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River Cess Community Seeks To Cancel Logging Contract

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Top: Logs EJ&J Logging Company abandoned in the Ziadue & Teekpeh Community Forest. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr


By Esau J. Farr


ZAMMIE TOWN – Villagers in River Cess County have made efforts to cancel a contract it has with a logging company over unpaid benefits and unfulfilled promises.

EJ&J Investment Corporation signed a 15-year contract with Ziadue & Teekpeh in 2018. However, five years after logging in the 24,649-hectare forest, the company has failed to live up to the agreement.

“The community said [it is] not willing to work with EJ&J again and therefore has decided to cancel its contract,” said Philip Tarweah, chief officer of Ziadue & Teekpeh’s community forest management body (CFMB).   

EJ&J owes the community more than US$72,000 for land rental, harvesting, scholarships and clinic support funds, according to our calculations as of November last year.

EJ&J failed to construct 16 handpumps and pit latrines each within major towns of the Kploh Chiefdom, where the forest lies. It also did not construct the two schools it promised the community.  

In the last three years, Ziadue & Teekpeh has made several failed attempts to get their benefits.

In a June 21, 2021 letter obtained by The DayLight, the community sought a meeting with the company the following month. However, EJ&J did not honor the invitation, according to the townspeople.

The parties finally met three months after and the company promised eight handpumps in five months but has not delivered for more than a year.

Stanley Whilzar, EJ&J’s general coordinator, blames his company’s failure on the coronavirus outbreak.

“When it comes to the pit latrines, the elementary schools…, when we entered the first and second years [it was] when we experienced the COVID-19,” Whilzard said. “We couldn’t lay our hands on those projects.”

Whilzar’s remarks are not backed by facts.

Records of the FDA show EJ & J, harvested 2,150 logs or 13,275 cubic meters of logs from 2020 to 2021, during the height of the pandemic.  

There is no evidence that EJ&J declared force majeure to suspend its operations and debts.  No logger company did.

‘…More logs in the forest’

The DayLight photographed several large piles of logs EJ&J abandoned in the forest for more than two years. The logs were scattered on both ends of the grassy road that leads to the community forest.

Abraham Wizard, a member of the leadership of Ziadue & Teekpeh Community Forest in River Cess. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

A former worker of the company, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal, pointed at several locations in the forest where he said logs were.  Villagers corroborated the ex-worker’s story.

“They have felled more logs into the forest, more than 10,000 logs. They are just wasting there,” said Abraham Wizard, a forest leader in Ziadue & Teekpeh.

EJ&J production records appear to support Wizard and other townspeople’s comments. Not one of the 2,150 logs it harvested during COVID-19 has been exported, the records show.

“We have been informing the company and FDA but they are not doing anything about it,” Wizard added.

The FDA did not respond to queries on the issue. However, the agency announced last November it would begin the process of auctioning abandoned logs across the country. It had made that pronouncement at least two times in the past and failed to take any concrete actions.

The FDA shares the blame for what has happened with Ziadue & Teekpeh.

FDA ignored the recommendations of a government-backed report in 2012 by approving EJ&J’s contract with Ziadue & Teekpeh.

Investigators of the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal had asked the FDA to set up a panel to assess EJ&J’s financial and logistical capacities before awarding it future contracts.  

Investigators uncovered that Eliza Kronyanh, EJ&J’s owner, did not have the financial means to operate independently. They gathered evidence that her company signed contracts only to subcontract to other companies, exploiting locals.  


[Additional reporting by Aaron Geezay in River Cess]

Funding for this story was provided by the Kyeema Foundation and Palladium. It was a production of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ).

Boakai’s Justice Minister Pick is A Serial Illegal Logger

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Top: This cartoon depicts Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah in a conflict of interest when he served as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Then Minister Kruah retained his shares in the Universal Forestry Corporation, which ran a forestry contract and held several mining licenses between 2018 and 2023. Illustration by Leslie Lomeh for The DayLight.


By James Harding Giahyue


  • MONROVIA – Minister of Justice-designate Cooper Kruah is a repeated forestry offender, with his company involved in illegal logging operations dating back to the Liberian Civil War era.
  • Kruah’s Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) was debarred from forestry in 2006, based on the United Nations Security Council’s recommendation
  • UFC crept its way back into the sector—with assistance from forestry authorities—and continued its illegal activities
  • UFC was involved in the infamous Private Use Permit Scandal in which it illegally received two permits at the detriment of local communities
  • Later, UFC signed an agreement with a community forest in Nimba. Then the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Kruah remained one of its shareholders—a violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and forestry’s legal instruments
  • Kruah presented a fake document, which misspells his son’s name, to cover up his conflict of interest
  • UFC persisted with its offenses, abusing the rights of local people, conducting illegal harvesting and transport

MONROVIA – Cllr. Cooper Kruah, the Minister of Justice-designate, has a long history of being a forestry offender. His nomination contradicts the role of the Attorney General and undermines President Joseph Boakai’s expressed quest for accountability and the rule of law.

In his Inaugural Address, President Boakai promised to fight corruption and restore Liberia’s lost image in the comity of nations. Boakai restated that in his first State of the Nation Address.

Last month, Boakai appointed Kruah, a stalwart of the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction whose support was instrumental in the Unity Party’s victory in last year’s elections.

Kruah is expected to appear before the Liberian Senate for confirmation. If confirmed, his job would be to prosecute individuals for alleged wrongdoings, sign concessions for Liberia and conduct oversight of several government offices.

