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Masayaha: Villagers Protest Against Firm for Forest Benefits

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Top: Masayaha’s camp in Saul Town, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman


By Emmanuel Sherman

Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a series on a string of illegal activities by Masayaha Logging Company, which operates in Grand Bassa County.


SAUL TOWN, Grand Bassa County – Villagers affected by the operations of Masayaha Logging Company in Compound Number One B have halted the Lebanese firm’s work, demanding it pays some of the benefits owed them.

Masayaha owes the 25 towns and villages affected by its operations for use of their land, logs it has harvested, and scholarships.  

“We will not allow any log to leave until they do what they supposed to do,” said Garsaweh Harris, the community leader who led the protest over the Worr Community Forest.  

“I told them, I have four big cows and they are there protecting the forest no one can go there,” Harris said, hinting at the use of bushmasters, commonplace in traditional settings.

Ali Harkous, Masayaha’s owner and CEO, did not return questions we posed to him via WhatsApp for comments on the matter.

Magna, the initial contract-holder signed a 15-year agreement with the Worr Community Forest, covering 33, 337 hectares in 2019. It seemingly subcontracted the forest to Masayaha. In total, it owes the villagers US$34,025.767, according to The DayLight’s analysis of the company’s official records, and the community’s leadership. Magna’s owner and CEO Morley Kamara declined to speak on Masayaha’s operations.  

The villagers demand payments of the fees and dozens of mandatory projects.

“We told the company that the scholarship issue was very important because the children are not in school,” said Alvin Fiske, the head of the community’s leadership. “Parents are coming to ask for their children’s tuition.”   

Masayaha has performed even worse with projects than it has defaulted on payments. It has failed to pave and build a number of roads and bridges, handpumps, clinics and schools in affected towns and villages.

“The company will make promises and will not do it, this is the problem we have with them,” Fiske said, adding the majority of the company’s projects have not been completed.

“They built… a school opposite their office, which is not completed. They built one handpump in Saul town and one in Bettoe Town and that is about all.”  

Logs Masayaha harvested from the Worr Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The agreement has been very controversial, with a string of illegal logging activities since. The FDA has failed to enforce forestry laws and regulations, approving the company’s harvesting each year.

Between 2020 and last year, Masayaha cut trees outside its contract area, according to the FDA and  Société Générale de Surveillance or SGS, a Swiss firm, which created Liberia’s log-tracking system. The DayLight interviewed chiefs and elders who helped the company illegally harvest ekki woods outside its contract area. We visited Masayaha’s illegal felling sites, with felled trees, leftover logs, and earthmovers’ trails still visible.

FDA permitted Masayaha to ship logs that could have included the stolen, ironwoods, export records show.  Between 2020 and last year, it exported  365 logs, 360 of them ekki woods.    

“We did not have a problem going outside but why use our name and we are not befitting anything from it? That is our problem,” says Fiske.

Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timber and Timber Products provides that FDA should seek a court order to confiscate and auction the illegally harvested logs Masayaha cut outside its contract area. It should fine the company two times for the first offense, and four times for repeated offense, the prevailing international price of the volume of logs it harvested in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

While Masayaha cut trees outside its contract area, it abandoned 595 logs it felled within the area, according to our count of the company’s production and export records. We counted 200 logs in an open field near the Bokay Town market on the Monrovia-Buchanan highway.  

FDA has not taken any actions. The DayLight followed up at the Circuit Court in upper Buchanan, Grand Bassa, the county in which the illegal logging was done, the agency has not sought a court order to confiscate Masayaha’s illegally harvested logs.

Under the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products, logs are deserted if they are left unattended for between 15 to 180 working days, depending on their location.  FDA has also not acted, as there has been no petition at the circuit court in Buchanan nor announcement of abandoned logs at any radio station in the county, things the regulation demands.

Joseph Tally, FDA deputy managing director for operations, did not respond to questions sent to him via email on the protest action against Masayaha by the community.

Masayaha owes communities affected by its logging operations thousands of United States dollars. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In Saul Town, the villagers halted Masayaha’s operations, stopping three trucks loaded with logs from being transported out of the community. It took a team of anti-riot police to end the daylong demonstration. 

This reporter visited the scene of the riot last Monday and met the protesters under a palaver hut discussing their next course. Some appeared disgruntled, raging with anger.

“They got so angry. Imagine I got a problem with my heart but I walk [a long] distance to join the protest,” said Sarah Harris, a resident of one of the affected towns.

The community and the company had a meeting on Wednesday but did not resolve the problem in full according to Harris.

Masayaha pleaded to transport its logs, promising to build five bridges, according to Harris, but he and the other protesters said they would only negotiate with the company after the construction.  

“We don’t have money to take the company to court,” said Harris. “This is the only power we have.”

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

Communities Protest for Forest Benefits

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Top: Members of the communities affected by logging concessions protest before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in Monrovia. Daily Observer/Tina Mehnpaine


By Tina Mehnpaine, with the Daily Observer

MONROVIA – Communities affected by logging concessions across Liberia have staged a sit-in action in demand of over US$5 million in land rental the government of Liberia owed them, the second year in a role for such protest.

The protesters gathered before the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning with placards. The group consisted of the leaders of logging-affected towns and villages under the banner of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC).   

By law, 30 percent of land rental fees the government collects from companies should go to communities. The fee is the product of the total size of the concession, US$2.50 for large-scale forest management contracts (FMCs), and US$1.25 for small timber sale contracts (TSCs). However, the payments have not been regular since 2017.

“Our people are affected every day by these companies and the only way to give us some relief is by paying us our percentage. So we demand our benefit, ” said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the NUCFDC.  

