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Women Want to Continue Roles in Troublesome Community Forest

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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.

Early Signs Logging Contract Is Failing

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Top: Grass-covered culverts meant to construct handpumps for communities adjacent to the Central Morweh Community Forest. The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon


By Gabriel M. Dixon


BOEGEEZAY TOWN, River Cess – Cracks have started to emerge in this new logging agreement in southcentral Liberia.

Central Morweh Community Forest signed a contract with the Kisvan Timber Corporation In March 2021. To harvest logs in a 19,091-hectare forest, The company promised the villagers safe drinking water, roads, support for healthcare, and a school. It also promised to pay fees for harvesting and the use of the community’s land.

Now three years after the contract, Kisvan has yet to complete the handpumps, and schools and provide fees for clinics. It has outstanding payments for land rental and harvesting, according to the villagers.  

“The time should have been last year December with the company for the completion of the hand pumps and the school,” said Clinton Cephus, head of the community’s forest leadership.    

“From 2022 to this year we have not received scholarship benefits, [and]… this year we have yet to receive payment for land rental fees,” he said.

As part of their February 2021 agreement,     the company agreed to construct a road from Boegeezay Town to Sameria Town, and three metal or concrete bridges over the Duahn, Guahn, and Nepu creeks.

The road from Boegeezay to Sameria should have been completed in December 2022, and the construction of the three bridges next year.

Kisvan also agreed to complete 16 handpumps and a 10-classroom  school and offices in the first year of the contract from February 2021 to December 2022.

Apart from infrastructure, the company agreed to provide an annual scholarship fund of US$6,000 and healthcare services support of US$5,000.

The contract also requires the company to pay another US$6,000 per quarter for the services of community forest guards. 

Van Ngo, the CEO of Kisvan, admits the projects are yet to be completed.

“This season, we started very late (middle of February) due to the very down market. We are doing our best to keep up with the social commitments and our operations,” Mr. Ngo tells The DayLight via email.

That was the exact opposite of what he claimed back in March in an interview in Kisvan’s log yard in Buchanan, Grand Bassa. Except for the school, claimed then every project. “We are always committed and we are always on top of it to ensure that we working well with them,” Mr. Ngo said at the time.  

Amid his admittance, Mr. Ngo claims the company has done better than what Cephus and the villagers allege. He says Kisvan has completed 75 percent of a school project in Kporkon. This reporter saw the unfinished school building in Kporkon but could not independently verify Mr. Ngo’s claim.

A youth struggles to pump water out of a handpump well built by Kisvan in Kporkon. The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon

Mr. Ngo denies his company had outstanding payments to villagers. He claimed he paid all the fees as of last year without showing any evidence of the payments.

Mr. Ngo also claims the company has completed 50 percent of the handpumps and the community “appreciates” a 35-meter log bridge there. The villagers we interviewed did not give that impression.

Villagers say the school is substandard for a US$40,000 project. They say the project has no blueprint, there was no bidding process for the contractor and Cephus did not consult them.

Cephus concedes to those claims. “It (selection of company) was done through the [community forest leadership’s] office, which needed not to have been so,”  he says.

Kisvan also owes the community one year in land rental and scholarship fees, according to Cephus, and has not paid any money for harvesting.

A US$40,000 uncompleted school in Kporkon Town,  which has been rejected by  the community people: The DayLight/Gabriel M. Dixon

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) did not grant The DayLight access to Kisvan’s exports. The company also did not provide that information upon our request. Their denial violates a number of forestry laws and regulations.  

Cephus claims the company has shipped some 5,700 cubic meters of logs but did not provide any proof.  

Mr. Ngo said back in March that “We have 2,000 cubic meters of logs” at Kisvan’s log yard. The DayLight photographed several of the logs, marked with “KTC,” the company’s industry-recognized abbreviation. Some were in squared form.

Mr. Ngo’s comments in that March interview indicate Kisvan exported logs. At one point, he complained that it was expensive to export timber in containers through the Freeport of Monrovia.

The Forestry Development Authority breaks its regulation by permitting Kisvan to export logs while it remains indebted to Central Morweh. The Regulation on Forest Fees prohibits the FDA from granting companies with debt export permits. The agency did not respond to questions on the matter.

Roadblocks and ‘Devil’

In forestry, communities sign a forest management agreement with the FDA for 15 years, subject to a five-year review.  Thereafter, they can enter logging agreements with third parties. The scheme is meant to share forest benefits with locals.

