprisals.

The DayLight obtained a number of receipts of the illegal transactions. That was also corroborated by chiefs, elders, and plank makers, known in the forestry sector as pit-sawyers or chainsaw millers. The term “chainsaw millers” come from the millers’ use of chainsaws or power saws. “Pit-sawyers” connotes a centuries-old method of producing planks with a handheld saw by placing a tree trunk over a pit.   

It appeared the isolated nature of Vahun, one of the most forested places in Liberia, plays a part in the plank scam. The district is cut off from other parts of Lofa due to its bad road networks. People here conduct all of their businesses across the border, including the purchases of gasoline and spare parts for chainsaws. In fact, they even use Leone,  the Sierra Leonean currency.

‘Just a token’

“Please allow the [bearer] of this document to carry his truck of planks,” Konneh said to the Vahun police depot in a note, seen by The DayLight. It was in reference to 200 planks that were to be trafficked on March 23 earlier this year.

Konneh said Ben Miller, an FDA ranger assigned at the Proposed Wonegizi Nature Reserve, appointed him as an aide, a claim supported by other villagers. He said he collected up to 200,000 Leones (L$1,700) on each transport of planks to Sierra Leone.

“The sawyers themselves declare [their production] and give what they have,” Konneh said in an interview. “Sometimes they don’t pay. It is just a token.”  We caught up with Miller 139 miles away in Konia but he declined an interview.  

Locals smuggle planks across Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone via Vahun, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Gbargondah’s LRA scam is more organized than Konneh’s FDA profiteering. It all started with a meeting on tax collection Gbargondah organized some time ago. He had convinced locals that paying taxes would record Vahun’s contribution to the Liberian government’s revenue.

“I did not want to be counted among the unproductive custom officers,” said Gbargondah, who controls the tax region from Barziwen, Zorzor District to the Sierra Leonean border in Vahun.

People started to comply with the tax code, including Gbargondah’s illegal plank scheme. He charges L$20 on each plank and only allows records from 100 pieces and above. Unlike the FDA agent, he provides official LRA receipts to make the payments look genuine, deceiving the townspeople that the money they pay goes into the government’s revenue.  

Gbargondah claimed that he started to collect the duties on planks just four months ago. However, receipts of some of the illegal transactions show earlier dates. He collected L$8,000 on 1,000 planks valued at L$533,333.99 on May 14, 2022, for example, according to one of the documents.   

Also, the procedure for payment in Gbargondah’s scheme is a red flag. Invoices for the exportation of timber do not come from the LRA. They are generated within the chain of custody, a system that tracks the wood from their sources to the buyers, and has become to be a game-changer in Liberia’s quest to tackle illegal logging. It is a major component of Liberia’s trade agreement with the European Union, known as the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).

‘We are not happy’

Vahun’s chainsaw millers said they were aware planks are not to be sold on foreign soil but had no option. Predominantly farmers and gardeners, incomes from smuggled planks help them clean their farms and take care of household needs, according to them. They said they sell construction and furniture woods between L$600 and L$1,400 in Leones. Ishmael Kamokai, a chainsaw miller in a town called Folima told The DayLight his main customer was a woman in the Sierra Leonean city of Kenema he only named Lucia.

Piles of newly milled planks lined up the route to the border in the Guma Mande Clan. Rotting planks, blackened from years of rain and sunbath, could be seen nearly everywhere on the 30-mile road.

A heavy truck with a Sierra Leonean license plate was parked in Folima. Kromah, Kamokai and townspeople interviewed said the vehicle crossed the border nearly every week, transporting up to 250 planks per trip. It is the most infamous of all the smuggling vehicles. Ibrahim Sannoh, its driver, evaded an interview.   

“We are not happy as Liberians to take the resources of the country to carry in Sierra Leone but no other way,” said Kamokai.  

“Vahun has lots of resources, including diamonds, gold and other things. Because of the lacking of road connectivity completely, this is why most of our resources can go to the neighboring country,” adds Mohammed Kamara, the central clan chief for Guma Mande. “You cannot expect people who live here with resources and they are not well connected to their own country.”

The road from Vahun to Kolahun is one of the worst in the country. Untrimmed bushes make it difficult to see the ground. Erosion caused by yearly rainfalls, rocks and steep hills feature almost permanently. At one point, it takes a deep left turn at the head of a cliff so deep that even the green and yellow coloring of a cocoa garden on its side could not cover the lurking danger.

Kromah narrated how he and other chainsaw millers attempted to transport some 800 planks to Voinjama in a truck in 2017 but lost all the woods. He said they had to pay for the repair of the vehicle and needed a full year to recover from the loss.

“If you go on the road, you will see some of the woods,” he said with a dry smile. “We lost more than L$1 million.”

The LRA did not reply to queries emailed them nearly two weeks ago up to writing time.