Zelemen added that the protest would continue if the government fails to provide the money allotted in the budget was not paid by the end of the year. NUCFDC represents logging communities from Lofa, Gbarpolu, River Cess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland. Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu counties complete the list.

Those debts amounted to US$5.5 million between 2007 and 2019, according to a report by Forest Trends, an American NGO promoting sustainable forest management.

Last year, the government paid US$200,000 after the communities protested. It allotted US$2.7 million in the current National Budget for the payment but barely three months before the end of the fiscal term, it has only paid US$500,000.

Janga Kowo, the Comptroller General of Liberia, said on OK FM Thursday that the government would pay another US$1.5 million.   

A recent report published by the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board shows that delayed payments have stalled projects in communities.   

“Political commitment is weak despite some positive actions taken by the government in responses to pressure from stakeholders,” the report said.

This story was produced in collaboration with the Daily Observer.

‘Regular Caller’ Turns Illegal Logger

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Top: Othello Teah, “the regular caller” who has become an illegal logger. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue

COMPOUND NUMBER TWO, Grand Bassa County – A  man who calls on nearly all talk shows in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, is involved in an illegal logging business with at least one villager and the proprietor of the port city’s most famous woodshops, an investigation by The DayLight has found.  

Othello Teah, the regular caller, produces timber, commonly called “kpokolo,” a form of illegal logging that is ravaging Liberia’s forests and undermining authorities’ quest to increase logging revenues.  

This reporter saw 25 pieces of thick, square woods by the roadside in Boyeah’s Town in Compound Number Two ripped by Teah. Joe Jarvis Boyeah, a villager who he hired, told The DayLight the deal was between Teah and an unnamed farmer.   

That information was corroborated by other townspeople we interviewed, including Joshua Gbar.

“The town doesn’t have a share in it,” Gbar said, adding that was the first of such operation in that area.  

Teah admitted he runs the operation without a permit and first conducted it in 2019. However, he argued that he did not need FDA’s approval to produce the timber, which he wrongly considered planks.     

“Any log that is placed in a dimension is pit-sawing. Two by two is a dimension. Two by five is a dimension. I know,” Teah, revered for his strong stance on issues in Grand Bassa’s radioland, said.

Some of the timbers Othello Teah illegally harvested in Boyeah Town, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Chanda Cole, Teah’s partner who is the proprietor of the Cole Joe Wood Work Shop in Buchanan—one of the oldest in the city—backs him. He said the timber was dahoma wood, a durable hardwood used in construction and boatbuilding.

“We don’t do permits from the government to buy and sell wood. We get a thing called business registration from [the Ministry] of Commerce,” Cole wrongly claimed. The ministry does not issue business certificates, the Liberia Business Registry does.

But apart from that, the operation of Teah and Cole violates forestry laws and regulations in several ways.

First, there is a difference between timber, which the pair is producing, and planks, which they falsely claim to be making, according to the Regulation on Establishing a Chain of Custody System. It sets the standard for sourcing, transporting, and exporting wood.  It defines “timber is a sawn wood or log,” while planks or lumbers are the “products” of pit-sawn or chain-sawn woods.   

Second, chainsaw millers are only permitted to produce planks, which are way lighter and smaller than the timber Teah had produced in Boyeah Town.

Third, chain-sawn woods can only be sourced from a concession area, authorized private forestland, and an approved community forest, not from an ordinary farmer.

And, in fact, chainsaw milling is illegal, as there is no current regulation for it after a previous one was dropped years back. It is being permitted to support construction works in Liberia since logging companies do not supply the local market. A regulation for the subsector has been drafted and is being reviewed by the Board of Directors of the FDA.  

Inconsistency

Both Teah and Cole contradicted themselves on why they are harvesting the timber in Boyeah Town.

When we initially phoned Teah, he claimed that the woods were meant for the construction of a bridge in Compound Number Three. That was exactly what Joe Jarvis Boyeah told us. Later in an interview, Teah flipped that he was supplying a company. But when quizzed further, he said he was actually supplying Cole’s woodshop. That was the first time in days of discussions that he mentioned he had a business partner other than the farmer and Boyeah.

Cole continued Teah’s inconsistency. Teah had called him to convince this reporter that their business was not illegal. He, too, first claimed that the woods were meant for a company.

“We use it on the bridge, we use it on the machine to balance on it to work,” Cole said in an interview at his workshop. But he somersaulted as the interview progressed, claiming they were meant for his shop. One of the practices in chainsaw milling is that the wood must be sawn into planks in the forest, not elsewhere.

“Don’t change anything here, it’s pit-sawing,” Cole said. “Anything from two-inch up is timber.”

This investigation comes less than two weeks after The DayLight exposed a similar illegal operation in the Compound Number One area, conducted by a woman named Binta Bility.  That report came after leaked videos and pictures of Varney Marshall, an FDA ranger showed he ran well-organized kpokolo operations, believed to be in Gbarpolu County.

Timbers that were illegally harvested in an operation conducted by Othello Teah, a “regular caller” in Grand Bassa. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Zahn Dehydugar contributed to this report.

The story was produced by the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists (CoFEJ).

Logging Communities To Protest For Land Rental Fees

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Top: It would the second year in a role that communities have protested land rental fees. The DayLight/Harry Browne


MONROVIA – Communities affected by logging concessions across Liberia are expected to stage a sit-in action in Monrovia on Wednesday for land rental fees the government of Liberia owes them.

It would mark the beginning of a series of protests they plan to hold next month for over US$5 million the Liberian government owes them, according to a statement by the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC). The group comprises the leadership of communities hosting logging contracts, covering over 1 million hectares of forestland.

NUCFDC said the protest would continue next week at an upcoming climate resilience program to be followed by a petition to President George Weah.