But the signs of the failure two years into their agreement with Kisvan, villagers in Central Morweh are concerned whether they would benefit from their forest.  

“The community [is] vexed now and asked the… the leadership to call the company to tell them what they’re doing is not going down well with us,” says Sarah Neegar,  a member of the community assembly from  Kporkon Town. The community assembly comprises representatives of towns and villages that own the forest and is the highest decision-making body in community forestry.

Some of the logs Kisvan Timber Corporation Harvested from the Central Morweh Community Forest in River Cess County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“We told the [leadership] to call the company so we can discuss with them but since that time they can’t come,” adds Neegar. 

“If the company [doesn’t] come, we will put a roadblock, to put our Bassa devil and be dancing. Then now somebody will come in.” Devil is the Liberian parlance for a traditional mask dancer whose outing could connote celebration or chaos.  

Neegar’s comments are echoed by Junior Gbatea,  the youth chairman of Kporkon Town.

Cephus shrugged off any threat of a protest. “Well, I don’t know their thinking because every individual has his/her own understanding or doing things,” he tells The DayLight.

His comments align with the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Land. The law lays down specific ways forest communities can seek redress, and none has to do with protest or violence.

Court Files: FDA Deputy Dodged Police Illegal Logging Probe

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Top: FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance Benjamin Tennessee Plewon III did not turn out for questioning over his alleged involvement with an illegal logging operation in 2022. Facebook/Benjamin Plewon


By O`Neill Philips for The DayLight


MONROVIA – The Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance Benjamin Tennessee Plewon III Forestry Development Authority refused to cooperate with a police investigation into an illegal logging operation, court documents reveal.    

The Liberian National Police invited Plewon over his alleged connection to men suspected of illegally harvesting logs in Gbarpolu County last year, according to the documents. The police filed the documents last year but The DayLight only obtained them last week.

The suspects, including Korean nationals, FDA rangers, a then-police commander and a customs officer, are accused of trying to smuggle timber valued at US$60,000, the documents say.

“The investigation notes that Benjamin Tennessee Plewon… failed to honor the invitation, which constitutes hindering law enforcement…,” reads a police report filed with Criminal Court A. No charges were filed against Plewon.

A copy of an export permit issued to Coveiyallah, which the Deputy Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Benjamin Tennessee Plewon III allegedly provided to an illegal logging syndicate. Members of the syndicates have been charged with various offenses, ranging from economic sabotage to bribery.

Plewon is accused of providing the export permit of Coveiyallah, according to the documents. Coveiyellah, which operates in Gbarpolu, owns the permit.

Plewon allegedly gave the permit to Isaac Railey, the head of the FDA law enforcement department. Railey then presented the permit to Dawoda Sesay, then a police commander in the Paynesville area, according to the filings. Sesay has since been disrobed and Railey suspended.

Plewon did not respond to WhatsApp questions or pick up calls for comments on the allegation. 

The DayLight exposed the illegal operation in August last year after the FDA seized three trucks transporting the illicit timber. An alleged disagreement over the payment of a bribe had exposed the syndicate, according to court filings.   

The police charged Railey, Sesay and several other suspects with economic sabotage and other crimes.  

The men deny the charges. They have not been indicted, about six months after their arrest and release on bail by the Monrovia City Court.


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

Logs Left at Sinoe Port and Forest Rot

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Top: Several logs Delta Timber Company left at the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County that have now decayed. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman


GREENVILLE, Sinoe County – Scores of logs at the port of Greenville and a community forest belonging to a logging company have decayed in the southeastern county, despite the company producing perhaps the least number of timber in the industry.  

Delta Timber Corporation produced the timber in the last five years, based on the company’s official harvesting records. It is believed the company took the logs to the port between 2017 and 2018.  

The DayLight reporters saw a grassy field of decayed logs at the port in January, some still showcasing “DTC,” the company’s industry-recognized abbreviation. A few lay in piles, while others spread across the bushy, open field.

Apart from the decayed logs at the port, there are others left unattended in the Numopoh Community Forest, where Delta operates.

“They are many in the forest all over, some in the landing,” said Sam Kandie, head of the community forest leadership.  Landing is the place the logs are gathered and sorted. Kandie said the company last felled a tree in September 2021.

Official records show that Delta produced a total of 1,624.521 cubic meters of logs in the last five years.

