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Government completes Surveys for Four River Cess Clans


Top: An elevated view of a portion of Teekpeh Clan’s 65,224.61 hectares of land. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

By Harry N. Browne

TEEKPEH – Liberia Land Authority has conducted surveys in four clans in River Cess County, the last stage for the communities to get customary land deeds.

The Land Authority conducted the surveys recently for Teekpeh, Ziadue, Dorbor and Gbarsaw, bringing to an end four years of quest for their ancestral land rights.

“I feel so glad because, for the time Liberia existed, we were [squatters]. For us to be the legitimate owners of our land, we really appreciate that,” said Fredrick James, the chairman of Teekpeh’s Community Land Development and Management Committee.  

“If you do not have a deed for [your land] in Liberia, then … the land is not for you,” said Blessing Nagba, Town Chief of Zammie Town, one of Teekpeh’s largest communities.

Before the official survey, Teekpeh, Ziadue, Dorbor and Gbarsaw declared their intention to get title deeds for their lands. Later, they formed land governing bodies and conducted open mapping of their areas, requirements in the Land Rights Act of 2018 for a customary land deed.

The confirmatory surveys were conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner with all of the parties represented. Representatives of the four clans, the Liberia Land Authority, and civil society gathered at the various boundary points to witness the process.

Blessing Nagba, Town Chief of Zammie Town in Teekpeh Clan

Before that, the surveyors asked the representatives to walk them to the actual spot that all parties agreed to. Then they took points from each location and planted trees at those points.  There are 39 border points among the four clans.

Representatives for the clans posed for a picture at each boundary point for evidence, using special equipment that processes and stores data on a memory card and to a satellite. The pictures will remain there as long as the satellite is in space.

Surveyors of the Land Authority survey Teekpeh and Ziadue in River Cess. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The advanced GPS equipment works directly with the satellite for accuracy. It had been recommended as part of a US$3.45 million project to assist communities get their customary deeds, funded by the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility of Sweden.

Before the survey, the Land Authority conducted a two-day workshop on how the instrument works for transparency’s sake.  

The survey had lots of challenges. The teams traveled hours between clans to cut boundaries in hard-to-reach areas. The Thick, green forest features creeks, valleys, mountains, and wildlife. Townspeople, who knew the route well, helped carry the equipment on their heads under the forest’s shade.

The survey team walked for hours in the forest to confirm the land areas of Teekpeh, Ziadue Gbarsaw and Dorbor Clans in River Cess County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

I am here for land, for us to cut our land boundary between, Ziadue and Teekpeh. [This] is the reason we came in the bush,” said Rebecca Miller, town chief of Zeegar Town in Teekpeh.

The four clans cover a combined 152,937.57 hectares of land. Of that total, Teekpeh is the largest with 65,224.61 hectares, followed by Dorbor with 34,276.06 hectares, Ziadue with 32,718.45 hectares and Gbarsaw with 20,000 hectares.

‘Give and take’

But the clans’ success did not come without challenges. They had to resolve several land crises.  

Ziadue and Teekpeh fought for Yarvoe, a village that has a potential for gold, according to a survey by the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Teekpeh claimed the Yarvoe because it holds the clan’s ancestral graveyard. Ziadue’s contention was it (a 45-minute walk) is closer to the village than Teekpeh  ( a two-hour-45-minute walk).  In the end Teekpeh prevailed following six years of heightening tension.

“All we needed to do was to convince them that land business is give and take,” recalled James. “That was the only way we were able to convince our people and the exercise went on.”

Ziadue and Teekpeh also squared off with Dorbor over a place named Sand Beach Junction for two years.  Once more the three clans agreed to turn over the land to Teekpeh following two years of standoff.

Dorbor had another conflict with Gbarsaw over a parcel of farmland across a creek. Dorbor surrendered the land to Gbarsaw

“We protected the communities until we went to all those boundaries. We did give-and-take,” said Tito Davis, the chairman of the Dobor Community Land Development Committee. We felt that we wanted deed so, Dorbor gave most of the land out.”

At times, the Land Authority and civil society were caught up in the conflicts.

Arthur Cassell, the geographic information system (GIS) specialist with the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), which works with the communities, experienced some of them. In one incident, townsmen, unhappy with a borderline they had drawn, chased Cassell and his team into a bush.

“You know the small creek in the bush have their names and sometimes through oral history. Somebody might miss the name or somebody might miss the location of the creek. That was the hold situation,” Cassell said.