Locals are entitled to 30 percent of land rental fees logging companies pay the government every year. The fees are calculated based on the size of the forest in hectares and US$2.50 and US$1.25 for large-scale and small-scale concessions, respectively. However, the government has not paid the community their full amounts since 2017.

Those debts amounted to US$5.5 million between 2007 and 2019, according to a report by Forest Trends, an American NGO promoting sustainable forest management.

Last year, the government paid US$200,000 after the communities protested and allotted US$2.7 million in the current National Budget for the payments. But with barely three months before the end of the fiscal term, it has paid US$300,000, according to the NUCFDC.

“This is unfortunate and does not represent a true meaning of the government Pro-Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity,” the statement, issued late Tuesday, read.

It said the government did not prioritize the payment, which contravenes its commitment to support communities to manage their forests and empower them to derive a sustainable livelihood from forest resources.   

“This is why we as community members will stage sustained advocacy actions until the government of Liberia pays all the amount appropriated in the 2022 National Budget…,” it added.   

It would be the second year in a role for communities to protest over the fees.

FDA Fails To Punish Firm For Chain of Illegal Logging

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Top: A tree, locals said, was felled by Masayaha Logging Company outside the Worr Community Forest. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series on illegal logging activities by Masayaha Logging Company, which works in Grand Bassa County.

TARR TOWN, Grand Bassa County – Mid-last year, Masayaha Logging Company asked chiefs and elders of Doe Clan in Compound Number One to harvest expensive logs in their forest in order to build roads, handpumps and a townhall in that community. But the company wanted the deal kept a secret.

The villagers agreed with the terms, adding a fee of US$5 on each cubic meter of red hardwood used for railroad ties and bridges.

“We told them to connect the road from Tarr Town to Kpana Town because the people there are suffering,” recalled Daniel Tarr, one of the elders who brokered the deal. The next month, Masayaha begin felling some 641 cubic meters of the red ironwood, according to the locals’ record of the harvesting.   

“The company wanted some ekki [woods],” added Junior Gueh, a townsman who also works for the company and helped craft the deal.

But the deal was illegal, as the forest adjacent Tarr Town is outside the Worr Community Forest Masayaha legally operates. It is one among a string of illegal operations the Lebanese-own firm has run in that region in the last two years, involving five towns. It has been documented that Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has taken no required actions against the company.  

Masayaha has a 15-year agreement to operate the Worr Community Forest. Magna Logging Corporation, owned by Liberian businessman Moley Kamara, originally holds the contract for the forest but appears to have subcontracted it to Masayaha. The forest covers 35,337 hectares in Compound Number One B but the company traveled about 100 kilometers to the Doe Clan in Compound Number One A to harvest first-class logs. It said there were not many of that species trees in the Worr Community Forest, according to several villagers we interviewed.

An operator moves logs illegally harvested by Masayaha Logging Company in Garkpa Charlie Town, Grand Bassa County. Picture credit: Stephen Toomay

Mary Beeweh, an elderly woman in Zolah Town, told The DayLight the company harvested logs in the forest there in 2020. Beeweh said Ali Harkous, Masayaha’s CEO visited the town. Her description of a bald, bearded Lebanese man matches Harkous’ figure.   

Masayaha also felled an unspecified number of logs in Lolo Town last year, according to residents. We told them ‘If you fix our two bridges here, we will give you the logs [you] want,” said  Solomon Kpolon, an elder of that town. “The first was 17 logs but the second one they took it overnight we did not know about it.” This reporter saw some of the logs the villagers said Masayaha felled in the forest not far from the town.  

In Vorlorgor, a village next to Tarr Town, villagers seized the company’s machines after it felled 17 trees, according to John Garbleejay, an administrator of that town. They later allowed illicit activities to go on after the company promised to pave the main route that leads into the community, Garbleejay said.

Harvesting outside a contract area is a grave violation in forestry. A company’s penalties for such an offense include a fine in United States Dollars upon conviction by a court.  

There is evidence that the FDA has known of Masayaha’s illegal logging deals from its first known offense in 2020 but ignored them. The agency conducted an inquest in August that year on several logging violations in Grand Bassa, River Cess and Nimba, those of Masayaha. Investigators recommended an “appropriate action” against it but that has yet to happen.

And that, too, was not the first time the FDA heard about Masayaha’s violations and failed to act. Several months earlier in 2020, Reuben Barnie, one of the villagers, informed FDA about the incident. Barnie had spotted a Masayaha truck transporting logs from Kweezah, the home of the descendants of people who were evicted from the land Firestone occupies today. Knowledgeable of the company’s contract area, Barnie raised an alarm.



“We are calling your attention to please come in our district to carry on an investigation so as to stop future embarrassment,” Barnie wrote in a May letter last year. He took to a local radio station and engaged the company. He then followed up with numerous phone calls to Joseph Tally, FDA’s deputy managing director for operations, whose recordings Barnie gave to The DayLight.  

“Barnie how you doing?” Tally can be heard in one of the recordings.

“Yes, we still keeping our fingers crossed for the verdict,” Barnie responds, referencing a previous conversation in which Tally promised to take action against the company.

“Keeping your finger crossed for what?”

“For the verdict. The people went to do the investigation.”

“I told you we have already suspended the people activities.”  

Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS), a Switzerland-based firm that developed Liberia’s log-tracking system or LiberTrace, also reported the illegal operation. The development of the system was crucial to forestry reform, as importing countries such as the European Union and Great Britain demanded legal timbers. It is now turned over the majority of its responsibilities to the FDA’s legality verification department (LVD).  