But the company exported just 237.178 cubic meters or  41 logs, according to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).  

Delta Timber Company left scores of logs at the Port of Greenville in Sinoe County that have now rotted. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

That means between 2016 and 2021, Delta abandoned 1,387.343 cubic meters of logs. Logs are abandoned when companies leave them unattended for between three weeks and six months, depending on the locations, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

But Delta’s abandoned logs are likely more than the ones The DayLight calculated. A 2018 report by Volunteers to Support International Efforts in Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) found the company abandoned over 500 logs it harvested outside Numopoh.  Harvesting timber outside a contract area is a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law, and such logs are not captured in FDA’s tracking system.

FDA did not respond to queries on Delta’s abandoned logs. However, recently, it said in a statement it punished companies with abandoned logs without showing any evidence. It said in the statement that it had punished three other companies also operating in the Sinoe area for the same reason.

A pile of Delta Timber Company’s logs at the yard of the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Under the abandoned logs regulation, the FDA must petition a court to confiscate and auction logs it deems abandoned. The government loses revenue when logs rot.

Delta Timber Corporation and Numopoh Community Forest signed a five-year logging agreement in May 2016.

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

Logging Company In Sinoe Abandons Likely 7,000 Logs

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created by dji camera

Top: A drone shot of Mandra`s log yard where hundreds of abandoned logs lay bare in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/ Derrick Snyder


By Mark B. Newa


GREENVILLE, Sinoe County – Mandra Forestry Liberia, Limited, an Asian company, abandoned an estimated 7,000 logs it harvested between 2019 and 2021,  according to The DayLight’s analysis of official records.

During the period, Mandra produced 6,944 logs but exported none, our analysis of records of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) shows. Mandra harvested the logs in the Sewacajua Community Forest in Sinoe County, where it has operated since 2017.

During the 2019-2020 harvesting season, when the global timber market dipped due to the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S.-China trade war, Mandra harvested over 4,500 logs.

This journalist saw huge heaps of logs at Mandra’s log yard in Greenville in January. A good number of the wood brandishing “Sewacajua,” spread across the quiet field had already decayed. Earthmovers and timber jacks were at different positions.

Under  Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products, logs should be declared abandoned when they remain at a location between 15 (three weeks) and 180 working days (about six months). By this definition, Mandra abandoned all the logs in question latest June last year.

Our calculation did not include trees Mandra cut in 2018, some parts of 2019 and last year. The Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) was unclear on Mandra’s production and export figures covering the period. Moreover, the FDA does not publish these records and did not grant The DayLight’s request for the information, a violation of several provisions of forestry legal frameworks. Subsequently, we obtained the information for this story from elsewhere.

Mandra’s abandoned logs are likely to be higher than 6,944. The company co-operates in two large-scale logging concessions in River Cess and Nimba Counties. The LEITI did not separate Mandra’s Sewacajua figures from the two other concessions. A 2020 investigation report by the FDA found that Mandra and its partner EJ &J Investment Corporation abandoned 65 first-class logs in River Cess.

Mandra Plantations Liberia Limited of the Virgin Islands owns Mandra’s largest shares (99.7 percent), according to its article of incorporation. Sio Kai Sing, a Malaysian, holds 0.1 percent of the shares;  Tea Sin Sing, also a Malaysian, has 0.1 percent; and Tang Kwok Ben, a Hong Konger, holds the remaining 0.1 percent. It signed a 15-year agreement with the Secawajua Community Forest, covering 31,986 hectares in Sinoe’s Seekon, Pyne, Wedjah and Juarzon  Districts.  

A collage of logs Mandra abandoned at its log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/ James Harding Giahyue
Mandra`s campsite in Secawajua, Sinoe County in 2018. The DayLight/ James Harding Giahyue

Abandoned Logs Regulation

Augustine Johnson, a Liberian who serves as Mandra`s general manager, wrongly claimed that the logs in Greenville were not abandoned because they had a long lifespan and that he had already paid taxes for them.

“Before you talk about abandonment. I am expecting a ship to come to Greenville by the second week in next month to get the logs out,” Johnson told The DayLight in a phone interview.

“Apart from logs that are to be shipped, I can take logs for my own domestic use, I can take logs to saw into pieces and even bring it to Monrovia to…build my campsite. The ones that rot are used for domestic purposes,” Johnson added.  

