29.9 C
Monrovia
Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Home Tags Sinoe County

Tag: Sinoe County

Police Arrest ‘Black Sand’ Miners in Sinoe

0

Top: Four of the Vietnamese mineworkers arrested by the police in Bannah, Sinoe County. Picture credit: Facebook/Butaw Radio TV


By Gabriel M. Dixon


GREENVILLE – Police in Sinoe County have arrested nearly a dozen Vietnamese nationals for allegedly violating a mining moratorium, local media reported.

Eight men were detained on Saturday on the order of Superintendent Peter Wleh Nyenswah.

“This initiative is intended to buttress the national government’s effort in the fight against illicit mining,” Nyenswah told Radio Butaw. 

 The men work for STT Heavy Mineral Resources Limited, a medium-scale company that mines zircon sand commonly called “black sand” in Greenville. The Vietnamese-owned company has five active black sand mining licenses in Sinoe County, the ministry’s records show.

Nguyen Thanh Truc, STT’s majority shareholder, did not immediately respond to queries.

An STT mining plant in Morrisville, Sinoe County in January 2023. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

Last month, the government of Liberia banned black sand mining across the country after a video of an illegally extracted stockpile of the minerals, posted by a citizen journalist, went viral on Facebook.   Before that, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined  Quezp Mining Company in Brewerville and Royesville for operating without an environmental permit.

Boakai’s Justice Minister Pick is A Serial Illegal Logger

0

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

Weary of Logging Contracts, Locals  Doubtful of Carbon Deal

0

Top: Liberia’s proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Blue Carbon of the United Arab Emirates targets areas in Lofa County, which hosts logging agreements. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman 


MONROVIA – Forest communities across the country have shown reluctance over Liberia’s negotiation with UAE-based Blue Carbon fearing it would fail them like logging contracts.

Blue Carbon, owned by a member of the Royal family of the United Arab Emirates, signed a carbon credit memorandum of understanding (MoU) in March with the Liberian government.

The deal intends to cover over one million hectares of forestlands in River Cess, Sinoe, Gbarpolu, Lofa and Margibi, places that have had bad experiences with logging contracts.

“We are already challenged with [logging] that has a legal framework,” says Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator of the National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), comprising some 500 logging-affected communities.

“Our fear is the actual benefit community should get may not get because we don’t know how it is and how it will be,” adds Zelemen.

Logging companies began signing contracts with forest communities over 15 years ago, a major component of Liberia’s forestry reform.

But most contracts have failed, with companies owing huge sums of land rentals and harvesting fees. They have failed to start or complete mandatory projects.  

Matthew Walley, an affected community leader of a 57,287-hectare forest that the proposed agreement targets, questions the proposed MoU’s payment method.  

“If I get 57,000 hectares preserved as carbon area, what will be the calculation? How will it be done? Through what kind of benefit-sharing mechanism,” says Walley.

“The government can’t just come and say this place is declared as a carbon area. We will not accept it,” says Walley.

Andrew Zelemen, national coordinator, National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC). The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Blue Carbon intends to avoid the pitfall of logging, according to the draft agreement, seen by The DayLight.  Communities stand to receive a credit royalty of 10 percent of the value of the carbon credits the forest will generate.

It proposes a payment scheme through a five-person committee, two each from the community and the government and one from Blue Carbon.

“Community will directly benefit from a dedicated Account, not the consolidated account,” says Adams Manobah, the Chairman of Liberia Land Authority (LLA). “And that benefit will go directly into their own account that will be controlled by the people themselves.”

The International community has criticized the proposed payment mode for being vague, according to a document seen by The DayLight.

But communities should not depend on Blue Carbon’s contract for their shares of carbon credits, according to Zelemen. There should be a “roadmap” for carbon trading.

In the roadmap, develop a legal framework that will guide the process of carbon trade like we have law guiding timber trade,” says Zelemen. NGOs have made the same call.

Both Blue Carbon and Liberia want the deal to help their climate targets.  Liberia has a commitment to reduce carbon emissions in its forestry sector in halves by 2030.  Blue Carbon, on the other hand, intends to remove carbon from the global economy with such MoUs in line with the UN agenda to combat climate change.

But communities have not been consulted, a violation of Liberia’s Land Rights Act (LRA) and the Community Rights Law of 2009 with Respect to Forest Land, and other legal instruments.