A stump of the trees Masayaha illegally felled in not far from Lolo Town in Compound Number One, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Like Barnie, Stephen Toomey, one of the residents of that area,   reported the case to the FDA. This reporter witnessed Toomay raise the issue in a Worr Community Forest meeting in October last year. Joseph Kpainay, an FDA ranger assigned in the region, then asked him to file an official complaint with the agency’s regional office in Buchanan. Toomay did it days after the meeting but got no response. Kpainay acknowledged receipt of Toomay’s letter.

“The concerned citizens of the affected communities are therefore calling on your good office to promptly investigate, intervene and promptly provide an appropriate solution…,” Toomay’s letter read.  

News of the illegal logging Masayaha carried out last year made it to FDA’s headquarters in Paynesville.  In August, the same month as the illegal felling, SGS reported on the incident.  

“During the month, some felling out of CFMA Worr concession was seen again !!!,” SGS said in a report. It also criticized the FDA for approving the company’s harvesting plan that year without a required five-year plan, a breach of the Code of Harvesting Practices and Standard Operation Procedure.

“Surely, because no action was taken from the felling out of concession at… Worr reported by SGS a year ago, that illegality is still going over there.”

But amid SGS’ report and Barnie’s advocacy, FDA permitted Masayaha to export logs that could have included the stolen woods. Between 2020 and last year, Masayaha exported  365 logs, 360 of them ekki woods, according to official shipment records. In fact, it approved three of the company’s shipments about the time of the Garkpa Charlie Town illegal logging, according to the SGS report.

In normal forestry practices, the FDA is supposed to trace every log the company harvests back to its stump to make sure the logs were legally sourced before they are transported.

Also amid the mountain of evidence against Masayaha, FDA should have sought court orders to confiscate and auction them. It should have also fined the company two times and four times the prevailing international price of the volume of logs it harvested in Kweezah and Garkpa Charlie Town, respectively, according to the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timbers and Timber Products. The current price set by the FDA  ekki woods is US$210. The company could have been slapped with a 12-month prison term if convicted by a court.

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

Barnie called Tally, furious that the logs had made it out of the community and the company had not been fined for the violation. “Those logs are at the Port [of Buchanan] and are taken from where they have no concession. I’ve been calling some eight, nine months ago on the issue in Number One Compound. Now the people are carrying the logs,” Barnie can be heard in the recording, threatening to protest at the port to stop the shipment.

It was unclear how many logs Masayaha harvested in all its illegal operations. Neither SGS nor the FDA provided that information. However, the villagers’ records of last year’s felling seen by The DayLight put that number to 641 cubic meters. The elders had designated Mathew Gaywheon, a townsman, to represent them during the operation. If Masayaha had been convicted for its 2020 illegal harvesting and the one last year, it could have paid over half of the million United States dollars for a second offense.

There were signs of the operation in the area. We saw stumps of the felled trees. The elders of the town said a short piece of log lying adjacent to the palaver hut under which we conducted interviews was a remnant of the operation. A number of logs were still at the site of an open field, where villagers said Masayaha’s workers piled up the woods. Earthmovers’ trails adorned the site, despite a year of downpour.

The area matched the one in the pictures Toomay shared with us of the unlawful operation in Garkpa Charlie Town. One of the pictures shows a Masayaha vehicle parked next to the thatched kitchen where we conducted some of our interviews. Others reveal the company transporting some of the logs with official identification tags, indicating they had been registered into the FDA’s database.

The FDA did not grant The DayLight an interview on the matter. We emailed the agency earlier this month and received a response last week from Tally, who scheduled the interview for Tuesday. However, he did not turn out at the time of the interview he had set. Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, the head of FDA’s legal department, declined to speak on the matter.  

Kamara, the CEO of Magna, also declined to speak on the matter.  

Harkous did not respond to queries sent him via WhatsApp for comments on his company’s illegalities.

Some of the elders of Tarr Town signed an illegal agreement with Masayaha Logging Company to illegally harvest logs in their community. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

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

Villagers Spent US$1.8 M Forest Benefits on 53 Projects, Report Finds

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Top: People gather for the dedication of a teachers’ lodge in Salayea, Lofa County that was built from forest resources in 2018. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Tarplah Toh and Emmanuel Sherman

MONROVIA – Towns and villages affected by logging concessions across Liberia have spent US$1.3 million and L$81,781,842.72 million on projects from the money they received from companies since 2015, according to a report launched on Wednesday.

In the last seven years, the communities have conducted a total of 53 projects, including guesthouses, clinics and schools from land rental fees companies paid them, said the report.

Fifteen schools, seven clinics, and 11 guesthouses are among the landmark projects in the report, which also features things like town halls, a rice mill, renovation of a community radio station and distribution of roofing sheets for vulnerable homes. 

A clinic in Tiah Town, Nimba, a guesthouse in Zieh Town, Grand Gedeh and the rehabilitation of a road in Polar-Gboe Zammie, also in Grand Gedeh, is the most expensive of the projects. They cost over US$100,000, US$86,000 and US$79,000, respectively.

“Communities are the primary stakeholders in the forest regime, and they must benefit from whatever that is on land,” said Nora Bowier, chairperson of the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB), which oversees the expenditure of land-rental payments communities get from companies. The scheme is a major part of forestry reform meant to give villagers benefits from their forests.

Bowier made the comments at the launch of the report on Wednesday in Sinkor.

But the report pointed out that 17 projects were uncompleted, with one having already collapsed. The Trust Board said it would tackle the problem.

“We have already started taking steps towards addressing some of the unfinished projects,” Bowier said. “We have monitored these projects with action points and have submitted them to the community forest development committees (CFDCs) to work with their stakeholders to talk about the next issue,” Bowier adds. CFDCs are the leadership of communities that host logging concessions. There are 24 of them.

“We are going to look at areas where we can use the law to be able to hold the CFDC accountable.”