A former FDA geographic information system (GIS) technician, Johnson’s comments are not backed by facts. Payment of taxes is a requirement to obtain a log-export permit. However, taxes have nothing to do with the abandonment of logs. Rather, abandonment largely depends on the time logs stay at a particular location, according to the regulation. For instance, the woods in Mandra’s log yard in Greenville should have only stayed there for 180 days, the same as the ones Johnson said were at the Port of Greenville. Also, the FDA would have to reenter the logs in question into the FDA log-tracking system called LiberTrace.

Johnson is adamant about his wrong understanding or lack of awareness of the regulation. “The logs been there for over 30 working days doesn`t matter, or been there for I80 days it doesn`t matter. They are all Ekki logs with a huge lifespan,” Johnson said and hung up the phone. He had insisted on educating this reporter, not the other way around.

The FDA did not answer questions The DayLight sent to the agency for comment on this story. This journalist sent the email on March 30 to Managing Director Mike Doryen, copying Joseph Tally, his deputy for operations.

The regulation mandates the FDA to investigate the alleged abandonment of the logs in seven days after notification. Thereafter, it must declare the logs abandoned, petition a court to auction the wood and fine the company involved. If the company claims, it must pay administrative fees and redeem them.  The FDA established the regulation in 2017 after provisions of another regulation proved not enough to prevent the waste of forest resources.

But despite years of notifications, including one from within the agency, the FDA has failed to take any legal, public actions. Last year, it said it would begin the process to auction abandoned logs during the dry season but has not done that. The situation has led to a loss of revenue for the Liberian government—and the media.  

A 2020 FDA investigation found companies were abandoning logs because they were harvesting logs without first finding buyers. It also blamed irregular monitoring, lack of logistics for field officers and poor road networks for the problem.

“Logging contract holders are not doing much to minimize the incidence of abandoned logs,” the report said. “Much needed revenue… has been lost due to the unprecedented abandonment of the assorted round logs…”  

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

New Contract for Rogue Company’s Owner

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Top: A collage showing Iroko harvesting activities in October 2022. Picture credit: Iroko Timber and Logging Corporation


By Emmanuel Sherman


KARQUEKPO, Sinoe County – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has approved a contract for Iroko Timber and Logging Corporation, a new Nigerian-owned company, to operate the Central Dugbe River Community Forest. The company began logging in the fourth quarter of last year, according to its website and Facebook page.  

But there is a problem with Iroko’s Dugbe River deal and operations in the 13,193-hectare forest. Timothy Odebunmi, Iroko’s majority shareholder, is not eligible to conduct logging activities in Liberia over the dishonesty of another company he co-owns.

That firm, Akewa Group of Companies, falsified the tax clearance of a mining company called Tiger Quarry to bid for the Gola Konneh Community Forest in Grand Cape Mount County in 2019. At the time, Akewa paid US$1,000 as a fine for the forgery, a violation of the Revenue Code. Odebunmi holds 50 percent of Iroko’s shares and 20 percent of Akewa’s, according to the articles of incorporation of both firms at the Liberia Business Registry. Iroko’s other shareholders are Samson Odebunmi (45 percent) and Akinsiku Arinkan (5 percent).  Abigail Funke Odebunmi (60 percent) and Kenneth Amazeika (20 percent) complete the list of Akewa’s shareholders.

Odebunmi’s co-ownership of Akewa, Iroko, which he co-founded in 2021, should have disqualified the Iroko’s bid for Central Dugbe River. The Regulation on Bidders Qualifications bars individuals whose companies have been convicted or penalized for theft, embezzlement, bribery, tax evasion, false swearing, or forgery. With Akewa having paid a fine for forgery, Odebunmi should not have gotten another logging contract until 2024, according to the regulation.

Akewa with Odebunmi as a shareholder has violated a horde of provisions of forestry laws and regulations. One of the oldest active logging companies, Akewa long line of violations includes its involvement in forestry’s worst post-conflict scandal, in which the FDA criminally awarded 2.5 million hectares of forests to it and other companies. It has a track record of prolonged indebtedness to communities. Currently, it is in an out-of-court settlement with the Beyan Poye Community Forest regarding benefits.

Iroko’s Woes Amid FDA’s Failure

Iroko’s agreement with Central Dugbe River adds to the FDA’s records of failure to enforce forestry legal frameworks. Before then, the FDA had failed to disqualify Akewa over fake tax clearance, which also constitutes perjury under the regulation. It remains Akewa’s only active logging operation, with the Beyan Poye legal issues and the cancelation of a logging contract the company illegally held in Grand Bassa County.