These laws give the communities the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to land and forest-related concessions. A UN-backed doctrine, FPIC requires that villagers give their consent to contracts prior to any project or negotiation.

“I’m not aware [of] the negotiation between the government of Liberia and the Blue Carbon company from UAE,” said Jerome Poye, a member of an affected community in Gibi District, Margibi County, that the draft agreement also targets.

Sinoe District Wins Global Environmental Prize

0

Top: Members of Kpanyan’s community land development and management committee (CLDMC). Picture credit: IDH


By Emmanuel Sherman


MONROVIA – The community land leadership of  Kpanyan District in Sinoe County has been named one of the 10 winners of the Equator Prize. The United Nations-led award recognizes the efforts of indigenous people and local communities globally to meet environmental, economic and public health challenges.  

UNDP, which leads the  Equator Initiative that issues the prize, praised Kpanyan’s CLDMC for setting aside 40,000 hectares of forest for conservation.

It also celebrated  the district for embracing “sustainable agriculture interventions to improve food security, diversify income streams, and adapt to climate change.”

“Equator Prize winners inspire us to reimagine our approach to sustainable development, reminding us that real progress lies in empowering Indigenous people and local communities, embracing their invaluable wisdom…,” said Haoliang Xu, UNDP’s associate administrator and director for policy and program support.   

People in Kpanyan jubilated when news of their victory broke, according to Alfred Clarke, the chairman of the CLDMC or community land development and management committee.

“Inasmuch we win that prize, we will increase the awareness and the community that is closer to the forest we are talking about, we will engage them to be the watchdog…”

Kpanyan’s CLDMC was formed in 2019, a year after Liberia established its Land Rights Act. The landmark law recognizes customary land ownership. It calls for the creation of a CLDMC to handle the affairs of communal lands across the country.

With the first CLDMC in southeastern Liberia, Kpanyan completed its land use plan—the second after Foya nationwide—for over 100,000 hectares across the seaside district. About 84 percent of Kpanyan’s land is dense and regenerating forest.

To manage that resource, Kpanyan established a production, protection and inclusion (PPI) pact. The partnership among local communities, NGOs, the private sector and local authorities tackles climate change, food insecurity and the disregard of ancestral land rights. The PPI also confronts deforestation, illegal forest activities and poor infrastructure.

The pact is a revolution in a country saddled for decades by large plantations that overlook the participation of local communities.

Kpanyan is a witness to that. In 2020, Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) signed a 65-year agreement to develop oil palm on 350,000 hectares of land across Maryland, Grand Kru and Sinoe, including Kpanyan District. However, the agreement did not seek villagers’ consent, leading to protests.  

“Our project has laid the foundation for conflict-free investment and inclusive development…,” said Silas Siakor, the country manager of IDH, a Dutch NGO that works with Kpanyan.    

“With the prize, Kpanyan CLDMC is poised to launch a community-led conservation initiative that serves as a model for other communities,” Siakor added.

Gregory Kitt, the executive director of Parley Liberia, which helped established Kpanyan’s CLDMC, expressed the Bong-based NGO’s delight.  

Kpanyan District in Sinoe County has set aside 40,000 hectares of forest for conservation. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Kitt said the townspeople’s decision to seek customary land rights as a district—rather than individual clans—contributed to its victory.

“This enabled the Kpanyan CLDMC to extend effective land and forest governance at scale throughout their territory,” Kitt told The DayLight. “The result is the extraordinary conservation outcome recognized by this Equator Prize.”

The other nine winners of the award came from Brazil, Bolivia, Burundi, Guatemala, Philippines, Zambia, Nepal, Greenland and Ecuador. They were selected from over 500 nominations from 108 countries, according to the Equator Initiative.

All 10 winners will be awarded US$15,000 and get an opportunity to attend key environmental events, including the UN General Assembly, the UN climate conference in Dubai and the Sustainable Development Goals summit.

Winners will receive their awards at a UNDP event in November. They will become part of a network of 275 communities that have helped combat climate change and poverty.

Logs Left at Sinoe Port and Forest Rot

0

Top: Several logs Delta Timber Company left at the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County that have now decayed. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By Emmanuel Sherman


GREENVILLE, Sinoe County – Scores of logs at the port of Greenville and a community forest belonging to a logging company have decayed in the southeastern county, despite the company producing perhaps the least number of timber in the industry.  