The FDA said it did not have a local office in Vahun, and that Miller had denied authorizing Konneh to collect fees in the name of the agency. Konneh also denied he collects tolls, despite admitting to doing so in our interview.

“We do not take this at face value and are investigating along with the authorities,” said Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the FDA legal team in an emailed statement.

Planks by the roadside toward Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone in Vahun, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Edward Blamo contributed to this report.

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

How Logging Benefits Some Communities In Lofa


Top: Kpayaquelleh Community Clinic is one of several projects undertaken from logging resources in Salayea District, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

SALAYEA DISTRICT, Lofa County – The Kpayarquelleh Community Clinic sits on a hill in the town whose name it bears. Established in 2018, it caters to nearly 2,000 people here and seven other towns and villages between 10 km and 55.6 km all the way to Gbarpolu County. Its services include maternity, emergency, vaccination and other things. Drugs sold at the clinic are less costly as compared to other clinics, according to its administrators.    

But the clinic is not run by the Ministry of Health or a nongovernmental organization. It is supported by community leaders with funds they generate from a logging concession signed between the government of Liberia and Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company. The 25-year concession was signed in 2009, covering 74,186 hectares of forestland in Salayea and Zorzor.

“The money we get from the company, the community forest leadership purchases drugs,” says Deddeh Momolu, the deputy officer in charge of the clinic, in an interview with The DayLight. A sketch map of the clinic and another poster of communities, their distances and populations adorn a wall of the clinic.

“We are doing this because the funds are logging benefits we get from Alpha. Affected communities own the clinic,” Momolu adds.

By law, towns and villages affected by logging concessions signed between the government and companies are entitled to benefits from their forests. That is a crucial component of forestry reform in a country that marginalized locals for decades. But many communities are yet to receive things like log-harvesting and land rental, scholarship fees and dozens of mandatory projects. The government canceled over seven small-scale contracts in March earlier this year, leaving communities’ arrears unpaid, and promises of roads, schools and clinics unfulfilled by the companies that held those contracts.

Yet the Kpayarquelleh Clinic—and other projects here in the Salayea and Zorzor districts that were built with logging money—is a reminder of how forest resources can benefit rural communities.

Townspeople view a newly constructed teachers’ lodge in Ganglota, Salayea District in 20019, built with logging money. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 

Apart from the clinic, Salayea and Zorzor have seen a dozen of projects conducted with logging money between 2016 and last year that cost more than US$75,000. You have a guesthouse in Gorlu and another in Beyan Town, a market hall in Gbonyea and a school building in Fassawalazu. Six handpumps have been constructed in towns and villages as well as four toilets. Three hundred homes have received roofing sheets. There is a teachers’ lodge in Ganglota and Kpayarquelleh just next to the clinic. There is a resource center nearby—with forest-related books and development materials—where community meetings are held. And there is one concrete bridge under construction, one of two passages in the concession area.

“In terms of benefits to rural communities, the communities in FMC-A Lofa are benefiting to some extent in terms of the National Forestry Reform Law,” says Andrew Zelemen, the head of the secretariat of the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committees (NUCFDCs). “FMC-A Lofa” is the industry name for the Forest Management Contract Area A of Lofa County.  The NUCFDC represents the interest of villagers whose forests are awarded to concessioners countrywide.  

“We are appreciative of the work Alpha is doing there and we look forward to other companies doing that,” says Ekema Witherspoon, the head of the secretariat of the Liberia Timber Association (LibTA), which represents the interest of logging companies. “That is what we want.”   

Alpha pays the community regularly for logs it harvests compared to other companies. It shares harvesting data with locals for checks and balances, according to Zelemen, who is also a member of the leadership of Salayea and Zorzor. He says the company is also regular with its harvesting payment.

It would have paid more if the coronavirus pandemic had not taken a toll on the company, stifling production and export, according to George Smith, the company’s general supervisor.  

The industry’s numbers speak well for Alpha. Between 2009 and December last year, it paid the government of Liberia US$5,457,037, the second-highest in the entire industry, according to official records. Only International Consultant Capital, which operates in River Cess and Nimba, paid more (US$ 9,501,939.46).                     

“It is commendable when companies fulfill social agreements that are signed with the affected communities and we congratulate Alpha for doing so,” says Roberto Kollie, of the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB). The board is responsible to collect annual land rental fees from the government and oversee their expenditure in communities. Villagers are legally entitled to 30 percent of the land rental fee, which is a product of the total size of the forest and US$2.50. That is US$55,639.50 each year.  

Women dance at the dedication of a guesthouse in Gorlu, Salayea District in 2019 that build by villagers themselves with money they obtained from Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“We call on all companies to follow the example of Alpha by making sure that social agreements are fully implemented,” Kollie adds.  

But all has not been rosy.