“We prevented Akewa from doing further business until they could provide [their] tax clearance,” said Managing Director Mike Doryen in an interview with The DayLight in June last year. “They rectified it and they paid a fine and that’s how we resumed business with them.” The Bidders Qualification Regulation requires the FDA to disqualify companies that commit forgery and perjury. It did not respond to emailed inquiries for comments.  

A screenshot of Iroko’s website page showing logs the company harvested in October 2022 and only transported to another location in February

Assessing the qualification of companies is an important provision of forest management in Liberia. It mandates the FDA to investigate the character of companies and individuals, their financial capacities, and their record of legal compliance.

Iroko’s ineligibility has started to show in its operation. It has abandoned an unspecified number of logs it harvested in October last year. Photographs and a video posted to the company’s website and Facebook page show some of the logs in the forest. Akin George, a representative of the company, confirmed the harvesting in a mobile interview in March.

Logs do not remain where they were harvested for more than one month and two weeks upon harvest, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products. The logs in question have remained in the forest far beyond that statutory period.

George said the company was taking the logs from where they were harvested to another location in the forest. Bartee Togba, the head of the Central Dugbe River’s leadership, said the same. Togba said Iroko began to transfer the logs in late February, some four months after it felled the trees.  The forest is a portion of 39,000 hectares and includes a proposed protected area between Grand Kru and Sinoe.  

The Dugbe River Community Forest map. Credit: Forestry Development Authority (FDA)

Iroko’s logs add to thousands of abandoned logs across the country, with the FDA taking no known public actions. The abandoned logs regulation mandates the agency to investigate, seize the logs and petition a court to auction them. Penalties for the offense include fines and forfeiture of the contract.  

The total volume of the logs,  in question, is essential for Iroko to pay the community’s benefits. Last year April, the community signed a 15-year commercial use contract with Iroko Timber Logging Corporation. It promised to build two elementary schools, handpumps, guesthouses and a clinic.

Efforts to establish contact with Timothy Odebunmi did not materialize. There is no trace of his phone number, email address or WhatsApp. In January, George promised to get Timothy Odebunmi to speak to the issue but failed to do so.

George evaded several attempts for an interview on the situation on behalf of the company. The DayLight reached out to George through phone calls and Facebook messages and WhatsApp text messages but to no avail.


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

Permit Shows FDA Boss Approved Illegal Timber Exports

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


By James Harding Giahyue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waybills

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

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

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

‘We’re not illegal loggers’

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

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

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

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

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

Kamara dismissed Kpoto’s “misconceptions.”

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

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

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

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

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

Violations, Community Benefits Dominate Forest Forum

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Top: A drone shot of a log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Mark B. Newa


MONROVIA – Forestry violations and delayed payments of benefits to logging-affected communities were the major issues at the just-ended forest conference hosted by the Liberian government.  

The “Forest and Climate Resilience Forum” was expected to reassess the commitment of the Liberian government and the international community to the protection of the country’s rainforest, the largest in the west African region.

The event came on the backdrop of reports of widespread irregularities and impunity in Liberia’s forestry sector. Associated Press recently reported that President George Weah ignored calls from foreign partners to tackle illegalities in the forestry sector.

“Current situation in Liberia`s forest sector is worrying,” said Laurent Delahousse, the head of the European Union (EU) Delegation, at the close of the event over the weekend. “It is characterized by [……] too short rotations, by the lack of proper forest management plans, and by illegal logging, which are real threats to forest regeneration and which affect the commercial and the global value of the forest,” Delahousse added.

On Thursday, the first day of the conference, more than 20 international nongovernmental organizations said the Liberian government was failing to control the illegal logging and undermining the systems in place to control it. They come from China, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland.

“We call on the government of Liberia to ensure all timber exports go through the LiberTrace, the traceability system, and to close down all existing routes for laundering illegally sourced timber,” the group said in a joint statement.

The Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen brushed off criticisms, promising to grant access to public information. He blamed communities for the situation.  

“Illegal logging activities usually begin with forest communities. These communities are undermining our efforts to deal with violations,” Doryen said.

“People go in the communities and take money from other people to harvest and transport timber to town… outside what is required law, it is illegal logging,” Doryen added. He, however, promised to set up a task force to monitor and regulate unlawful activities in the forestry sector.