Delta Timber Corporation produced the timber in the last five years, based on the company’s official harvesting records. It is believed the company took the logs to the port between 2017 and 2018.  

The DayLight reporters saw a grassy field of decayed logs at the port in January, some still showcasing “DTC,” the company’s industry-recognized abbreviation. A few lay in piles, while others spread across the bushy, open field.

Apart from the decayed logs at the port, there are others left unattended in the Numopoh Community Forest, where Delta operates.

“They are many in the forest all over, some in the landing,” said Sam Kandie, head of the community forest leadership.  Landing is the place the logs are gathered and sorted. Kandie said the company last felled a tree in September 2021.

Official records show that Delta produced a total of 1,624.521 cubic meters of logs in the last five years.

But the company exported just 237.178 cubic meters or  41 logs, according to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).  

Delta Timber Company left scores of logs at the Port of Greenville in Sinoe County that have now rotted. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

That means between 2016 and 2021, Delta abandoned 1,387.343 cubic meters of logs. Logs are abandoned when companies leave them unattended for between three weeks and six months, depending on the locations, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.

But Delta’s abandoned logs are likely more than the ones The DayLight calculated. A 2018 report by Volunteers to Support International Efforts in Developing Africa (VOSIEDA) found the company abandoned over 500 logs it harvested outside Numopoh.  Harvesting timber outside a contract area is a violation of the National Forestry Reform Law, and such logs are not captured in FDA’s tracking system.

FDA did not respond to queries on Delta’s abandoned logs. However, recently, it said in a statement it punished companies with abandoned logs without showing any evidence. It said in the statement that it had punished three other companies also operating in the Sinoe area for the same reason.

A pile of Delta Timber Company’s logs at the yard of the Port of Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Under the abandoned logs regulation, the FDA must petition a court to confiscate and auction logs it deems abandoned. The government loses revenue when logs rot.

Delta Timber Corporation and Numopoh Community Forest signed a five-year logging agreement in May 2016.

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

FDA Axes Illegal Loggers and Wasteful Companies

0

Top: The headquarters of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in Paynesville. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


MONROVIA – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has banned a Turkish logging company and barred its shareholders for illegal logging activities in Liberia, the agency said in a press release on Tuesday.

The FDA said Askon Liberia General Trading Limited abused its sawmill license and extracted and exported timber. The agency said it would recommend prosecution for its owners: Hassan, Yetar and Faith Uzan.

“The permit issued required Askon to source logs from legal sources and not engage in the informal harvesting of logs,” the FDA said.  “The investigation into the whereabouts of these individuals will progress, and subsequent actions will be recommended or referred to the justice system of Liberia.”

Askon Illegal operation campsite between Ganta and Sanniquellie, Nimba County. The DayLight/Gerald C. Koinyeneh

Askon’s illegal operations were exposed by The DayLight in March.  The report said Askon ran an illegal operation in Nimba County in which it harvested and smuggled timber in containers. It named Assistant Minister of Trade Peter Somah as an accomplice.  The FDA said it took the report “seriously.”

Hasan Uzan, Askon’s majority shareholder, did not immediately respond to questions for comment on this story.

The FDA also said it took action against logging companies for stockpiling logs across the country.  Companies abandon logs when they do not attend to the woods between three weeks and six months, depending on their location, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products.  

The agency announced it has suspended the harvesting certificates of Mandra Forestry, Ruby Light Forestry and Atlantic Resources. A recent report by The DayLight found Mandra abandoned some 7,000 logs from its contract with the Sewacajua Community Forest. Ruby Light Forestry, which operates in a large concession that extends to Grand Gedeh, has perhaps the largest field of abandoned logs in the country. Holding a logging concession covering Maryland, River Gee and Grand Kru, Atlantic Resources has abandoned a host of logs, including decayed ones in an open field in Greenville, Sinoe County.

This drone photo shows some of Mandra’s abandoned logs outside Greenville, Sinoe County

“This decision is prompted by the failure of these companies to honor the mandate from the FDA to enroll all logs harvested in LiberTrace,” the FDA said. LiberTrace is the system to tracks logs from their sources to final destinations.