Just two years ago, the company and villagers had a frosty relationship over the payment of fees and projects. Villagers set up roadblocks and stopped the company from working. The protest was quelled only after the company made a commitment to pay some of its debt and promised to pave roads and erect bridges in the area.

The quality of some of the projects is poor, including the market hall in Gbonyea and guesthouses in Gorlu and  Beyen Town, according to Kollie. “The National Benefit Sharing Trust Board has put in mechanisms that will ensure that greater value for money is achieved and the quality of projects improved during future implementation,” he tells The DayLight via email.  

And Alpha still owes the communities here and in Gbarpolu over US$2 million in land-related fees, according to official records.  

Witherspoon says there is still much to celebrate.

“One clear message it sends to the forestry sector, in general, is that there is a possibility for companies and communities to work together in a win-win situation,” says Witherspoon whose group conducted alternative dispute resolution (ADR) meetings with the parties that same year.

Payment Issues

By law, companies are to pay land rental fees to the government, which must pay communities 30 percent of that amount every year but that has not been the case. Between 2007 and 2019, the government paid communities US$2.6 million, seven times less than the legal amount, according to a 2020 report by Forest Trends. a 2020  report by Forest Trends, a U.S.-based NGO that promotes the sustainable management of forests, and conservation. The government reduced that amount by US$200,000 last year, after a string of protests at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in Monrovia.  

To put that into context, out of the US$5.4 million Alpha has paid to the government, villagers in Salayea and Zorzor should have received US$1.6 million. That is more than half the amount the government has remitted to all the 23 communities that host forest concessions.  

“The Benefit Sharing Trust Board continues to remain engaged with the government in ensuring that communities receive their fair shares of land rental fees,” Says Kollie. He tells me the institution is securing the payment of US$500,000 of the US$2.7 million allotted in the National Budget, with barely four months left in this year.

Zelemen calls for a long-term solution to the problem.

“We want to see an amendment to the law that will say that the 30 percent the law provides for the community should go directly to the Benefit Sharing Trust Board to avoid the bottleneck issues,” Zelemen says.

“I want to also see that the companies are paying on an annual basis,” he adds. The law provides that logging firms must pay their land rental fees before the date of the award of the concession each year. Moreover, payment of forest-related fees is a requirement for harvesting, export and new forest contracts. But that has not been enforced. Companies’ indebtedness to communities is the most common irregularity in the forestry sector.

A boy washes clothes next to a concrete bridge in Kpayarquelleh, Lofa County, which was constructed with funds raised from logging operations in that area. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue 

For Momolu at the Kpayarquelleh Clinic, it will be a relief for her and the 20 to 25 patients treated there daily when the concrete bridge on the road to the facility is completed. The road is impassable during the rainy season for vehicles. Cars bringing women in labor and emergency cases had to take a farther route in order to bypass the bridge.    

“That bridge will really be helpful to us,” Momolu says. “Let the company give what it has for the community so that we can continue our services, and continue to buy drugs.”  

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

Company Abandons Some 2,500 Logs

Abandoned logs
A pile of logs abandoned by Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited

Top: Some of the logs Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited abandoned at its sawmill in Zorzor, Lofa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: In this second part of a series on Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited, we reveal how the Singaporean logging company abandoned a large number of logs in Lofa and Grand Bassa.    

BALAGWALAZU, Lofa County – Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited, a Singaporean logging company, might have harvested about US$2.2 million worth of logs outside its concession in Bluyeama Community Forest mainly between 2018 and last year.

But it has abandoned about 2,500 logs it cut within that period, including logs the company illegally harvested, further investigation The DayLight conducted into the firm’s operations discovered. Around a fifth of the logs have already decayed.  

Legally, logs are abandoned when they are left unattended between 15 and 180 days, depending on their location and the result of a three-month government-run inquiry. That means even logs Sing Africa felled in December last year, the latest of its production, are abandoned.

Our calculations of the company’s official production and export records between 2019 and last year show that it has 1,426 logs that have not been exported. Having only obtained production and shipment data in volume between 2017 and 2018, we estimated the difference of  10,761 cubic meters to be 1070 logs.  

The logs are scattered at different locations. Most of them are in the company’s sawmill in Balagwalazu, with some in its log yards on the Gbarnga-Lofa highway and in Grand Bassa County.

We counted about 500 woods—several with Sing Africa markings—in a large open field in Buchanan, all of which have already decayed. Their remnants created sponge-like coatings everywhere as if the area were a graveyard for trees. You could take the cawing of birds that pierced the quietude of the deserted area for a eulogy.

“It’s not even good for charcoal now,” said one woman, who did not want to be named due to safety reasons.   