But desk research, based on official records, United Nations reports and previous investigations by The DayLight reveals that Kruah may not be the right person for the post. It shows Kruah has broken forestry laws repeatedly with impunity, making no efforts to atone for his wrongdoings.

Kruah has refused to grant The DayLight an interview in each of the two times the newspaper contacted him. He preferred not to be recorded on the matter, which goes against The DayLight’s editorial policy.

Wartime logging

Kruah established Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC) in 1986, holding 25 percent of the company’s shares, according to its article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. One Peter Goankeh held 25 percent while the remaining 50 was outstanding.

UFC was active in the early 1990s and early 2000s when Liberia became known for “conflict timber” or “logs of war.” Warring factions traded timber for weapons in two civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people.

The trade violated several United Nations arms embargoes on Liberia, leaving the Security Council to impose sanctions on Liberian timber.  To lift the sanctions, the Liberian government at the time submitted itself to reform led by the UN and national and international civil society organizations.

Following a review of forestry concessions in 2005, the administration canceled all logging contracts, including UFC’s. The review found that UFC was not compliant with the industry’s laws and that its contract was not even ratified by the Legislature.

As part of the reform agenda, UFC and 69 other companies were expelled from doing logging business in Liberia. That move was further carved in the 2007 Regulation on Bidder Qualifications, which partially debars individuals associated with wartime companies from forestry activities.

An Illegal Return

In 2007, UFC amended its legal documents to add new shareholders. Kruah retained five percent shares in the company and the others were distributed among four other people, including former presidential advisor Edward Slangar and two non-Liberians: Jin S. Kyung and B.J. Kim.

In 2007 and 2008, UFC signed two illegal MoUs with Geetroh in Sinoe and Rock Cess in River Cess for logging rights, respectively, according to a 2018 Global Witness report. The communities had not gotten their community forestry status when the MoUs were signed. A 2009 law gives communities the right to enter into contracts with loggers upon the approval of the FDA.

Three years later, Kruah hustled his way back into the sector. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) ignored UFC’s wartime activities and its qualification regulation. UFC acquired two private use permits and logging rights granted for private lands.

But a two-year investigation by Global Witness, the Sustainable Development Institute and Save My Future Foundation found UFC and other companies were illegally awarded the permits. It became known as the Private Use Permit (PUP) Scandal.

A government-backed inquest uncovered a lot of irregularities with UFC’s PUPs. It found that UFC did not follow any legal processes, did not obtain an environmental permit and that fraudulent persons had posed to be the landowners of its contract areas.

It also found that UFC made payments into a personal bank account, its Grand Bassa PUP area was larger than the actual land size and the one in Sinoe was issued for communal, not private land.

A UN Security Council report revealed that UFC’s Sinoe permit covered the same area as Atlantic Resources, another company.

For the second time in its history, UFC’s permits were canceled alongside 62 others. The Managing Director of the FDA Moses Wogbeh was dismissed and prosecuted for his involvement in the scandal. A moratorium on the issuance of PUPs remains in force to this day.

Conflict of Interest

There is no public record of UFC’s activities after the PUP Scandal. However, UFC returned in 2020 with an agreement with the Sehzueplay Community Forest.

Kruah was the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications while serving as a shareholder and secretary of UFC’s board of directors when the agreement was signed.

That violated the National Forestry Reform Law of Liberia and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. Both laws prohibit a government official from conducting logging activities. The violations were the subject of an investigative series by The DayLight in 2022.

Kruah tried to cover up his conflict of interest but ended up committing more wrongdoings. A 2019 document he claimed to be UFC’s amended article of incorporation was not recorded at the business registry as required by law. Also, UFC’s tax history at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) did not show it paid taxes for the amendment. UFC’s legal document at the business registry still carries Kruah and his five percent shares.

On the left is the real article of incorporation of Universal Forestry Corporation (UFC). On the right is the fake one Justice Minister-designate Cooper Kruah presented in 2022.  

Moreover, the content of UFC’s so-called amended article cemented the evidence of the document’s fakeness. The document misspelled the name of Kruah’s son. Instead of “Prince M. Kruah,” it read “Prince M. Kuah.”

Then FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen promised to act but failed to do so. Penalties for forgery in forestry are a fine between US$10,000 and three times the funds Kruah received from UFC, or a prison term of up to 12 months.

But Kruah did not know, or he ignored the fact that he would not have resolved his conflict of interest by transferring his shares to his son. The forestry reform law mandates him to relinquish, or turn over his shares to a blind trust or a person outside of his control.

Illegal harvesting

UFC carried out illegal logging and transport under his shareholdership. An August 2021 industry report found that UFC conducted “massive” illegal harvesting in and around the Sehzueplay Community Forest.

The report revealed that UFC was illegally transporting logs from Nimba to an illegitimate sawmill in Buchanan, Grand Bassa. Investigators suspected that UFC smuggled logs it had felled outside of Sehzueplay to the sawmill.

The DayLight had visited the forest and photographed some of the illegal logs mentioned in that report. It obtained a ranger’s memo to Kyung, UFC manager, informing him about the illegal felling.

“During our recent visit to your concession area, we discovered that you were doing illegal [felling]. You are fallen [trees] without being awarded a [harvesting] certificate,” the memo read, signed by Steve Kromah, the ranger responsible for forest contracts in the Tappita area.

