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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.

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.

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