Companies that have abandoned logs but do not have harvesting certificates will not be allowed to fell any trees until they export the wood, the FDA said.

The agency said it had initiated actions to confiscate abandoned logs. According to it, the action will deter companies from further harvesting logs without exporting them, one of the most common forestry violations today. Under the law, the FDA must petition a court to confiscate and auction abandoned logs.

“Companies in both categories, suspended certificates and otherwise, may be subject to further [penalties]…,” the FDA said.

Representatives of the three companies did not return WhatsApp messages for their sides of the story. However, in April, Augustine Johnson, Mandra’s manager, falsely argued the logs were not abandoned because they were durable, and that he had already paid the royalties on them. “Before you talk about abandonment. I am expecting a ship to come to Greenville by the second week in next month to get the logs out,” Johnson told The DayLight in a phone interview at the time.

A screenshot of pictures showing decayed logs Atlantic Resources Limited harvested and kept in a log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/Eric Opa Doue

In January, Massaquoi Robert, a transport supervisor of Ruby Light, too, wrongly argued that the company had abandoned no logs.

“We’re defacing the logs you see there. We have sales contracts right now,” Robert said at the time. “My logs are not rotten. You are not a logger, I say my logs are useful.”

Logging Company In Sinoe Abandons Likely 7,000 Logs

0
created by dji camera

Top: A drone shot of Mandra`s log yard where hundreds of abandoned logs lay bare in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/ Derrick Snyder


By Mark B. Newa


GREENVILLE, Sinoe County – Mandra Forestry Liberia, Limited, an Asian company, abandoned an estimated 7,000 logs it harvested between 2019 and 2021,  according to The DayLight’s analysis of official records.

During the period, Mandra produced 6,944 logs but exported none, our analysis of records of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) shows. Mandra harvested the logs in the Sewacajua Community Forest in Sinoe County, where it has operated since 2017.

During the 2019-2020 harvesting season, when the global timber market dipped due to the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S.-China trade war, Mandra harvested over 4,500 logs.

This journalist saw huge heaps of logs at Mandra’s log yard in Greenville in January. A good number of the wood brandishing “Sewacajua,” spread across the quiet field had already decayed. Earthmovers and timber jacks were at different positions.

Under  Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products, logs should be declared abandoned when they remain at a location between 15 (three weeks) and 180 working days (about six months). By this definition, Mandra abandoned all the logs in question latest June last year.

Our calculation did not include trees Mandra cut in 2018, some parts of 2019 and last year. The Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI) was unclear on Mandra’s production and export figures covering the period. Moreover, the FDA does not publish these records and did not grant The DayLight’s request for the information, a violation of several provisions of forestry legal frameworks. Subsequently, we obtained the information for this story from elsewhere.

Mandra’s abandoned logs are likely to be higher than 6,944. The company co-operates in two large-scale logging concessions in River Cess and Nimba Counties. The LEITI did not separate Mandra’s Sewacajua figures from the two other concessions. A 2020 investigation report by the FDA found that Mandra and its partner EJ &J Investment Corporation abandoned 65 first-class logs in River Cess.

Mandra Plantations Liberia Limited of the Virgin Islands owns Mandra’s largest shares (99.7 percent), according to its article of incorporation. Sio Kai Sing, a Malaysian, holds 0.1 percent of the shares;  Tea Sin Sing, also a Malaysian, has 0.1 percent; and Tang Kwok Ben, a Hong Konger, holds the remaining 0.1 percent. It signed a 15-year agreement with the Secawajua Community Forest, covering 31,986 hectares in Sinoe’s Seekon, Pyne, Wedjah and Juarzon  Districts.  

A collage of logs Mandra abandoned at its log yard in Greenville, Sinoe County. The DayLight/ James Harding Giahyue
Mandra`s campsite in Secawajua, Sinoe County in 2018. The DayLight/ James Harding Giahyue

Abandoned Logs Regulation

Augustine Johnson, a Liberian who serves as Mandra`s general manager, wrongly claimed that the logs in Greenville were not abandoned because they had a long lifespan and that he had already paid taxes for them.

“Before you talk about abandonment. I am expecting a ship to come to Greenville by the second week in next month to get the logs out,” Johnson told The DayLight in a phone interview.