Communities’ Benefits

There were a lot of concerns about communities’ benefits during the two days of the event.

European Union Head of Delegation Laurent Delahousse flags illegalities in Liberia’s forest sector during the Forest and Climate Resilience Conference. Photo credit: Mark B. Newa/The DayLight

By law, communities hosting large-scale logging concessions and former small-scale ones set aside exclusively for Liberians, are entitled to 30 percent of the land rental fees companies pay. But this is not the case. The government, which receives the payments, owes communities US$6.6 million. 

Outside the hall at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Ministerial Complex, where the event took place, people from those affected communities protested. The protesters carried placards with inscriptions: “Pro-poor for the poor but not against the poor,” “Government of Liberia pays our land rental fees and the forestry law is clear on community benefits, among others.”

“This money is not forthcoming, with at least over US$6 million still outstanding. The little money that has come through was [either] late or meddled in corruption,” said Loretha Pope-Kai the chairperson of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia, the largest conglomerate of pressure groups in the country.

“Our forest communities live on the forest for their cultural, social, economic, and all other needs. Forests are therefore key to all considerations of Liberia’s… future,” Pope-Kai added, receiving huge applause.  

National Benefit Sharing Trust (NBST), a watchdog that oversees communities benefits,  said the delayed payment made it difficult for the group to function. It is largely funded by payments communities get. It has spent US$1.8 million on 53 projects nationwide, it reported last year.

“Funding gap is undermining the long-term sustainability of the NBST,” Kollie said.

The theme of the two-day forum was “Catalyze renewed commitments and strengthen partnerships in sustainable forest management as key strategies supporting the Government of Liberia’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD).”

US165K Clinic Funded By Community Logging Benefits Stalls Over Furniture

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Top: The Tiah Town Clinic was funded by benefits affected communities received from a logging concession between the Liberian government and International Capital Consultant (ICC). Construction works have been completed but the lack of furniture supplies means the clinic cannot serve its people. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue


By Eric Opa Doue for The DayLight


TIAH TOWN, Nimba County – Fifty-two-year-old Elizabeth Zialue traveled 55 kilometers from Tiah Town in Nimba to Boegeezay Town in River Cess County to seek treatment for her two-year-old grandson. Medical services in the Boegeezay community are free but Zialue has to pay LD3,500 for a motorcycle taxi to get there, and the same amount to get back.

Zialue had lost her daughter, the boy’s mother, two years ago. “My daughter was sick when she delivered. There was no money to go to the hospital in Boegeezay or Tappita so she died,” she recalled.

But Zialue’s daughter could have survived if a clinic in Tiah Town was operational.  In 2017, communities around here received US$125,000 to construct a clinic here in Tiah Town. The money was a portion of their benefits from a logging concession between the Liberian government and a logging company called International Capital   Consultant (ICC). The concession, known in the forestry sector as Forest Management Contract Area K, covers 266,910 hectares in both River Cess and Nimba. The community’s leadership added another US30,000 for other utilities such as water towers and an insinuator.

The clinic’s construction started in April 2017 and was expected to be completed, dedicated for full operation in March 2018. The Nimba County Health Team was supposed to provide the workforce and medical and non-medical supplies for the running of the facility. Due to its strategic location, it was supposed to serve both River Cess and Nimba Counties when completed.  

Healthcare workers’ resident at the proposed Tiah Town Clinic. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue
The Tiah Town Clinic project was funded by logging funds. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Five years after its completion, nothing has happened according to plan. The National Benefit Sharing Trust Board, a watchdog that manages communities’ funds from forest concessions disbursed US$10,225.25 plus L$5.3 million to purchase furniture and drugs for the clinic. The fees come from logging-affected communities’ share of land rental fees companies pay to the Liberian government. However, the community’s forest leadership used the fund to build a guesthouse instead.  

Jerry Gbaye, the head of the leadership at the time, told The DayLight his decision to divert the fund was backed by all affected towns and villages in Gbi, Gbiagloh and Doru chiefdom, where the clinic is located. The clinic is meant to provide thousands of people access to healthcare in one of the remotest places in Liberia.

“It was not the CFDC’s decision to use the money for a guesthouse,” Gbaye said. CFDC means community forest development committee, a body of villagers that co-manages a certain logging concession alongside the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

“The people of Gbiagloh and Gbi said the people of Doru already had the clinic in their area so that money should be used to construct a guesthouse for them to benefit, too,” he added.