The illegal harvesting was not UFC’s only offense. It unilaterally entered a subcontract with a logging firm. Sehzueplay or the FDA was not aware of the subcontract UFC signed with Ihsaan Logs Company (ILC), a forestry violation.

ILC is ineligible to conduct logging as Mohammed Paasewe, its co-owner, was still paying back funds he embezzled from the Liberian government when he served as Superintendent of Grand Cape Mount County.

The logs The DayLight photographed brandished, “UFC/ILC,” a reference to the unapproved subcontract.

Turns out, towns and villages that own the forest became the biggest victims. As of March 2022, UFC owed locals—and the government—US$155,000, the second-highest in the industry. It had yet to carry out a host of mandatory development projects there. That situation has not changed.

UFC illegally harvested logs in and out of the Sehzueplay Community Forest in Tappita District, Nimba County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

EPA Shuts Down Carbon Deal Over DayLight’s Investigation

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia in Sinkor. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa


By Esau J. Farr


MONROVIA – The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has disapproved of carbon credit negotiations between an American-owned company  BlueEarth Capital and rural communities following an investigation by The DayLight that exposed irregularities with the deal.  

“[The EPA] has thus issued an immediate resolute call to all communities involved in discussions with the company (BlueEarth) to cease all engagements without delay or risk drastic actions,” said the agency in a statement over the weekend.

“EPA’s involvement and approval are non-negotiable pre-requisites in carbon credit deals in Liberia,” it added. 

The agency further expressed “profound dismay” over the ongoing illegal carbon negotiations between BlueEarth Capital and residents of Ziadue Clan, River Cess County.

The release came on the back of a DayLight story on  BlueEarth’s proposed MoU with Ziadue to save carbon credits on more than 55,000 hectares of forestland.  

The DayLight reported a number of illegalities associated with the proposed deal.

The investigation showed BlueEarth induced community leaders to consent to the deal by underwriting their transportation and food costs.

It proved that ordinary townspeople and some community leaders were still unaware of the deal despite emerging in March, a violation of locals’ right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).  (FPIC is guaranteed in the Community Rights Law, the Land Rights Act, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

The deal sought over 55,000 hectares, more than 8,000 hectares of the uncontracted area Ziadue has.

It was illegally intended to last for 25 years, 10 more than the legal duration of a community forest contract, based on the Community Rights Law. 

EPA, one of the agencies responsible for regulating the carbon industry, said it was caught unaware by The DayLight’s investigation.

BlueEarth Capital intended to capture carbon credits in more than 55,000 hectares of forestland in Ziadue Clan, Central River Cess District in River Cess County. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper

“Their intent is to exploit these forests for carbon harvesting and subsequent trading of carbon credits on the international market,” it said. BlueEarth has also engaged communities in Nimba, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu.

Ziadue Clan’s land leadership said they would now focus on getting its ancestral land deed, a process it has almost completed.

“We are customary people. What we are running after now is our confirmatory survey to get a deed from the Liberia Land Authority (LLA),” said Emmanuel Roberts, the chairman of the Ziadue’s community land development management committee (CLDMC).

“If we have anything to do with BlueEarth Capital, it will not be hidden from the national government, civil society organizations and our consultant.”

Augustine Jarrett, BlueEarth’s American owner and former presidential adviser, did not answer questions for comments on the matter. However, he defended his institution in a statement on Monday evening.

“We are deeply committed to the principles of transparency, integrity, and community engagement,” Jarrett said.  

3 River Cess Clans Set for Official Survey

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Top: Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor have all reached the confirmatory survey stage in the legal process to obtain their customary land deed. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper


By Esau J. Farr


CENTRAL RIVER CESS DISTRICT – Three clans in River Cess County have met the requirements for a government-conducted survey, the final legal step leading to a customary land deed.    

Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor—all in the Central River Cess District—reached the landmark early last month.  

“We are aware that three communities are ready…,” said  Lincoln Flomo, the head of the monitoring and evaluation division of the Liberia Land Authority (LLA).

Flomo said the leaderships of the three communities would have to meet with LLA representatives and civil society organizations (CSOs) before the survey was conducted.

The Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor self-identified as landowning communities, mapped their respective boundaries and drafted bylaws and constitutions to reach this stage. They formed their respective leadership structures,   known as community land development and management committees or CLDMCs.

The Land Rights Act grants rural community people ownership of traditional land but requires them to go through a legal process to get a deed.

I am happy to get our land deed because the forest [is]for us and our children will benefit,” said Betty Gaywea a member of Ziadue’s CLDMC.

Prior to the passage of the Liberia Land Rights Act, rural communities did not own the land they lived on and did not have a say in the management of its resources.  

The law grants members of rural communities the right to manage their lands and benefit from their resources. 

“Getting the land deed will empower us to tell people that the land belongs to us,” said Patience Smith, a member of Teekpeh’s CLDMC member.    

Having started their journeys in 2020, two years after the signing of the law, the three clans resolved long-standing disputes in the process.

Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor had a conflict over a town named Sand Beach Junction.  After two years of claims and counterclaims, Ziadue and Dorbor surrendered the town with more than 30 houses to Teekpeh.  

Ziadue and Teekpeh also had a four-year conflict over Yarvoi Town, according to locals.

“It was tense to the extent that people from both clans carried cutlasses and single-barrel guns but there was no firing or injuries,” recalled Jackson Sando of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The NGO is helping the clans meet legal requirements for their deeds as part of a US$3.54 million project.