“To see the four of them Ziadue Teekpeh, Dorbor and Gbarsaw get their confirmatory survey in one go, it is a plus for us,” Cassell added.

Children work on a farmland in Dorbor Clan, River Cess County. The DayLight/Harry Browne

The Land Authority is expected to grant the four clans their customary deed soon. They make it 11 communities in River Cess and 20 across the country whose lands have been surveyed. Eight communities have already been granted customary deeds, with Fessibu in Lofa the latest.

We are quite assured that in the next few weeks or so their deeds will be prepared,” said Jerome Vanjah Kollie, the National Coordinator for Customary Boundary and Harmonization at the Land Authority. “We have concluded the work.”       

At Least 10 Die in Mining Accident


Top: People gather at the scene of a mining accident that claimed the lives of at least 10 men in Cheo Town, River Cess County. Photo credit: S. Alberto Dixon, Sr.

By Aaron Geezay and Alberto Dixon

CHEO TOWN, River Cess – At least 10 miners died after a mining pit they were digging collapsed in a town in River Cess County.

“It has been confirmed that 10 bodies have been recovered, and search and rescue efforts are ongoing,” Minister of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism Jerolinmek Piah told a news conference on Tuesday.

The miners’ bodies were recovered from the pit where they died, pictures and videos of the accident taken by the local media show.

The incident occurred between Cheo Town and Charlie Town along the Yarpah Town and Cestos highway.

The victims, townsmen from the region, were on a gold rush at the open goldmine run by the Development of African Commodities (DEVACO).

Isaiah Ziah 18, an eyewitness, said there were over 10 people in the pit. Ziah had just left the pit when the disaster struck.

“I left and carried my gravel bag before it happened,” he said.

The victims are both from Cheo and Charlie Towns where the gold mine is situated. The bodies of some of the victims have been identified as  Tardeh Chapay, Richard Baryogar, Edwin Dennis,  Alfred Dehdyu and Paul Zah.

Cooper Barney, a liaison officer of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said he had earlier advised the miners to leave but they did not listen.

“I even told them the Police Support Unit (PSU) was coming but they said ‘When the PSU come, we will stone them [off],’” Barney said. He added that the miners told him to “‘go and lie down.’” The DayLight could not independently verify those claims.

The fatal pit in which at least 10 miners died on Monday. Photo credit: S. Alberto Dixon, Sr.

DEVACO was awarded a medium-scale license in July 2021 and will expire in 2026, official records show. However, the company had abandoned the site for several months, according to locals.

This mining accident has added to several in the last five years. In 2020, two miners were killed in Grand Cape Mount County. That same year, four miners were also killed in a mine collapse in Jacksonville, Bong County. Earlier in 2019, 40 miners were buried alive in Nimba County, the worst mining accident since the No Way Camp disaster in 1982.

The United States Embassy in Monrovia provided funding for this story. The DayLight maintained editorial independence over its content.

Early Signs Logging Contract Is Failing


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.

Illegal Company Abandons Some 6,000 Logs in River Cess


Top: A pile of logs in the Garwin Community Forest in River Cess County. The DayLight/Gabriel Dixon

KANGBO TOWN, River Cess – Between 2021 and last year, Tetra Enterprise Inc, an illegitimate Liberian-owned logging company, felled  1,300 trees in the Garwin Community Forest but has removed just a few.

“Tetra harvested 220 logs in 2021 and in 2022 felled additional 1,080 logs,” said Rev. Benison Sarchkoh, head of the community forest’s leadership.

In April, the leadership wrote the company,  giving it an ultimatum to extract and scale the logs felled in the bush before the end of that month.

“Do short hauling to Kangbo Town at [the] proposed camp to clear the logs from the bush before the heavy rains,” Sarchkoh said in the letter, obtained by The DayLight.  Kangbo Town is the headquarters of Tetra Inc. and home to Garwin Community Forest leadership.

Kangbo Town, the headquarters of the Garwin Community Forest’s leadership. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

Sarchkoh said the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) endorsed their request of the community.

Tetra has left more logs in the forest than the number Sarchkoh provided, official data shows. Between 2018 and 2021, Tetra abandoned 28,039.6 cubic meters of logs it harvested in the Garwin Community Forest, according to our analysis of records from the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Industries (LEITI).

We estimated the 28,039.6 cubic meters at  5,000 logs. That, plus the 1,300 logs the company felled between 2021 and last year sum up to about 6,000 logs.

This reporter photographed some of the logs but could not go further due to inaccessibility. 

