24.9 C
Monrovia
Sunday, June 23, 2024
Home Tags Nimba

Tag: Nimba

FDA Lets Loggers Ship US$3.5M Logs, Denying Villagers’ Share

0
created by dji camera

Top: West Water has a 15-year contract with District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The company is indebted to the owners of the forest but was allowed to export timber. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Emmanuel Sherman and Gerald Koinyeneh    


Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the Forestry Development Authority’s approval of illegal timber exports. 

TONWEIN, Nimba and GAYEPUE TOWN, Grand Bassa – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) permitted a company to export several consignments of timber while the firm was indebted to communities where the logs were harvested, a violation of a forestry regulation.

From June last year to March 2024, West Water Group (Liberia) Inc. shipped seven loads, totaling 3,275 logs or 18,683.309 cubic meters, FDA’s records show.  The shipments are valued at an estimated US$3.5 million, based on the FDA-approved prices and details of logs in the consignments.         

Yet West Water owes Blinlon Community Forests and District Three B&C in Grand Bassa and Nimba Counties over US$100,000, according to the leaderships of both community forests. The debt—approximately three percent of the estimated value of the exports—includes fees for land rental, harvesting, scholarships, and health services.

“The money from those logs that were shipped has not come to the community,” Jeremiah Gayepue, the head of District Three B&C leadership, told The DayLight. “The people are suffering.” West Water did not respond to queries for comment.

The FDA’s approval of the exports violates the  Regulation of Forest Fees, requiring West Water to make all outstanding payments before shipment or harvesting.  

The exports came to the spotlight after a DayLight investigation found half of the logs in the March consignment had been illegally harvested. The FDA denies the report, saying the newspaper “misinterpreted” the export dataset.

‘[Get] them out’

In July 2020, West Water signed a contract with locals to operate the 39,409-hectare Blinlon Community forest in the Yarwin-Mehnsonnon District near the Nimba-River Cess border.    

The contract mandates West Water to pay the community yearly land rental, harvesting and scholarship fees.

However, as of last month, the company owed the community over US$32,000, based on an interview with Junior Jacobs, the head of Blinlon’s leadership. The DayLight could not update that information at press time due to the lack of mobile phone connectivity in that part of Nimba.

Things are worse in District Three B&C, where West Water harvested four of the seven consignments of logs it exported.

The new Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Rudolph Merab approved one of the exports for West Water Group (Liberia) Inc., while the company owed community forests in Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties. The DayLight/Harry Browne

West Water signed a contract with the Grand Bassa villagers about a year after it sealed the Blinlon deal.  The new contract covers 24,862.5 hectares along Grand Bassa’s borders with Nimba and River Cess.

West Water owes District Three B&C nearly US$80,000, according to The DayLight’s calculation, based on interviews with the community forest’s leaders.  It has outstanding land rental, harvesting, scholarships and health services payments.

These outstanding payments and other issues have sparked two protests this year, the latest last month. Locals set up roadblocks and prevented West Water’s workers from going into the forest as the company has always been indebted to them.

“If the company is not meeting its obligation we will revoke their documents to get [them] out,” Alex Bonwin, a member of the community forest leadership, said.

Indebtedness

Created in 2007, the Regulation on Forest Fees is one of several reform provisions to ensure forest resources “directly benefit local communities and the government.”

Jonathan Yiah, the lead forestry campaigner at the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), blames West Water’s persistent indebtedness to the communities on the failure of the FDA to enforce the regulation.

Jeremiah Gayepue, the chief officer of the District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/ Emmanuel Sherman

Yiah said the lack of enforcement of the regulation would lead to the termination or suspension of West Water’s contract. 

“If the current government of Joseph N. Boakai means business, then forestry laws must be enforced in totality so that both the government and the communities can benefit from our resources,” Yiah told The DayLight.  

Yiah is not the only person to have said this.

A World Bank report released last month calls on the Liberian government to prioritize forest communities by managing forestry resources sustainably for peace and prosperity. The report found that climate change will push 1.3 million people into poverty and reduce the size of Liberia’s economy by 15 percent by 2050 if nothing is done.

‘Very repressive’

The FDA dodged queries for comment on its failure to enforce the Regulation on Forest Fees. The agency disclosed that the company also owed the government US$59,319.50, which also breaches the regulation.  

“Yes, we confirm that West Water has tax liabilities,” Merab said in a letter to the newspaper. “However, [the Liberia Revenue Authority] is the lead determinant of tax obligation.”

Merab is a staunch opponent of forestry laws and regulations.

In an interview with the African Report in 2015 after Liberia signed a US$150 million deforestation deal with Norway, he claimed that logging’s legal regime had impoverished rural communities.

West Water’s camp in Tonwein, Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald Koinyeneh

During his induction as Managing Director of the FDA, Merab aimed a dig at the crafters of the legal framework for creating laws “that cannot work.”  