Alfred Zelee, an elder responsible for Tiah Town’s development matters, refutes that claim. “If a decision was reached to use the money on the guesthouse, I don’t know,” said Zelee.” “All I know is that Gbaye took the money and used it on the guesthouse.

“We are suffering here because few people decided to use the money from the land rental fees that they were supposed to use to put medicine in the clinic,” he added.

The National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), a group that advocates for the benefits for villagers affected by logging concessions, is investigating the matter. 

Gbi-Doru District is one of Nimba’s remotest communities, with no access to healthcare. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“We are now investigating whether the project was identified by the citizens and, and the project was awarded to a competent company,” said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator for the group in an interview with The DayLight. “Since it is established that the money was diverted, the NUCFDC is now contemplating what punishment awaits the [community’s leadership.”

The Trust Board has also said it would not give the community’s leadership any more money unless it accounted for the furniture fund for the clinic, the most expensive of 53  projects it has funded countrywide since 2015.

“The board has the intent to release additional funding for the Tiah Town project and all other uncompleted projects across the country, under conditions,” said Roberto Kollie, the head of the secretariat. “The first criterion is the [community’s leadership] must be able to present an assessment report to the board.

“The Assessment report will include the project that was approved, the cost of the project, and the total amount that was disbursed for the implementation of the project and they must be able to provide a reason to the board why those projects were not completed.”

Zialue in Tiah Town is unaware of the unfolding. Her grandchild was treated but she had to spend additional days in Boegeezay before going back to Tiah Town.

“Ever since the people talked about the hospital to build, everybody was happy, but today no head, no tail,” Zialue said. “We [are] still doing the same thing.”

CEO Emails FDA Lawyer Boasting of Impunity over Illegal Logging

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Top: One of the logs Masayaha, Magna’s partner, illegally harvested in a forest in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County, is seen next to its stump. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


James Harding Giahyue


  • Morley Kamara, the CEO and owner of Magna Logging Incorporated emailed The DayLight, bragging not to be bothered by stories the newspaper publishes about his company’s violations
  • Kamara copies Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, FDA’s lawyer, responsible to help prosecute forestry violators
  • Kamara’s Magna and Masayaha, its Lebanese-owned partner, have committed several offenses over the last three years—from an illegal subcontract to cutting trees outside their contract area

MONROVIA – The CEO and owner of a company has emailed The DayLight to boast that he was not bothered by revelations of the firm’s wrongdoings, copying the in-house lawyer of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

“These stories do not move me one bit,” said Morley Kamara of Magna Logging Corporation, sharing the communication with Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, who helps the FDA prosecute forestry violators.

“You’re missing your mark,” Kamara added, the email in which he also copied Ali Harkous, Masayaha’s CEO and owner.

Kamara was referring to a series of investigation reports The DayLight published last year that revealed a number of logging offenses the Liberian-owned firm and Masayaha Logging Company, its Lebanese partner, committed.

The FDA failed to take any actions against the companies despite overwhelming evidence of violations revealed in the four-part series, appearing between September and October last year.

The first story exposed a string of illegal logging operations outside the Worr Community Forest in Grand Bassa County, its contract area between 2020 and 2021. It featured interviews from chiefs and elders who participated in the activities, voice WhatsApp conversations with an FDA executive and a resident, and a report from SGS on the same offenses. SGS is a Swiss firm globally acclaimed in the verification industry. It created Liberia’s log-tracking system known as the LiberTrace.

Two illegally harvested logs Masayaha Logging Company left behind in the Garkpa Charlie Town in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The second story showed that Masayaha abandoned some 600 logs it had harvested during the same period of its illegal harvesting spree.

The third story covered villagers’ protest against Masayaha for their forest benefits, stopping the company from operating. The company has now paved a new road and repaired a clinic building in the community in response to the villagers’ demands.

The last part of the series uncovered the illegality of a subcontract between Magna and Masayaha. The two had signed their deal unknown to the leadership of the community, a breach of the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. Villagers must participate in such deals, according to one of the law’s guiding principles.

That story also shed light on Magna’s capacity to conduct logging activities, having transferred its full logging right to Masayaha, less than a year after signing its agreement with the leadership of Worr Community Forest.

By law, Magna and Masayaha should have paid different fines for stealing logs and abandoning others.

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