A Tetra spokesperson attributed the delay in extracting the logs to bad roads. However, William Yeasay said the company had begun extracting the woods to its log yard in Buchanan.

“We have extracted 100 pieces.”

Under the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timbers and Timber Products, logs are abandoned if they are unattended between three weeks and six months, depending on the locations. From all indications, Tetra’s logs are abandoned, having remained in the forest for at least one year.

The penalty for such an offense is a fine equivalent to two times the volume of the logs, according to the regulation.

FDA did not respond to inquiries emailed to it, including whether or not Tetra was authorized to fell more trees in Garwin.

But recently, the agency said it would confiscate and auction abandoned logs across the country to curb the widespread violation. It said it would not award a harvesting certificate to any company that has that problem. To confiscate and auction the abandoned logs, the FDA must petition a circuit court following the publication of public notices, according to the regulation.

Tetra office and proposed camp in Kangbo Town, The Daylight/Gabriel Dixon

Broken promises

Tetra Inc signed a 15-year agreement with Garwin Community Forest on March 18, 2017, to operate in the 36,637-hectare  forest, one of the richest in forest and suitable for commercial.

According to the agreement, the company would sell logs and give back to the community, including fees for land rental, harvesting, scholarships and others.

But in the last two years, the company has not met those legal obligations.

Tetra owes Garwin Community Forest over US$60,000 in land rental, scholarship and supportive fees for other essential projects. It owes villagers land rental for two years of US$50,362 and scholarships fee for one year of US$8,000. It also owes compensation for two government-built clinics of US$3,000, according to the community. Yeasay confirmed the outstanding payments.

Tetra has also not constructed schools, roads, or clinics, based on the agreement. According to the agreement, it should have built and furnished an elementary school in 2019  and a junior school this year. It should have paved a primary road and constructed additional clinics to the ones in the area by now.   

As a result of these things, chiefs and elders of the region lodged a complaint with the Morweh Magisterial Court in Boegeezay Town, asking the judge to halt logging activities there until their agreement was reviewed.

We will revisit the agreement this year,” Sarchkoh told The DayLight.

How Tetra is an Illegal Company

An April investigation by The DayLight revealed Tetra is an illegal company.

The report found that the company has a bearer share, which means it has an unnamed shareholder. Such shares are illegal under the Business Association Law.  

The investigation also revealed Comfort Telma Sawyer, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister runs the company, a violation of the  Liberian Constitution, the National Forestry Reform Law, and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The laws prohibit a conflict of interest involving an official of the government.

The investigation showed indications Sawyer owns Tetra, something corroborated by her lawyer.

Former interim President of the Republic of Liberia Late Dr. Amos Sawyer and his wife Thelma Comfort Sawyer Deputy Foreign Minister. Picture credit: The Liberian embassy in the United States.

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

Deputy Foreign Minister Runs An Illegal Logging Company

created by dji camera

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

By Eric Opa Doue and James Harding Giahyue  

  • Deputy Foreign Minister for Administration Thelma Comfort Duncan Sawyer controls Tetra Enterprise, a logging company operating in a community forest in River Cess County. That is according to documents The DayLight obtained, and her lawyer
  • That violates the Liberian laws, including the Constitution, the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and the National Forestry Reform Law
  • Sawyer could well be the owner of the Tetra. Her lawyer claims her family established Tetra as a “fallback position.” The company is legally owned by a woman named Annabel Morris. However,  Tetra has a bearer share that is held by an unregistered individual  
  • Liberia’s Business Association Law prohibits bearer shares, which means the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has illegally approved Tetra’s operations
  • The company in question owes communities affected by its operation, failed to live up to its agreement with villagers and has abandoned a huge volume of logs  

GOZOHN, River Cess – In October 2020, President George Weah appointed Thelma Comfort Duncan Sawyer, the manager/proprietor of Tetra Enterprise Inc., a logging company, as the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister for Administration. Eight months later in June 2021, the Liberian Senate confirmed her. 

But even after assuming office, Sawyer has continued to run Tetra Enterprise’s operations in the Garwin Community Forest of River Cess County’s Morweh District, communications between Sawyer and the community forest’s leadership show. The letters discussed managerial issues:  a new agreement, delayed payments, abandoned logs, and failed projects Tetra had promised in their March 2017 agreement for the 36,637-hectare forest.

“On behalf of the community and my family, we [wholeheartedly] welcome you back to Liberia,” read one letter Rev. Benison Sackor, the head of the Garwin Community Forest’s leadership, wrote to Sawyer on November 16 last year.

