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Company Exports Timber Amid Outstanding Community Projects


Top: A West Water skidder in District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Philip Quwebin

By Emmanuel Sherman and Gerald Koinyeneh  

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

TONWEIN, Nimba and GAYEPUEWHOE, Grand Bassa – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) authorized a company to cut thousands of logs. However, it did not execute its social agreement with communities, violating a harvesting regulation.

West Water Group (Liberia) Inc. has operated in Blinlon and District Three B&C Community Forests in Nimba and Grand Basaa, respectively. During this time, it harvested 2,782 logs (20,095 cubic meters), according to the FDA. 

But West Water has completed just a few out of dozens of mandatory projects for the communities, a DayLight investigation found.

“We will make sure they do that. I just want our people to be patient because these projects have been overdue,” said Eric Dahn, a leader of Blinlon’s community forest leadership.

“So, if it causes us to stop the company from operating until they fulfill all the promises, we will do it,” Dahn added.

This investigation adds to another published earlier this month, which found the FDA violated a payment regulation by approving West Water’s exports amid its indebtedness to the communities. Both payment and harvesting regulations empower local communities to benefit from forest resources.  

The villagers’ plight had been thrust into the spotlight after an initial DayLight investigation found the FDA approved the export of West Water’s illegally harvested timber in District Three B&C.

West Water did not respond to questions for comment.

Failed promises

In 2020, West Water, a Chinese-owned company, signed a 15-year contract with Blinlon Community Forest for its 39,409 hectares of forestland in the Yarweh-Mehnsonneh District near the Nimba- River Cess border.

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

The company promised the villagers a series of projects across Blinlon including a school, clinic, handpumps, roads and concrete bridges.

Nearly four years on, West Water has only done two out of 14 handpumps and has just started paving mandatory roads, which should have happened at the beginning of the contract. It has not done the school and clinic, which should have commenced in 2021, according to the contract.

The company only jumpstarted the roads after townspeople protested, blocking its workers from entering the forest in March. Both parties later resolved on March 5 to end hostilities.

“We will make sure they fulfill all the promises,” added Dahn.

Protest and Interference

The tension in District Three B&C Community Forest in Grand Bassa is higher. It mirrors a string of controversies, which have marred the community since it obtained community forest status in 2014. (communities own forestlands but must complete legal requirements to sign logging contracts)

At that time, the community forest contracted Renew Forestry Group to operate its 49,728 hectares of forest on the border of Grand Bassa, River Cess and Nimba.

However, a conflict erupted. The forest leadership recognized Renew Forestry Group, while the local and county authorities sided with West Water.

Ultimately, the forest was split between the two logging companies. Renew Forestry Group took Community Forest One, and West Water Community Forest Two. 

Then in 2021, West Water signed a 15-year contract with District Three B&C  Community Forest of 24,175 hectares of woodland. The company promised to build roads, concrete bridges, a clinic, a school, market tables, town halls and hand pumps.

Like its Blinlon contract, West Water has not lived up to its contract with District Three B&C. It has completed just one out of eight hand pumps, while villagers drink from polluted creeks. Three years into the agreement, it has not done the major roads, bridges, clinics, town halls and market tables.  According to the contract, most of these projects should have been completed in two years.

“West Water is not doing anything good for us,” Alex Bonwin, a member of the community leadership said. “If the company is not doing what they’re supposed to do we revoke their document to get out.”

West Water’s failure to honor the contract has led to tension, with three protests already this year. In the latest one, which occurred last week, townspeople stopped seven log-loaded trucks from leaving the community.

Alfred Flomo, the representative of Grand Bassa Electoral District Four, where the community forest lies, interferes in the matter.

Gayepuewhoe Town is one of 14 communities that own the District Three B&C Community Forest. The DayLight/Emmanuel Sherman

In a May 12 meeting, Flomo asked the company to stay off the forest until it addressed issues the villagers raised, according to the meeting’s minutes seen by The Daylight. That was the second time he had taken such action.

Under the community forest law, lawmakers are members of the community assembly, the highest decision-maker, and the executive committee. However, they cannot unilaterally halt a company’s operations.

Flomo and the townspeople’s actions also violate the contract between West Water and the community. Both parties agreed to settle their dispute between themselves or through an arbitration procedure. Flomo did not reply to The DayLight’s emails and text messages for an interview.

The FDA did not respond to queries for comment on this story. However, in a recent interview, Director Rudolph Merab told the Associated Press he would work to scale back regulations. Those comments echoed ones he made during his induction in February, saying forestry reformers created laws “that cannot work.”

[Additional reporting by Philip Quwebin and Derick Snyder]

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