Bowier said there would have been more finished projects if the government had paid all the money logging companies paid for communities. Up to late last year, the government owed villagers US$5.5 million, according to Forest Trends, a U.S.-based NGO that advocates for sustainable logging and conservation worldwide.  

Communities protested over the debt and later received US$200,000 a few months later. Recently, the government paid another US$401,000. However, it still owes the communities US$2.3 million against the allotment it made to communities in this year’s budget, with barely four months left in the fiscal period. 

Generally,  the government still owes communities some US$5 million.

“We request that the government pays whatever arrears it owes because some of the projects stalled due to the slow payment. We are asking them to pay on time and be consistent,” Bowier said in a phone interview with The DayLight. “We are actually engaging, constructive engagement.”   

Andrew Zelemen of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committees (NUCFDC) said timely payment of forest benefits would empower villagers.

Gov’t Pays US$400,000 But Still Owes Communities Three Times More

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Top: The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Emmanuel Sherman

MONROVIA – The Government of Liberia has paid communities affected by forest concessions US$401,000 for their portion of land rental fees collected from logging companies. However, it still owes the communities US$2.3 million, with barely four months left in the budget year. 

 The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) paid the amount to the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB) in Liberian and United States dollars on Tuesday, according to Nora Bowier.  

“We are glad the payment was made,” said Bowier, who heads NBSTB that oversees communities’ expenditure of the payment. By law, communities are entitled to 30 percent of land rental fees companies pay the government. The fee is the product of the total size of the concession and US$2.50 for forest management contracts (FMCs), large-scale concessions and US$1.25 for timber sale contracts (TSCs), smaller ones.  

“The process was challenging.” She said the institution had engaged the Ministry of Finance to make sure the balance of the money is paid before the fiscal year ends.

Last year, 23 communities protested at the ministry for more than US$5.5 million the government owed them in land rental. The government initially paid US$200,000 it had promised the villagers to end their protest.

It then allotted US$2,749,000 to this year’s national budget. That amount was reduced to US$500,000 in June. However, only US$401,000 was paid.

“We think that it is something that the government has taken lightly in our view or in my view,” Said Andrew Zelemen, of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), which represents the interest of communities and led the protest said. “It worries us and it is our concern.”

Zelemen there would be a protest if the balance of the money allotted in the budget is not paid by the end of the year.  

“If the government does not pay the US$2.3 million from now to December, the communities will not allow logging companies to operate in their forests,” Zelemen said.

Janga Kowo, the Comptroller General of Liberia, did not answer calls placed to him nor responded to text and WhatsApp messages.

The government has collected US$27.7 million from loggers but has only paid US$2.6 million to rural communities since the 2015/2016 fiscal year, according to a report by Forest Trends, a US-based nongovernmental organization that promotes sustainable use of forests and conservation.

That is a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006, which mandates it to transfer 30 percent of land rental fees logging companies pay to communities for development purposes.

Leaked Video Exposes FDA Ranger’s Illegal Logging Operations

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Varney Marshall (right) poses for a picture while a chainsaw miller works at Marshall’s illegal logging site in Gbarpolu County. Picture credit: WhatsApp/Varney Marshall


By James Harding Giahyue

KLAY, Bomi County – A leaked video of a ranger of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) shot by himself and photographs probably taken by his accomplices have revealed his illegal logging operations.

Varney Marshall, who is assigned at the Klay checkpoint in Bomi County, can be heard ranting in the one-minute-58-second video furious that one of his accomplices was trying to cheat him.

“Look at the woods Abe called 600 pieces. Look at the woods he [has] now hauled. I will wait for him until he comes here,” he can be heard saying at the beginning of the film.

He then turns his mobile phone around an open field of more than a thousand timbers.

“You see it, you see the woods? I am doing this video to send it to my woman straight. You see it, you see the wood?

“He’s here doing Gobachop. That’s here his dismissal will come from.  You see the distances the woods [are]?  Is that 600 pieces here?” “Gobachop” means black market in Liberian parlance. It was coined in reference to the late Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose leadership led to the demise of the former Soviet Union.

“You want to steal from me?” Marshall says in the recording.

The leaked video exposed Varnery Marshall, the FDA ranger who runs illegal logging operations.

The video and pictures are believed to be taken at different locations in the forest in Gbarpolu County. Some reveal a sea of timbers scattered on an open field. Some show wood parked in containers. Others reveal Marshall’s accomplices, sitting on top of a mountain of woods, standing near a gigantic tree and posing for a photo with their new chainsaws and gear. Several of the pictures featured Marshall himself modeling next to a chainsaw operator as he saw a huge log.  

Marshall had sent the recordings and pictures to a source as a pitch for both men to partner in an illegal logging business. “We need to talk, brother,” Marshall tells the source in the WhatsApp message on August 16 at 8 p.m.  His message does not get a reply. The source said he shared the message with The DayLight to prove he was also a victim, not just an actor of the unlawful activity.

The leak comes barely a week after the FDA said it has observed that several illegal timber products are being exported without a trace. It said smugglers were hiding wood in containers. “FDA checkpoint and Free Port of Monrovia staff members are instructed to open all sealed containers from forested areas to verify content and ensure that the FDA duly issued conveying permit documents,” the statement said.

The agency suspended Marshall and Edward Kollie Jallah, another ranger assigned at the Klay checkpoint, over the leaked video and their alleged roles in the transport of illegal woods that involved a police commander and other individuals, according to Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, the head of the FDA legal team.

“Both Marshall and Jallah are suspended with directives that they report to Monrovia for investigation. They are expected to report to headquarters tomorrow. Their supervisor has been notified,” Dolo told The DayLight.

Marshall and Jallah did not answer phone calls placed to them. They did not reply to WhatsApp messages well.