“Apart from logs that are to be shipped, I can take logs for my own domestic use, I can take logs to saw into pieces and even bring it to Monrovia to…build my campsite. The ones that rot are used for domestic purposes,” Johnson added.  

A former FDA geographic information system (GIS) technician, Johnson’s comments are not backed by facts. Payment of taxes is a requirement to obtain a log-export permit. However, taxes have nothing to do with the abandonment of logs. Rather, abandonment largely depends on the time logs stay at a particular location, according to the regulation. For instance, the woods in Mandra’s log yard in Greenville should have only stayed there for 180 days, the same as the ones Johnson said were at the Port of Greenville. Also, the FDA would have to reenter the logs in question into the FDA log-tracking system called LiberTrace.

Johnson is adamant about his wrong understanding or lack of awareness of the regulation. “The logs been there for over 30 working days doesn`t matter, or been there for I80 days it doesn`t matter. They are all Ekki logs with a huge lifespan,” Johnson said and hung up the phone. He had insisted on educating this reporter, not the other way around.

The FDA did not answer questions The DayLight sent to the agency for comment on this story. This journalist sent the email on March 30 to Managing Director Mike Doryen, copying Joseph Tally, his deputy for operations.

The regulation mandates the FDA to investigate the alleged abandonment of the logs in seven days after notification. Thereafter, it must declare the logs abandoned, petition a court to auction the wood and fine the company involved. If the company claims, it must pay administrative fees and redeem them.  The FDA established the regulation in 2017 after provisions of another regulation proved not enough to prevent the waste of forest resources.

But despite years of notifications, including one from within the agency, the FDA has failed to take any legal, public actions. Last year, it said it would begin the process to auction abandoned logs during the dry season but has not done that. The situation has led to a loss of revenue for the Liberian government—and the media.  

A 2020 FDA investigation found companies were abandoning logs because they were harvesting logs without first finding buyers. It also blamed irregular monitoring, lack of logistics for field officers and poor road networks for the problem.

“Logging contract holders are not doing much to minimize the incidence of abandoned logs,” the report said. “Much needed revenue… has been lost due to the unprecedented abandonment of the assorted round logs…”  

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

New Contract for Rogue Company’s Owner

0

Top: A collage showing Iroko harvesting activities in October 2022. Picture credit: Iroko Timber and Logging Corporation


By Emmanuel Sherman


KARQUEKPO, Sinoe County – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has approved a contract for Iroko Timber and Logging Corporation, a new Nigerian-owned company, to operate the Central Dugbe River Community Forest. The company began logging in the fourth quarter of last year, according to its website and Facebook page.  

But there is a problem with Iroko’s Dugbe River deal and operations in the 13,193-hectare forest. Timothy Odebunmi, Iroko’s majority shareholder, is not eligible to conduct logging activities in Liberia over the dishonesty of another company he co-owns.

That firm, Akewa Group of Companies, falsified the tax clearance of a mining company called Tiger Quarry to bid for the Gola Konneh Community Forest in Grand Cape Mount County in 2019. At the time, Akewa paid US$1,000 as a fine for the forgery, a violation of the Revenue Code. Odebunmi holds 50 percent of Iroko’s shares and 20 percent of Akewa’s, according to the articles of incorporation of both firms at the Liberia Business Registry. Iroko’s other shareholders are Samson Odebunmi (45 percent) and Akinsiku Arinkan (5 percent).  Abigail Funke Odebunmi (60 percent) and Kenneth Amazeika (20 percent) complete the list of Akewa’s shareholders.

Odebunmi’s co-ownership of Akewa, Iroko, which he co-founded in 2021, should have disqualified the Iroko’s bid for Central Dugbe River. The Regulation on Bidders Qualifications bars individuals whose companies have been convicted or penalized for theft, embezzlement, bribery, tax evasion, false swearing, or forgery. With Akewa having paid a fine for forgery, Odebunmi should not have gotten another logging contract until 2024, according to the regulation.

Akewa with Odebunmi as a shareholder has violated a horde of provisions of forestry laws and regulations. One of the oldest active logging companies, Akewa long line of violations includes its involvement in forestry’s worst post-conflict scandal, in which the FDA criminally awarded 2.5 million hectares of forests to it and other companies. It has a track record of prolonged indebtedness to communities. Currently, it is in an out-of-court settlement with the Beyan Poye Community Forest regarding benefits.