The members of the leadership of Bluyeama Community Forest, who monitor the company and have records of all its operations, corroborated our findings. Gayflorson Korballah, one of Bluyeama’s leaders, pointed out huge piles of logs that had been harvested in 2017 and 2018. Alexander Songu, the head of the leadership, said most of the ones in the log yard had been harvested in 2019.    

We traced some of the logs to the company’s official production records from their tracking numbers.   

Tracking logs is a major component of postwar forestry reform in Liberia. Every tree felled must have an identification number that can be used to track logs from harvest to export.

The illegal logging and the failure of the company to pay the community its benefits have left locals frustrated. Since 2009, villagers have had the right to manage their forests alongside the government. Bluyeama, a 49,444 hectare woodland in the Zorzor District bordering Gbarpolu, was certified in 2011.

Following a difficult relationship with Ecowood, a previous logging company, it signed an agreement with Sing Africa in January 2016. But the company has not lived up to its promises. It owes both the Liberian government and the community US$121,271, according to the record of a meeting of players in the forestry industry on the implementation of Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union official records released in March earlier this year. That is one of the highest debts any company owes in the entire forestry sector.     

Loss of Revenue

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has known about the abandoned-logs issue since, at least, two years ago, evidence shows. In August 2020, an inquest by the agency found that Sing Africa abandoned 675 pieces of ekki wood (Lophira alata), an expensive, first-class log, in Buchanan. It also found that Star Wood—run by the Guptas, the Singaporean family that owns Sing Africa—left 465 logs at that same location.  

Some abandoned logs in a log yard on the Gbarnga-Lofa highway, owned by  Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Limited. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“Logging contract holders are not doing much to minimize [the] incident of abandoned logs,” the report, leaked to us,  said at the time. It said companies were harvesting logs without first securing sales contracts.

“Much-needed revenues that the national government requires for national development have been lost due to the unprecedented abandonment of assorted round logs by logging companies,” it added.  

But it was only two months ago that the FDA started to take action. In April, it gave all companies a one-month period to declare the logs they had not shipped. Managing Director Mike Doryen told The DayLight a countrywide auctioning of abandoned logs would have begun at the end of that month, which did not happen.

“[Bluyeama] is an area of concentration for ourselves,” Doryen said. “Those who did not remove their logs as per the stipulated time, the lawyer will now go to the court to seek judicial actions to have the logs confiscated the auctioned.”

Doryen’s timeline for an auction was impossible. It takes several months of court orders and required notices for abandoned logs to be auctioned, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products. There were no records of such order at the circuit courts in Voinjama and Buchanan.   

It was until earlier this month that the FDA began to inquire countrywide about abandoned logs, following three reports by The DayLight on the subject. Harris Zeah, the ranger responsible for Lofa, Bong and Margibi, was suspended and replaced a week after our report of illegal logging in Bluyeama. “Management’s action is predicated upon your consistent failure to meet work plan objectives, including your failure to adequately and timely address noncompliance issues in… the Bluyeama Community Forest,” Zeah’s suspension letter read.

Mukesh Gupta, Sing Africa’s CEO and head of the Guptas, denied any wrongdoing, blaming the coronavirus pandemic.  

“We were loading by containers but when the Covid-19 hit, there was no buyer,” Gupta told The DayLight in an interview at the company’s Rehab office in Paynesville. “Covid-19 has damaged us so much. I think I should be supported, given the kind of investments we have made in the community.”  

Though the pandemic shattered supply chains worldwide, especially in the Asian markets Sing Africa exports its logs, the company continued to cut trees. Between 2019 and 2020, it harvested 2,000 logs, according to official records. And while it only exported 189 logs during that time, it added 166 logs the following year. It did not apply for force majeure, a legal recourse companies take to address things like disease outbreaks, conflicts and natural disasters.

“We never cut the trees thinking that they would be abandoned. We cut the trees thinking that Covid-19 would go away soon. We are surprised that Covid-19 has stayed on for long,” Gupta added.

Sing Africa faces millions of United States dollars in fines and could be one of the heaviest in the Liberian logging industry’s history. Abandonment of woods in log yards, sawmills and ports carries a fine of three times the international prices of each class of logs.  

The regulation was created to prevent waste of forest resources and to make sure companies harvest logs sustainably. It replaced an earlier regulation that narrowed the definition of abandonment to logs found outside a concession, lacking tracking barcodes. Its establishment in 2017 came amid a crackdown on illegal logging by importing countries, including the European Union.  

Waste of the logs from Bluyeama adds to the Zorzor region’s forest loss. From 2002 to last year, the district lost 20.6-kilo hectares of humid primary forest, according to Global Forest Watch, which tracks deforestation worldwide. That number is one of the highest among community forests, according to a study by the FDA and the World Resource Institute, a global research charity. Tree cover loss refers to the removal of forest canopy by people or nature.

Zahn Dehydugar of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists contributed to this report.  

The fund for the story was provided by Fern. The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over its content.