A container is being uploaded at an illegal logging site run by FDA ranger Varney Marshall. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
Woods loaded in a container that Varney Marshall harvested in a forest believed to be in Gbarpolu. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
A pile of woods Varney Marshall, an FDA ranger, illegally harvested in a forest believed to be in Gbarpolu County. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
A pile of woods Varney Marshall, an FDA ranger, illegally harvested in a forest believed to be in Gbarpolu County. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
Some of Varney Marshall’s accomplices pose with new chainsaws and gears. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
Woods Varney Marshall illegally harvested
Two illegal loggers who work with Varney Marshall. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
Woods Varney Marshall harvested illegally. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall
A mountain of timbers Varney Marshall, an FDA ranger, illegally harvested. WhatsApp/Varney Marshall

CORRECTIONS: This version of the story deleted the repeated phrase “means black market.” It also corrects “woods” for wood in the fifth paragraph.

Seven Takeaways from LEITI’s 13th Report

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Top: Sand mining on the Robertsfield highway. The DayLight/Harry Browne


By Gabriel M. Dixon

MONROVIA – Since its establishment in 2009, Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative has provided information on the governance of extractive resources, and encouraged openness and sound management of Liberia’s natural resources and the revenues generated therefrom by the government.  In June this year, LEITI released its 13th report to the public in keeping with its Act. The report covers mining, oil and gas, agriculture, and forestry.

It provides insights and depths into the activities and operations of companies in the extraction of minerals and logs, and the production and processing of rubber, oil palm, cocoa, and others.  

Here, The DayLight highlights seven takeaways from the report you need to know:  

Iron Ore Leads Export

Ships at the Freeport of Monrovia. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Extractive resources remain the main export commodities for Liberia. The country is heavily dependent on its natural resources with mining the largest contributor. Between 2019 and 2020, Liberia exported iron ore, diamonds, gold, bauxite, and other base metals. It also exported rubber, cocoa, and round woods from the agriculture and forestry sectors.

ArcelorMittal was the sole producer of iron ore, with Europe being the main destination of the commodity.  Iron ore represented 78.6 percent of the value of export in 2019-2020. Diamonds accounted for three percent of export value, with Israel the main destination of the precious minerals.

Mining Is Once More On Top Of Extractive Industries

Sand mining operation in Margibi County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

Mining interjected the highest revenue from extractive activities in the domestic economy. It contributed US$45.243 million in the 2019/2020 fiscal year out of US$70.915 million in total revenue.

Minerals currently being mined in Liberia include iron ore, gold, diamonds, bauxite, and several base metals. Income from those minerals represents 63 percent of revenues generated from the entire extractive industry for the fiscal period the report covers. Second to mining was Agriculture which generated US$17.455 million, mostly from concession-related operations in the rubber and oil palm subsectors.  Agriculture was followed by forestry, netting US$7.312 million primarily from logging operations.

Mining, agriculture, and forestry were the three highest performers in the extractive sectors in 2019/2020. Oil and gas also contributed to tax income despite low investment activities. It contributed US$0.905 million to the revenue stream of Liberia for the period.

Rubber was the largest export commodity in the agriculture sector. it represents 81 percent of the total value of commodities exported by agriculture companies in 2019/2020. The Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) exported more rubber than any other company during the period, representing 56.7 percent of the total rubber exported.

Crude Palm Oil and Kernel were exported by two companies, LIBINCO Oil Palm and Golden Veroleum Liberia.  Both companies exported US$27.063 Million value of crude palm and kernel oils in 2019/2020. Total tax income from agriculture for the period was US$17.455 million with Firestone contributing 36.2 percent of the amount.

ArcelorMittal Is Liberia’s Biggest Taxpayer

Mining giant ArcelorMittal again tops the list of taxpayers. The company paid US$30.966, making it the biggest contributor of tax dollars in the extractive sector. It exported 9.5 million metric tons of iron ore between 2019 to 2020 on which the company paid taxes to Liberia. Firestone Rubber Company, the largest agriculture company in Liberia, paid US$6.318 million in taxes, making it the second biggest taxpayer. The company occupies the biggest land concession area in the history of Liberia with 405,000 hectares of land. oil palm companies Golden Veroleum in Sinoe County, and Equatorial Palm Oil in Grand Bassa County came third and fourth, with tax remittances of US$2.254 million and US$0.773 million, respectively.

ArcelorMittal and three other companies accounted for 92.2 percent of total tax income generated from mining in 2020. The other companies are BEA Mountain Mining Company, MNG Gold Liberia, Inc., and Hummingbird Resources, Inc. Arcelor Mittal is the sole producer of iron ore while BEA Mountain, MNG Gold, and Hummingbird are all involved in the extraction of gold, according to the report.

Community Forests Exported More Logs Than Forest Concessions

A man marks logs harvested from the Korninga A Community Forest in Gbarpolu. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

There were more logging activities in community forest management areas (CFMA) than in forest management contracts (FMC) areas in Liberia, according to LEITI. Community forests produced 65,997.52 cubic meters or 75 percent of round logs in 2019-2020, while large-scale concessions produced 21,999.18 cubic meters of timbers. Total annual production for the period was 87,996.7 cubic meters according to information provided by the FDA to LEITI.

The export value of round logs was US$4,023,280, representing payments by 20 logging companies. The total volume of round logs exported was 230, 642 cubic meters with community forest exporting 54. 7 percent of the total volume while large-scale concessions and other forest agreements accounted for 48.3 percent.  

Community Forest Management Agreements and Forest Management Contracts are the two main types of agreements that produce round logs for export. Asia was the main destination of Liberian woods with China accounting for 62.4 percent of export There were more logging activities in community forests than in large-scale forest concessions. Out of the 87,996.7 cubic meters of round logs that were produced.