“Things have been so tied in your absence. We are pleased that you are here,” it added. Frank Nimmo, the chairman of Tetra’s board of directors, replied to Sackor’s letter on Sawyer’s behalf eight days after. 

In an interview with The DayLight, Sackor said he addressed every communication for Tetra directly to Sawyer, who “instructs” it what to do.  His comments were corroborated by other members of Garwin’s leadership, including Rev. Harry Gueh, the head of its executive committee, the highest decision-making body. William Yeasay, the public relation officer of Tetra, confirmed Sawyer took major decisions for the company.

Running a company while holding a government position contravenes a number of Liberian laws. The National Forest Reform Law debars members of the cabinet from conducting commercial forestry activities. Violators of the law face a fine between US$10,000 and US$25,000, up to three times the sum they received from their companies or a prison term of up to 12 months. Sawyer’s relationship with Tetra is a conflict of interest, a breach of the Liberian Constitution and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Penalties for this breach include a suspension or a dismissal.

“[A conflict of interest] hurts a country or any organization because the person having a such conflict of interest is likely not to be objective, but to put [their] personal connection or interest above the collective,” said one lawyer, who asked not to be named. 

Former  Interim President of Liberia Dr. Amos Sawyer and his wife Thelma Comfort Duncan Sawyer, Deputy Foreign Minister for Administration, created Tetra Enterprise Inc. to bring in extra income for the family, according to Stephen Kai, Thelma Sawyer’s lawyer.  Thelma Sawyer runs Tetra Enterprises, which operates in the  Garwin Community Forest in River Cess County, according to documents obtained by The DayLight. Picture credit: The Liberian Embassy in the United States.

Sawyer, who has a faculty lounge named after her at a college at the University of Liberia honoring  Dr. Amos Sawyer, her late husband, has a history of alleged dishonesty with Garwin. Sawyer had lost a bid to acquire the forest in 2016 Xylopia Incorporated, a company with her registered shares.  A 2016 media report and a 2018 Global Witness report alleged she bribed and coerced villagers to sign a deal at the time. The media report by Mongabay alleged Xylopia paid villagers US$150, alcohol and rice for the villagers’ signatures.

In forestry, villagers own adjacent forests and have a right to co-manage them with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). Illegally, Sawyer’s Xylopia had signed a memorandum of understanding with Garwin even before it legalized that right. The parties agreed that “It is clearly understood that no third party will come between the people of Garwin and Xylopia… It is also understood that Xylopia is the only company that will work with the people of Garwin.” The FDA terminated the deal following a protest. Global Witness used the incident to highlight how businesspeople were undermining community forestry, which was created to benefit locals.

Eventually, Tetra, co-owned by a Liberian woman named Annabel Morris, won the bid for the forest, with harvestable trees covering 96 percent of it. The Global Witness report also alleged Tetra, backed by county authorities, bribed villagers to seal the deal.

‘Fallback Position’

It was unclear how Sawyer ended up at Tetra but there are indications the widow of the fallen Chairman of the Governance Commission co-owns it. The Global Witness report cited unnamed villagers who claimed Tetra was the same as Xylopia. The DayLight obtained two January letters from the Office of the Acting Paramount Chief of Garwin Chiefdom that provide some clues. One of the letters addressed Sawyer and the other Senator Wellington Geevon Smith.

“We write to formally complain to you about the behavior of Tetra, a Logging Company which you introduced to our community as your corporation…,” the letter that addressed Sawyer read. The other one to Smith also restates Thelma Sawyer had allegedly brought the company “to harvest Garwin Community Forest.” Smith did not pick up our call.  

Stephen Kai, Thelma Sawyer’s lawyer, claimed that the Sawyer family had created the company as a familial contingency project. “The old man (Dr. Amos Sawyer) decided to establish something as [a] fallback position whenever he [reached] the age of retirement,” Kai said. “[Thelma Sawyer] was doing nothing, so her husband decided, ‘Look you have to do something to see how we can generate extra incomes.’”

The Office of the Paramount Chief of Garwin Chiefdom recognizes Deputy Foreign Minister Thelma Duncan Sawyer as the owner of Tetra Enterprise Inc, co-owned by an unregistered person. Stephen Kai, her lawyer, backs villagers’ claim she co-owns the company, adding her family had established it as a “fallback position.” The company’s only known co-owner is a woman named Annabel Morris, who served as its general manager in 2018.
A page of a handwritten complaint chiefs and elders filed with Monweh Magisterial Court in River Cess County to halt Tetra’s logging operations in the Garwin Community Forest.