Townspeople from Teekpeh and Dorbor alongside civil society actors pose for a picture after a boundary meeting in Garpu Town, Dorbor. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

Dorbor had a major boundary dispute with Gbarsaw, another clan, over a parcel of farmland across a creek. The conflict ended with Gbarsaw prevailing.   

“I am happy because we had problems with our boundaries and you people have come and settled everything because we want our deeds,” said Nancy Garpu, Clan Chief of Garpu Clan.

SDI has been working with the communities under the Tenure Facility project to assist them in getting deeds to their ancestral lands since 2020.

Ziadue, Teekpeh and Dorbor add to scores of communities across the country that are awaiting confirmatory survey, according to the LLA.

Inside A Problematic Carbon Deal in River Cess

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Top: A graphic depicting BlueEarth Capital’s CEO Augustine Jarrett and townsmen of Ziadue Clan.  The DayLight /Rebazar Forte


By Esau J. Farr        


  • BlueEarth Capital, a company seeking a carbon contract with Ziadue Clan, River Cess, gave locals money ahead of an agreement, undermining villagers’ right to free, prior and informed consent.  
  • The proposed agreement targets over 55,000 hectares of forest, more than Ziadue’s uncontracted forest area
  • Liberia has no laws or policies for carbon trading, and the duration of the proposed deal is not backed by existing laws
  • Many townspeople The DayLight interviewed said they were not aware of a proposed contract with the company, another red flag.
  • Locals expressed concern over BlueEarth’s lack of expertise in the emerging carbon credit market and are uncertain about their fair share of benefits

ZIADUE CLAN – The ongoing negotiation between the Liberian government and the UAE-based Blue Carbon would affect parts of River Cess. But a community in the southcentral county is negotiating its own carbon agreement with another company—and under similar controversial circumstances.

Ziadue, located in the Central River Cess District, is negotiating a carbon credit memorandum of understanding (MoU) with BlueEarth Capital, an American-owned company. The parties had earlier signed a letter of intent. The company wants to harvest carbon from over 52,000 hectares of forest and trade the carbon credits it obtains on the international carbon market.

But BlueEarth Capital has been providing food and transportation fares for community leaders reviewing the agreement, according to the company itself and townspeople. Recently, the company gave the community cash for the same purpose.

“We hosted a meeting to view this thing (draft agreement) that they brought here… So, they sponsored the meeting that time,” said Emmanuel Roberts, the chairman of the Ziadue’s community land development and management committee. Under the Land Rights Act, the CLDMC, which comprises locals from towns and villages, represents customary communities in land matters.

Roberts claimed that BlueEarth provided about L$25,000 for a recent meeting in a town called Gbardiah he used to buy food and reimbursed attendees’ transportation fares.  

Friday Wesseh, the treasurer of the CLDMC, told The DayLight Roberts informed him that BlueEarth had sent him US$10 but had yet to receive it. Roberts denied that claim, saying he had only promised Wesseh on his own accord.

“Even though Wesseh did not attend the meeting in Gbardiah, being a CLDMC leader, I decided to give him something from my pocket,” Roberts told The DayLight in a phone interview.

BlueEarth’s payments to local has undermined the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), a right granted to rural people in the Land Rights Act and the Community Rights Law… The word “free” in FPIC means void of intimidation, coercion or manipulation.

Augustine Jarrett, BlueEarth’s sole owner said the payments were not meant to influence villagers. Jarrett said the payments were part of a tradition for people seeking to work with communities.

“We did facilitate bringing people to areas… We don’t expect them to come with their lunches…,” Jarrett told The DayLight in an interview at his Tweh Farm office outside Monrovia. “We are not attempting to induce anybody to do anything they are unwilling to do.”

Emmanuel M. Roberts, Ziadue’s CLDMC Chairperson. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

But Jarrett’s claims are not backed by facts. Companies underwrite expenses for communities’ meetings It is true in forestry. However, that happens in cases where such payments are captured in an existing agreement, and not an FPIC engagement.  

BlueEarth’s proposed MoU also flouts the FPIC standards in other ways. Ziadue and BlueEarth have been negotiating the deal since February but many townspeople said they were unaware of it. Only three out of 40 CLDMC members had signed the letter of intent, the document shows.

“That’s my first time hearing about it,” said Patience Smith a member of the CLDMC.

“The one I know about is… [the logging company],” added Betty Gaywea, a women leader. She was referencing EJ&J Logging Company which works in Ziadue.

In order for a community to give its consent, all of its representatives must have their say through a transparent process. That is according to the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Liberia has ratified, and Liberia’s own FPIC Policy.  

Jarrett claimed his company respected FPIC and would get the community’s general consent in time. He wrongly claimed that FPIC “continues over the entire life of the project.” Actually, FPIC must occur prior to the approval or commencement of a project, according to the United Nations. 

‘Not a forestry company’

BlueEarth eyes a 25-year contract with Ziadue, subject to a 10-year review. Those timeframes go against the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands. The law sets a 15-year ceiling for community forest-related contracts, with a five-year review period.

BlueEarth seeks over 55,000 hectares of forest in Ziadue, River Cess, which the clan does not have. The DayLight/Carlucci Cooper
 

Jarrett said BlueEarth’s proposed MoU was not a forestry contract, so, 15 years was not attractive enough for investors.

“How can I ask a person to invest in Liberia’s forest conservation if we can’t guarantee that we are going to conserve the forest over the next… 30 years?” Jarrett said. 