Community forests exported 127,139 cubic meters of round logs or 55.1 percent of the total round wood production for the fiscal period of 230,654 cubic meters. The total value of round woods exported was US$4,023,280.  

Community forests and large-scale concessions or forest management contracts are the two main types of agreements that produced round logs for export.

Agriculture Companies Employed More  

Workers of Golden Veroleum Liberia in Butaw, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The agriculture sector was the largest employer in the extractive industries. The sector workforce stands at 14,845, second only to the mining sector. Firestone remains the largest contributor to employment in the agriculture sector.

The sector is also the largest benefactor to social and environmental expenditure and it accounts for 68.5 percent of the total expenditure highlighted in both the agriculture and mining sectors. Total social expenditure by the agriculture sector was US$1.924 million in 2019 and 2020.

The International Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (IEITI), the parent oversight body of LEITI, defines Social and environmental expenditures as “a form of contributions from companies with the aim of supporting social development or to account for potential environmental impact.” In some cases, these social or environmental payments are based on legal or contractual obligations. In other cases, companies make voluntary social or environmental contributions.

LEITI agreed that based on the 2019 report, any public social expenditure such as payments for social services, public infrastructure, fuel subsidies, national debt servicing, etc. made by NOCAL i.e., outside of the national budgetary process be regarded as a quasi-fiscal expenditure

Companies Are Hiding Their Owners

A camp of International Consultant Capital in Tappita District, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The LEITI Act requires companies to disclose information on those who own them. but the institution found that many companies are not providing “ beneficial ownership” information as required by the Liberian Business Association Act of 1976 as amended in 2002.

The report said only 31 of the 132 companies that applied for or had licenses, were active in the mining sector. From the 31, only seven have declared who their owners are.

In the forestry sector,  28 companies but just three of them actually disclosed ownership. One company also provided partial owners’ identities. What it means is that 86 percent of companies engaged in logging in 2019/2020 did not disclose to government regulators who their owners are but were allowed to operate.

Similarly, in the agriculture sector, one company provided detailed information on the company ownership, and another company provided moderate ownership information to regulators from 13 active licenses issued in that period.

The Oil & Gas sector reported two active licenses issued to Chevron Liberia Holdings (Limited), and  Deeco Oil & Gas. Chevron is a listed company on the international market. But Deeco Oil &  Gas did not provide information on its owners. 

Concealment of company beneficial ownership enables many illegal activities, such as tax evasion, corruption, money laundering, and financing of terrorism, to take place out of the view of law enforcement authorities. Governments and international financial and business regulators now require companies to declare shareholders or ownership information to the public as part of global transparency initiatives.

The Business Association ACT of 2002 empowers the Liberia Business Registry to implement beneficial ownership disclosures which enhance transparency in doing business. In 2021, Liberia signed up for the Opening Extractive Program (OEP).  OEP is intended to assist Liberia to implement the beneficial ownership (BO) regime. Under the 2009 ACT of LEITI companies are required to disclose once every year the data on payments and other revenues.  

Companies Are Not Providing Relevant  Information

Rubber is one of Liberia’s major export commodities. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue  

Section 7.2 of the LEITI Act mandates the institution to report on a regular basis, to the president of Liberia and the general public. Such a report should include payments and revenues, audits, and/or reviews of concessions and contracts between the government and companies in the extractive sector. 

The report, however, said companies are not providing all of the information mandatory for full disclosure of contracts. It said it has “noticed that some mining contracts were not publicly disclosed on any of the agency’s (Ministry of Mines and Energy) platform” despite the companies being actively engaged in mining activities during the reporting period.  It further stated that “While all mining licenses are being disclosed on a license portal, the terms and conditions associated with those licenses are not disclosed.”

Ex-diplomat and Police Commander in Illegal Logging

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Top: Some of the illegal logs Anderson harvested in Weimu, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Gabriel Dixon


By Gabriel M. Dixon and Emmanuel Sherman

WEIMU, Gbarpolu County –  Isaac Richmond Anderson, Jr. had just come back to Liberia after serving as First Secretary at the Liberian Consulate in South Korea and decided to start a logging business.

“My thing was to ensure that I attract potential investors to Liberia,” Anderson told The DayLight in a phone interview.

Anderson said he contacted Augustine Dunbar, one of his friends, who took him to Weimu, a village in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County. Dunbar then introduced him to villagers there, Anderson said. Within months, the logs were ready for transport.

At that point, Anderson contacted Dawoda Sesay, the commander of police deports in the Paynesville area known as Zone Five, to help arrange the transport. Sesay hired three container trucks to move the logs, promising to pay them either US$1,000 or US$900, according to Sesay himself and the truck owners.  

Last month, the trucks arrived at Anderson’s logging site, were loaded with logs, and took off. But rangers of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) halted the transport. Two trucks were arrested at the Klay checkpoint on the Bomi highway and the one at Sawmill on the Tubmanburg-Bopolu highway.

The rangers found out that Anderson and Sesay did not obtain approval from the FDA to transport the logs. The Klay trucks were immediately impounded at the FDA regional office in Tubmanburg. The one at Sawmill was held exactly there. After weeks of investigation, the rangers later discovered Anderson and Sesay were running an illegal logging operation, one of the severest offenses in the forestry sector.

The FDA has sued Sesay and the owners of two of the trucks over the illicit operation.  

“The FDA sees the actions of Mr. Sesay and the owners of the truck as a gross violation of the National Forestry Reform Law,” Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, the head of FDA’s legal department, told The DayLight in an email. “The Managing Director of the FDA, Hon. C. Mike Doryen has frowned on this gross illegality and has requested that sternest of action against the violators  consistent with the laws governing the forestry sector.” The lawsuit comes as reports of illegal shipments of timbers and timber products are on the increase.