He stated that in a recent interview with the Associated Press, adding he would work to scale back regulations.

“Sometimes regulations become too cumbersome and it stifles productivity,” he said in the interview. “Same thing with laws. Sometimes the law becomes very repressive.”

Rosemart: The Logging Company Secretly Operating in Nimba

0

Top: Rose Yancy and community people lead foreigners into the Kpaytuo Plantation. Photo credit: Facebook/Rose Yancy


By Gerald C. Koinyeneh

KPAYTUO, Nimba County – A Liberian-owned company ships timber from a forest in Nimba County unknown to the rest of the public, except for the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Mike Doryen and the other top managers of the agency, who have sanctioned the firm’s illegal operations.

Rosemart Inc. was awarded the Kpaytuo Plantation in the Saclepea District at least six years ago, according to documents withheld secret ever since until a recent investigation by The DayLight prompted the FDA to publish them.  The company has illegally shipped US$100,000 worth of teak logs, expensive woods used for construction, shipbuilding and the making of rifles. At the time of Rosemart’s last known shipment in 2020, teaks were selling for US$300 per cubic meter. It has traded between US$1-2.5 million goods on the Trade Key alone, a Saudi Arabia-based e-commerce platform.

But there is no public record of Romsemart’s operations—its contracts with the FDA and the community where it operates—except for three illegal export permits. The company is not captured in the reports of the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). It has only paid US$664.70 during all its years of operations, with some of its fees going straight to the FDA’s account at the United Bank for Africa (UBA), instead of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).  

Villagers adjacent to the Kpaytuo Plantation said Rosemart pays them US$15,000 for a certain quantity of logs. They said they have had three transactions, information backed by the permits published so far. The 500-acre Kpaytuo is one of several plantations across the country that were established by the government of Liberia prior to the Liberian civil wars as part of the government’s forest regeneration program.

“The agreement puts Rosemart in charge of the forest. The few pieces [of logs] that remained there, she is responsible for them. I heard that she has found partners and is waiting for the rain to stop coming,” said Adolphus Kpangar, the commissioner of Kpaytuo township. He declined to share a copy of the agreement. 

The FDA awarded Rosemart’s its contracts outside of forestry laws and regulations.   There are five legal logging permits: forest management contracts (FMC), timber sale contracts (TSC), forest use permits (FUP) or private use permits (PUP) and a community forest management agreement (CFMA). Rosemart contract does not fall under any of the five contracts, known in the sector as forest resource licenses.

Rosemart did not conduct an environmental social impact assessment (ESIA) as mandated by the National Forestry Reform Law. The assessment draws out the environmental and social consequences of a project and proposes measures to mitigate potential negative impacts. Clearing a forest without conducting an ESIA could hurt plants, animals and people, experts say. For instance, Kpaytuo Plantation has swamps, generally important ecosystems that are home to different species.

Also, Rosemart’s export permits were issued outside of the chain of custody or LiberTrace, the system that tracks all logs produced and shipped from Liberia. Its creation was a monumental achievement in Liberia’s drive to trade legal and sustainable logs. It is a crucial component of the country’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA)  with the European Union signed in 2011. 

“I have no idea what [those permits are],” said Gertrude Nyaley, the technical manager for the department in an emailed interview with The DayLight. “What I know is that all woods and wood products must be exported [through] the LiberTrace system. Anything shipment of timber or timber products outside the chain-of-custody system is illegal.” Awarding permits outside the chain of custody amounts to economic sabotage under the law.  

Rose Yancy Adikwu, Rosemart’s co-owner and CEO, turned down an interview with The DayLight on her company’s illegal activities.

Rose Yancy Adikwu, Rosemart’s co-owner and CEO with townsmen and her foreign business partners. Facebook/Rose Yancy

The FDA did not initially respond to The DayLight’s inquiry. But in a rebuttal to our investigation that exposed the secret deal, it falsely claimed that Rosemart’s consignment did not meet certain requirements. It also claimed that Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS), the Swiss firm that created LiberTrace, declined to enter the teak logs from plantations into the chain of custody.

Contrary to this claim, Rosemart made a number of shipments that are much larger than some of the ones captured by the LEITI.  For instance, Rosemart exported 88.625 cubic meters of logs outside the chain of custody in 2020. That same year, Regnals Internationals Inc.—which runs the Cavalla Reforestation Plantation—exported only 62 cubic meters of logs.  

SGS also debunked the FDA’s claim it declined to register the logs Rosemart exported into the system.  

“SGS has never been informed of any scientific management plantations to be applied in LiberTrace,” Theodore Aime Nna, SGS’ forestry project manager, told The DayLight. “Moreover, SGS does not certify any log in Liberia, but only verifies their history…”

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

Podcasts

×