“We are not regulated under the forestry law, we are not a forest company and we are not going to extract forestry assets,” he added.

Those points are largely misleading. While Liberia does not have any specific legal framework on carbon credits, the emerging industry is more related to forestry than other sectors. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) is playing a key role in the negotiation between Liberia and the UAE-based Blue Carbon. The FDA has also added carbon credits to its communities, conservation and commercial pillars.  Liberia’s first-known carbon negotiation about 15 years ago targeted 400,000 hectares, the maximum under the National Forestry Reform Law.

The size of the forest is another issue. BlueEarth’s MoU targets 55,123 hectares of forestland but Ziadue does not have such land area to lease. Ziadue’s uncontracted forest covers only 47,000 hectares, according to BlueEarth. That is 8,000 hectares less than BlueEarth’s target.

Moreover, that 47,000 hectares is questionable. Blatoe, a town arguably in Ziadue across the Cestos River, has a boundary issue with a town in the neighboring Beaworn Clan. That problem has stalled Ziadue’s quest to acquire its ancestral deed, a journey the clan started in 2020.  (Under the Land Rights Act, a community must resolve its border issues before the government surveys its lands and gives its deed)

A collage of BlueEarth’s map (left) and the Sustainable Development Institute’s map of Ziadue  

Early last month, monitors of the Liberia Land Authority (LLA) found Ziadue was unready for an official survey, a requirement for the issuance of the document. This week, the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), which is assisting with Ziadue in getting its deed, told The DayLight that the Blatoe issue had been resolved. However, LLA did not confirm the information.

Jarrett declined to comment on that matter.

‘Think carefully’

Locals have consulted SDI on the proposed MoU.

“We are waiting on our consultants for advice before we accept or reject BlueEarth,” said Samuel Morris, a member of Ziadue’s CLDMC. “For me, I am not yet encouraged whether BlueEarth is a good company or not because I do not know anything about carbon.”

Elijah Garsuah, the acting clan chief of Ziadue, even feared BlueEarth Capital would end up like EJ&J Logging Company. The firm contracted a portion of the forest Ziadue shares with its neighbor, the Ziadue and Teekpeh Community Forest in 2018 and did not live up to the agreement. In fact, the leadership of the community forest has resolved to cancel its agreement.

Under the MoU, BlueEarth will pay land rental fees of US$82,684 for a one-year feasibility study at US$1.50 per hectare.

After that period, the company will pay Ziadue 10 percent of the total sales of carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market, according to the document. Companies trade carbon credits to other companies that want to offset their carbon emissions on the voluntary carbon market.  

Critics say Liberia does not have the expertise and laws to regulate such a complex industry.

Elijah Garsuah, Acting Clan Chief of Ziadue. The DayLight/Esau J. Farr

BlueEarth was founded in February last year, with Jarrett as its sole American owner, according to the company’s article of incorporation. Jarrett was the chief finance officer of Liberia Wood Industry, a parent company of International Consultant Capital (ICC), which holds a logging contract for forest in River Cess and Nimba. However, he does not have any experience in carbon trading.

SDI said it was analyzing the proposed MoU and had observed that the proposed 10 percent share for Ziadue from potentially generated revenue from the carbon project in the agreement is not fair to the community.

“We advise the community to think carefully before signing this deal,” said Nora Bowier, the coordinator of SDI’s land rights program.

“We know that development opportunities are crucial for these communities but proper due diligence is necessary to ensure that communities do not make the same mistakes of the past by signing agreements with companies that had no capacity to deliver.”


[Aaron Geezay contributed to this report]

  

Alleged Bribery, Fraud and Arrest: Liberia’s First Carbon Deal 

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Top: Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC) proposed a carbon credit deal for 400,000 hectares of forest in River Cess that would have left Liberia US$2.2 billion poorer. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – Many would believe that the current negotiation between the Liberian government and Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates is Liberia’s first attempt at a carbon credit deal.

Well, that is not true. Liberia’s first carbon trading discussions occurred more than one-and-a-half decades ago with a Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), based in the United Kingdom, and worth US$2.2 billion.

The CHC deal went on to become one the biggest scandals of the administration of then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. It sparked cross-border investigations, with Monrovia requesting London to extradite a British businessman involved.

Liberian investigators found officials connived to grant CHC the carbon concession without any bidding. Evidence showed that Liberia would have lost millions of dollars, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) board of directors and violated Liberian procurement law.

The CHC cross-border scandal had all the ingredients of a crime story: fraud, bribery, other violations of Liberia’s concession-related laws, and even plagiarism of an American study.

The four-year criminal activities ended with the arrest of the British businessman, a presidential pronouncement for the prosecution, reprimand and dismissal of the officials involved, and the impeachment of the senator.

From a carwash to the Office of the President

In 2007 about this time of the year, George Antwi, a Ghanaian, approached then River Cess senator Jonathan Banney about a carbon trading investment in the county. Antwi had been hired by Michael Foster, the owner of Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), a firm based in Liverpool.

The deal appeared simple to Banney: CHC wanted to sequester carbon on 400,000 hectares of forestland in the southcentral county, obtain carbon credits and then sell them on carbon markets to companies wanting to offset their own carbon emissions. It would take eight years for the world to adopt carbon offsetting as a way to combat climate change at the Paris Climate Summit. However, experts, some in Liberia, were setting the pace for the global carbon trading market, a process still being done today.