Tetra’s Secret Shareholder

Tetra’s shadowy ownership apparently supports Kai’s claims.  Morris holds 51 percent of the company’s shares, 19 percent are reserved and 30 percent are bearer shares, according to the company’s article of incorporation.  Bearer shares are shares whose holders are not registered or named. Firms pay dividends to the holders of the bearer shares based on an arrangement between the company and the bearer shares holder.

Kai may have simplified Tetra’s complex, shady ownership but he contradicts other facts about the firm. Thelma Sawyer already had Xylopia when Tetra was established, suggesting the Sawyers may have created the latter firm to get Garwin, not generally for extra income as Kai puts it.

But Tetra’s bearer shares make it ineligible for forestry activities in the country, anyways. The Business Association Law as amended in 2020 prohibits bearer shares in Liberia. It compelled firms in the country to convert such shares into registered shares as of December 31, 2020. The change in the law was part of a global effort to abolish bearer shares, which can lead to terrorist financing and tax evasion. It reinforces the reform agenda of Liberian forestry, which debars certain individuals from commercial logging, including human rights violators, embezzlers and fraudsters. It also renders the FDA’s approval of the company’s operations in the last two years and today illegal.

Kai did not comment on the bearer share issue.  He, however, said Sawyer had stepped aside and the “day-to-day activities of the company are now being handled by her sister-in-law Esther Sawyer, sister to the late Dr. Amos Sawyer.” He added Nimmo, another relative, had been appointed as the chairman of the company’s board of directors to avoid a conflict of interest.

“We advised her as lawyers and she in fact said to us, ‘Look, any communication or any contact, you deal with… Esther.’ And so that we are aware of. But [did she communicate] that to all the stakeholders? No, I can’t say that,” Kai added. Efforts to get comments from Esther Sawyer and Morris—Tetra’s general manager in 2018, according to FDA records—were unsuccessful.    

The involvement of Esther Sawyer and Nimmo with Tetra still remains a violation of the forestry law.  Individuals who companies-linked officials have control over are barred from commercial logging activities, too. The law requires government officials to transfer their shares or roles in a company to a blind trust or someone outside their control, not relatives. A blind trust is a firm that manages’ people’s businesses to avoid conflicts of interest.

The FDA again broke the law and the Regulation on Bidders Qualification to authorize Tetra’s operations with the Sawyers’ relatives. The regulation requires to disapprove of logging contracts connected with government officials—or their relatives.

Thelma Sawyer or her relatives aside, the FDA would have broken the regulation if Thelma Sawyer is actually one of Tetra’s owners. Though bearer shares were legal in Liberia in 2017 when Tetra was created, the regulation mandates the FDA to get a full list of companies shareholders. Then the agency can tell whether or not the companies’ owners are on its debarment list.

In 2021, the FDA approved Tetra’s harvesting plan amid conflicts between a map of the plan and another plan for its entire five-year operations in Garwin, according to a report by SGS, a Swiss firm that co-manages Liberia’s log-tracking system. Interestingly, Tetra harvested 4,264 that year it would abandon based on FDA records. The FDA did not respond to emailed questions for comments on this story.

Unfulfilled Promises and Abandoned Logs

Tetra’s bearer shares and links to Thelma Sawyer do not conclude the company’s illegalities.

Tetra has abandoned a large volume of logs. Between 2018 and 2021, Tetra harvested 46,729 cubic meters of logs and only exported just 18,690 cubic meters,  according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). Thus, it abandoned 28,039.6 cubic meters of logs, based on The DayLight’s analysis of the LEITI records. It owed US$70,574.93 as of March 31, last year relating to its operations, minutes of a high-profile meeting of forestry actors at the time show.

Tetra has begun work in Garwin in the absence of a new agreement. That is against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands that created community forestry. The law calls for companies to review their agreements with communities every five years before felling any other trees.

Tetra has not lived up to its agreement with Garwin. As per the agreement, Tetra should have constructed 18 handpumps in Garwin’s 15 towns and villages within its five years of operations. It only constructed two, according to locals. It also failed to build a school in the area, supply drugs to community clinics and build bridges.

Chiefs and elders have lodged a complaint with the Moweh Magisterial Court. “Six years have gone and the company failed to implement the provisions of the contract,” the April 7 complaint read. “We write to seek your intervention to stop all logging activities by the company until the contract is reviewed.”

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