An investigation by The DayLight has found more details of the illicit activities, following our initial report of the seizure of the logs two weeks ago.

‘Sample’

Before you engage in logging activities in Liberia, you must have a company, registered at the Liberian Business Registry and then apply at the FDA. The agency will vet your company, including its capacity to operate and your criminal record. Once your business meets all of the criteria, it is prequalified to do logging in Liberia. Thereafter, you will have to seek a contract with the FDA or an agreement with a community, subject to the agency’s approval. That goes with the transport of woods.

That was not the case with Anderson. “I have not done logging before, don’t know the different species of logs. I have no idea, it was my first time,” Anderson told us in the phone interview.

Anderson said Dunbar introduced him to a customs officer at the Freeport of Monrovia he only identified as Peter, who told him it was possible to ship woods without a permit.

He said he had Korean business partners who were interested in exporting first-class logs and had assured him of buying the woods once he delivered them.  He added that the woods were a kind of experiment for future deals.

“They (Koreans) want to carry the wood as a sample and then pay later,” Anderson said. “So Sesay agreed to help me with some of the money.”

Some of the logs there were illegally harvested in Gbarpolu in one of the container truckers that were seized by the Forestry Development Authority. The DayLight/Gabriel Dixon

The FDA has indicted Sesay, Shakia Kamara, who owns one of the Klay trucks, and Layee Sheriff, the owner of the one at Sawmill, in separate lawsuits in Bomi and Gbarpolu County, according to court officials. The agency is seeking a US$25,000 fine, a 12-month prison term for the men, and forfeiture of the vehicles, all maximum penalties under forestry laws and regulations. It would indict the owner of the third truck once it gets a name, according to Dolo.

The agency has also asked the courts to allow it to take the logs in line with the Regulation on Confiscated Logs, Timbers and Timber Products. It will need another court order to auction them.

Sesay admits he hired the trucks to transport the woods but said he did not know whether the operation was illegal.

“As police officers, we have our inalienable rights: the right to live, right to survive. So, if my brother came to me and said, ‘Look, I need this assistance,’ then… I made the arrangement… is that something prohibited? Sesay told The DayLight in an interview at his Mount Barclay residence. “Even if I knew what they (truckers) were going to get, that is none of my business. If the transaction was illegal, I was not there to know that it was illegal.

“The good thing there, I didn’t facilitate armed robbery, I didn’t facilitate murder, I didn’t facilitate drugs trafficking, nor human trafficking,” he added.  

The owners of the trucks said they were also unaware that the woods were illegally harvested. Sheriff, one of the two trucks’ owners who have been indicted, said Sesay had promised to give them the documents for the wood once they arrived at the site but did not.

The National Port Truckers Association of Liberia said the scandal has “embarrassed” the group. It said it would try to prevent such illegal transport in the future.  

“We want to have a memorandum of understanding [with the FDA] because we want to avoid future embarrassment. This is a complete lesson to us now. We know that there is a lot of clandestine activities going on with the transportation of woods,” said Yahaya Kemokai, the secretary general of the association.

The FDA said in a statement last week it has observed that several illegal timber products are being exported without a trace. It said smugglers were hiding woods in containers. “FDA checkpoint and Free Port of Monrovia staff members are instructed to open all sealed containers from forested areas to verify content and ensure that the FDA duly issued conveying permit documents,” the statement said.

The truck that was held at Sawmill, owned by Layee Sheriff, one of the people indicted for alleged illegal logging. The DayLight/Gabriel Dixon

‘On Credit’

The site of Anderson’s logging operations appeared equally illegal. A muddy and rough road branches into the forest at the top of a hill. Remnants of the illegally harvested logs lay around.

It was not clear how much volume of logs was harvested. However, Anderson said they were all Ekki woods, a very expensive species of logs that currently sells for US$210 per cubic meter on the international market. His statement was backed by Dolo, who said, “All the trucks have crossed cut Ekki Logs.”   

The illicit loggers felled 17 trees but used 15, according to the villagers we interviewed. “It was 17 trees but they said two were damaged, they had holes in them,” said Emmanuel Massaquoi, one of the villagers.  

Anderson and the locals had verbally agreed to cut the 15 trees in exchange for US$2,800 per tree, according to both parties. But it was a long negotiation process that involved half a dozen people.

Anderson and Sesay initially contacted Dunbar, who introduced the pair to a man only identified as Korvah. It was Korvah who actually introduced the pair to Massaquoi. Massaquoi then contacted Fatu Samukai, his mother-in-law, who claims ownership of the forest, Massaquoi told us in the interview. Samukai appointed Massaquoi to represent the village. Then the unlawful deal was sealed.  

By law, communities are entitled to benefits from their forest resources but they must first meet FDA requirements. Moreover, said the agreement must be approved by the agency. That was not the case with Weimu, another layer of the illegal activities.

Anderson, Dunbar, Korvah, Massaquoi and Samukai could also be indicted, as the FDA conducts a further investigation into the illicit act, according to Dolo. A person commits an offense if they intentionally or negligently cut trees illegally, according to the regulation on confiscated logs.  

“I regret my action. I am just appealing to the commercial and legal departments of FDA,” Anderson said. “I have learned the hard way.”

Korvah declined to comment, we were not successful in tracking down Dunbar, and Samukai was still recovering at the Jallah Lone Hospital in Bopolu at the time of our investigation.

Meanwhile, the case at the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Tubmanburg begins Tuesday. The DayLight will provide you with details of the proceedings as they unfold.

Henry Gboluma and Mohammed Sheriff contributed to this report.

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

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