Banney bought Antwi’s proposal right away.

“[Antwi] informed Mr. Foster about my eagerness of wanting investment to go to River Cess,” Banney would later tell investigators.

“Thereafter, I got an email. I informed the President about this investment proposal and that I wanted to extend [an] invitation to the investors. She agreed,” Banney would add.

In December of that year, Banney arranged a meeting between President Sirleaf and CHC represented by Foster, Antwi and other members of the company.

Things moved with lightning speed thereafter. By July 2008, there were meetings with the President and John Woods, the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) at the time. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the chiefs and elders of Yarnee District, River Cess had been signed and Banney paid the FDA approximately US$15,000 for a biomass study.

Then in July 2008, CHC presented its proposal to the Liberian government to sell carbon credits on the unregulated and unverified carbon market at the rate of US$4 per tonne. It claimed that it had to trade below the international estimate of up to US$15 per tonne because Liberia’s rainforest was not recognized by the Kyoto Protocol, the UN operational mechanism for reducing carbon emissions.

That was followed by an analysis cost and benefits of its investment CHC claimed to have done, which found Liberia would benefit more from carbon credits than from commercial logging.

UK Police Arrests Foster

Then in February 2009, Woods informed the board of directors of the FDA and asked for the Public Procurement Concession and Commission (PPCC) for the CHC contract to be single-sourced, which was granted in December that year.

It was Woods’ efforts to get the green light from the Inter-ministerial Concession Committee (IMCC) that coincided with the demise of the CHC deal.

The Chairman of the National Investment Commission Dr. Richard Tolbert question the legality of the FDA negotiating the CHC instead of the IMCC. Tolbert suggested that the CHC proposals be sent to all members of the IMCC, including the Ministry of Justice and Finance. “I assume that the IMCC, constituted by the President for forest management contracts is the same body to act on this matter,” Tolbert said in a letter to Woods in early 2010.  

Michael Foster faced extradition from the United Kingdom to Liberia between 2010 and 2015 for alleged bribery, fraud and criminal conspiracy over a carbon credit deal. Picture credit: Liverpool Echo

Tolbert’s communications on the CHC deal continued until President Sirleaf requested him to constitute an IMCC negotiation of the CHC deal.

But it did not happen. In June that year, police in London arrested Foster for allegedly paying a bribe to seal the deal. The U.K.-based Global Witness, investigating the deal for two years, had told police Foster referenced an alleged US$2.5 million payment when they interviewed him.

It emerged that the company had calculated that Liberia would save 423 tonnes of carbon emissions in each hectare of the River Cess 400,000 hectares of forest. That meant 162 million carbon credits to Liberia, the Guardian of the U.K. reported.

But it emerged Liberia risked losing over US$2 billion if the CHC deal had gone on.  Thomas Downing, an expert with the Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), told the Guardian he had advised the FDA against it. 

Downing said the carbon credit figures were “unreasonably high” and had “no commercial value” for Liberia. GEMAP was created by Liberia and the international community to help combat corruption after the country’s civil wars.

“I had understood that the Carbon Harvesting proposal had been definitively rejected. Thus, I was surprised to hear that it still enjoyed some support,” Downing said.

“The proposal, if adopted, would be quite damaging to the FDA. Indeed, it could cost [Liberia] hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added.

Liberia investigates the CHC deal

Back in Liberia, hell broke loose. President Sirleaf set up an official inquest into the CHC scandal. The head of the CHC Investigation Committee was Cllr. Negbalee Warner, the future dean of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. Future deputy police chief Rose Stryker and one William Massaquoi completed the team.

“The President’s communication to the committee suggested that certain procedural requirements relative to the granting of such [a] concession might not have been followed,” Warner told the Guardian at the time. “For example, the proposal was recommended to the inter-ministerial committee without any open competitive bidding process.” 

In roughly four months, Warner’s committee was back with its findings. It interviewed 19 people and institutions, including forest watchdog Global Witness and the United Nations Panel of Experts.

The committee recommended Banney be impeached as senator for abusing his legislative functions and bribery. CHC paid Banney over US$20,000 for arranging a meeting with President Sirleaf, getting River Cess communities’ consent for the project, running errands and pressuring the FDA and other entities to grant the concession.

Minister of Internal Affairs Ambulai Johnson was recommended to face prosecution for allegedly soliciting a US$2 million bribe from CHC. The committee heard the company asked him for help when it faced “obstacles” from other officials.

The committee recommended the dismissal of the Executive Director of the PPCC Peggy Meres. She allegedly influenced the procurement process through which CHC, a gaming company until now, single-sourced the concession.

The committee asked that Augustine Johnson, the agency’s geoinformation service manager, and Joseph Neufville, an adviser at the PPCC, be dismissed immediately. It found the duo allegedly solicited and accepted bribes and committed a procurement offense.

Woods, who was now replaced at the FDA over his poor health, was asked to be reprimanded over his alleged role in the scandal. “The MD has been paid and is on our side as he is dependent on us in the future,” the investigation found CHC officials bragged among themselves.

The committee also found that Woods had allegedly ignored the pieces of advice from Downing and Silas Siakor, the executive director of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), and others.

The Carbon Harvesting Corporation deal plagiarized a study from the United States Forest Service estimating that it would capture 423 carbon credits in one hectare of tropical rainforest in Liberia. It was exposed following an investigation by a special presidential committee headed by Cllr. Negbalee Warner. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Downing’s case was more startling. The committee found that he had informed Woods that CHC’s so-called cost and benefit analysis was plagiarized from the United States Forest Service’s study on a California rainforest. Downing shared copies of the plagiarized study with Woods severally and both men even viewed the two documents.

Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs Amara Konneh was reprimanded for issuing CHC a concession certificate in breach of the procurement law. Konneh denied any wrongdoing, saying the report was politically motivated.

The committee recommended Foster and Antwi face the law in Liberia for alleged fraud, bribery and criminal conspiracy. Both men denied the allegations.

President Sirleaf agreed with the committee’s recommendation and took the actions it had suggested. She called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request the extradition of Foster and announced additional restrictions on presidential visits.

But President Sirleaf later rescinded her decision against the Liberian officials. About a month later, she dismissed her entire cabinet, except for one minister.

Foster extradition case lingered until 2015 when police dropped all charges against him. U.K. police said they could not obtain evidence in key areas of their investigation.


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

Communities Demand Consent Right In Blue Carbon Deal

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Top: A collage showing townspeople from the Central River Cess District, River Cess County and Gibi District, Margibi County. Graphic by Rebazar Forte and pictures by James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


YARPAH TOWN; GIBI – Communities that would be affected by a potential carbon credit deal between Liberia and the United Arab Emirates-based Blue Carbon are demanding their right to consent.  

The Liberian government has been negotiating with Blue Carbon to sequester carbon on more than a million hectares of forestlands as part of a US$50 billion deal that also involves Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and possibly Angola. The potential 30-year deal would affect towns and villages in Margibi, Sinoe, Lofa, Gbarpolu and  River Cess.

But local people who own the forest have not given their consent as required by Liberia’s land and forestry laws. More than a dozen people The DayLight interviewed in potentially affected communities in River Ces and Margibi expressed dissatisfaction.  

“We think we should be contacted and we should be apart because carbon has something to do with the community people,” said Matthew Walley, a local forestry leader in the Central River Cess District, River Cess County. The proposed Blue Carbon agreement targets over 57,000 hectares of forest in the region.

“We want the government to halt the arrangement and they should come to us and sit with the community,” Walley added.

The Liberian government has been negotiating the deal after signing a memorandum of understanding with Blue Carbon in March. Liberia sees the agreement as an opportunity to meet its climate objectives, including to slice its deforestation rate by  2030. Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the UAE Royal Family, aims to use the deal to help reduce carbon emissions globally.

But national and international campaigners have criticized the deal for—among other things—disregarding the rights of rural communities. The Land Rights Act and Community Rights Law… with Respect to Forest Lands guarantee locals’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for land and forest-based concessions.

A draft of the controversial agreement, seen by The DayLight, shows that the government intends to get communities’ consent between August and November. However, that should have happened prior to the government’s initial MoU with Blue Carbon, based on the principle of consent.

“The government feels that they have power over [us who] live within the communities. So, they do things on their own they don’t inform us,” added Marthaline Smith, a member of the leadership.

“If they want to really give our forest out to company or NGO, we have to sit down and discuss it…,” Smith added.

Yarpah Town, River Cess is one of the communities that would be affected if Liberia signs a carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The government has to talk to me first,” said Harry Lawgar, an elder in the Poye community Gibi District, Margibi County.

The deal targets the Gibi Proposed Protected Area, covering over 88,000 hectares of forest. Like in River Cess, Lawgar and other people in Gibi The DayLight interviewed raised qualms for being overlooked.

“Everybody should be inclusive,” said Jerome Poye a townsman also in the Poye community.

“The community has to get the understanding of it,” Lawgar added.

Locals said they needed to know exactly what was in the agreement for them.

The current draft agreement apportions 70 percent of carbon royalties for Blue Carbon and 30 percent for the Liberian government in the first 10 years and 50 percent apiece thereafter.

It also sets aside 50 percent of the carbon royalties, 40 percent interest from the government’s shares and a five percent interest payment from the government’s stakes in the project for the communities.

But it does not say how the carbon credit will be valued and traded, and how the carbon saving will be generated. It also fails to say what certification standards it would use.  Experts say these are the major components of the carbon market, which is still emerging globally.

The international community criticized the “vague” proposed deal when they discussed it on August 3, according to a document seen by The DayLight.   

Gibi District, Margibi County, is one of the communities that would be affected if Liberia signs a proposed carbon credit deal with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Villagers in Central River Cess and Gibi, two of Liberia’s remotest regions, demanded to know about their benefits. They said they needed everything from clinics, roads, schools and livelihood programs.

“We want to know the calculation. If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation?” said Walley of River Cess. “Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism?”

“How the calculation will be done we don’t know because they will not just come and give the community US$50 or US$100, saying that it is our benefit,” Walley added.

“We will not accept it.”


[Tenneh Keita contributed to this story]

Villagers Managing Forest, But Sector Woes Haunt Them

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Top: Villagers in Bahn Town, the headquarters of Jo River and Nyorwein Community Forest, are excited they can now benefit from their forest. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman


By Emmanuel Sherman

NYORWEIN, RIVER CESS – Throughout the two bordering clans of Jo River and Nyorwein far away in the Central River Cess District, villagers expect their logging agreement with Magna Logging Corporation to bring much-needed development to their community.

The newest among 49 authorized community forests across the country, they have leased their land in exchange for roads, toilets, scholarships and clinics, according to the agreement. Those benefits aside, Magna is required by the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Lands to pay affected communities for use of their land and each log it harvests in the 39,000-hectare forest.

But their hopes could be dashed, given the nature of the logging industry, particularly, community forestry.  The 12 years of community forestry has been spiteful rather than sparkling for many communities. Forestry Development Authority (FDA) appears to side with companies more. There are reports of illegal logging in several communities.  Companies and individuals are abandoning woods they harvest at an alarming rate, owe communities thousands of United States dollars and the FDA approves new contracts for them.       

Jo River & Nyorwein does not have to look far for some of these grim examples. Between 2020 and last year,  African Wood and Lumber Company, another logging firm, illegally cut 550 logs in the Gbarsaw & Dorbor Community Forest. The FDA representative responsible for the county was suspended and replaced. It owes that community thousands and has yet to conduct mandatory projects.

Similarly, in Ziadue & Teekpeh signed three years before Jo River & Nyorwein, Brilliant Maju and E&J Investment Corporation have not lived up to their agreement with the community. The company duo has failed to implement projects, sparking protest last year. Following the hostilities, it made a commitment to construct eight handpumps and two latrines in affected communities between September last year to February this year but has not completed them.    

By the way, these industry woes are already at Jo River & Nyorwein’s doorsteps. Before its contract with the villagers here, Magna had not lived up to its agreement with Worr Community Forest in Compound One, Grand Bassa County. (It had paid Worr all its land rental, harvesting and scholarship fees, though.) When it signed the agreement in August last year, the company had not done any roads, still had to complete five handpumps, and had not rehabilitated a clinic it agreed to do by that time.

Broken-down equipment of E&J Investment Corporation in Ziadue & Teekpeh in River Cess. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

Magna is also in breach of its contract with Jo River & Nyorwein. The company has yet to begin operation since signing the agreement in August last year. It also has not paid its land rental fees of US$26,105 to the community. It has not done a major road leading to the forest, something locals consider a priority, according to the agreement.  

“We really need roads, where there is a road there is life,” says Philip Ben, one of the community’s leaders in an interview with The DayLight in Buchanan.

“Since we signed the agreement last year, we have not had a meeting with them again,” says Alice Giahyou, another member of the leadership. The agreement mandates the villagers and the company to hold periodic meetings whose expenses the company must underwrite.

Molley Kamara, the owner of Magna says the meeting will be held in a week’s time. “There is a community meeting on August 20. I am pretty sure the community’s concern will be addressed,” Kamara tells The DayLight in an email.

“First, it is less than one year ago [since] we signed with Jo River [& Nyorwein]. And we are not worried,” Kamara adds.   

Jo River & Nyorwein has its own internal problems. Ben, Giahyou, and have capacity problems and no knowledge of forest governance. Its leadership is not aware of the sector practices and legal frameworks.   

“We know some of our rights… but we don’t understand all,” Giahyou adds.

There were indications the leadership of the community are not aware that their agreement with Magna is a public contract. Ben refused to share a copy of the agreement with The DayLight. He initially accepted to give our reporter the agreement, following a week of discussion. When the reporter finally tracked him down at his Worldwide Church in Buchanan, he asked the reporter to first buy legal papers to photocopy the documents. But he stormed out of the arrangement when the reporter came back with the papers. The reporter then demanded he repays the funds used to purchase the papers. Ben refused to repay until the intervention of members of the church.

Paul Nickerson, the head of the community leadership, also refused to share a copy of the agreement with The DayLight while in Monrovia in July. Nickerson eluded us three times before he stopped answering his phone. He only phoned us when he was already back in River Cess. 

Weedor Gray, the technical manager for FDA’s community forestry department did not grant The DayLight’s request for access to the agreement, though the document is a public record. No contracts are available on the agency’s website as required by the National Forestry Reform Law. We obtained it from elsewhere. Gray did not return our emailed request for comments.

The Answer is Women’s Participation

Foundation for Community Initiative (FCI), which promotes the empowerment of women and youth in the natural resource sector, has begun working with Jo River & Nyorwein to strengthen its capacity. The four-year project encourages women like Giahyou to participate in the governance of the forest. It has been holding community meetings and using local radio stations to raise awareness in the area.   

With funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), FCI will also work in Ziadue & Teekpeh, according to a document on the project.   

“Jo River and Nyorwein have a lot more to do, their knowledge and skill in forest governance are very limited,” says Felix Foyah, a campaigner of FCI who works on the project.

Foyah says FCI is building on the important relationship women play in forestry to help Jo River & Nyorwein meet the challenges in the sector. Women tend to use forest resources more than men. Many women know which trees are for food and medicine, and how to conserve forests—important knowledge during food crises, according to the FAO. Evidence shows that increased women’s participation in community-forest leadership improves forest governance and sustainability, according to a 2019 report.  

African Wood and Lumber Company harvested 550 logs, including these ones in Gbarsaw & Dorbor Community Forest. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

“That is exactly what we hope to achieve. Once there are more knowledgeable women on forest matters that are in the community leadership, they can better combat illegal logging, deforestation and forest degradation,” says Foyah. Only five out of nearly 50 members of the leadership of Jo River & Nyorwein are women.

“We know that there are a lot of issues in forestry,” he adds, “but that is how we can solve those problems.”

Zahn Dehydugar of the Community of Forest and Environmental Journalists of Liberia (CoFEJ) contributed to this report.

Funding for the story was provided by the Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over its content.

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