Iroko’s Woes Amid FDA’s Failure

Iroko’s agreement with Central Dugbe River adds to the FDA’s records of failure to enforce forestry legal frameworks. Before then, the FDA had failed to disqualify Akewa over fake tax clearance, which also constitutes perjury under the regulation. It remains Akewa’s only active logging operation, with the Beyan Poye legal issues and the cancelation of a logging contract the company illegally held in Grand Bassa County.

“We prevented Akewa from doing further business until they could provide [their] tax clearance,” said Managing Director Mike Doryen in an interview with The DayLight in June last year. “They rectified it and they paid a fine and that’s how we resumed business with them.” The Bidders Qualification Regulation requires the FDA to disqualify companies that commit forgery and perjury. It did not respond to emailed inquiries for comments.  

A screenshot of Iroko’s website page showing logs the company harvested in October 2022 and only transported to another location in February

Assessing the qualification of companies is an important provision of forest management in Liberia. It mandates the FDA to investigate the character of companies and individuals, their financial capacities, and their record of legal compliance.

Iroko’s ineligibility has started to show in its operation. It has abandoned an unspecified number of logs it harvested in October last year. Photographs and a video posted to the company’s website and Facebook page show some of the logs in the forest. Akin George, a representative of the company, confirmed the harvesting in a mobile interview in March.

Logs do not remain where they were harvested for more than one month and two weeks upon harvest, according to the Regulation on Abandoned Logs, Timber and Timber Products. The logs in question have remained in the forest far beyond that statutory period.

George said the company was taking the logs from where they were harvested to another location in the forest. Bartee Togba, the head of the Central Dugbe River’s leadership, said the same. Togba said Iroko began to transfer the logs in late February, some four months after it felled the trees.  The forest is a portion of 39,000 hectares and includes a proposed protected area between Grand Kru and Sinoe.  

The Dugbe River Community Forest map. Credit: Forestry Development Authority (FDA)

Iroko’s logs add to thousands of abandoned logs across the country, with the FDA taking no known public actions. The abandoned logs regulation mandates the agency to investigate, seize the logs and petition a court to auction them. Penalties for the offense include fines and forfeiture of the contract.  

The total volume of the logs,  in question, is essential for Iroko to pay the community’s benefits. Last year April, the community signed a 15-year commercial use contract with Iroko Timber Logging Corporation. It promised to build two elementary schools, handpumps, guesthouses and a clinic.

Efforts to establish contact with Timothy Odebunmi did not materialize. There is no trace of his phone number, email address or WhatsApp. In January, George promised to get Timothy Odebunmi to speak to the issue but failed to do so.

George evaded several attempts for an interview on the situation on behalf of the company. The DayLight reached out to George through phone calls and Facebook messages and WhatsApp text messages but to no avail.


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

Lawmaker Campaigning Against Miners ‘Unaware’ Of His Company’s Illegal Mine

0
created by dji camera

Top: A drone shot of a zircon sand mine in Greenville, Sinoe. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By James Harding Giahyue and Gerald C. Koinyeneh


MONROVIA; GREENVILLE – In late January, Representative Tibelrosa Tarponweh of Margibi County District Number One accused  Liberia Mineral Export Inc. of violating a suspension of its mining operations in Marshall, Margibi County.

“This is causing [a] serious environmental hazard for our people,” Tarponweh told members of the House of Representatives at the time, requesting the body summoned the Minister of Mines and Energy Gesler Murray. “What we want is our people must be protected, irrespective of our individual financial interests. This company is operating illegally.” The House’s joint committee on mines, energy and environment, and judiciary is investigating the matter.  

But an investigation by The DayLight found Tarponweh, too, co-owns a mining company with a Chinese national in Sinoe County. The lawmaker holds 15 percent shares in Jatoken Mining Inc., according to the company’s article of incorporation at the Liberia Business Registry. Tarponweh is also the firm’s registered agent, an individual who serves as a point of contact. Jianjun Huang, a Chinese national, holds the remaining 85 percent of the company’s shares.

Named after Tarponweh’s hometown in River Gee, Jatoken runs a semi-industrial-scare or a class B mine in the Sanquian District, records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show. It also holds a gold dealership license and has held other licenses after Tarponweh became a lawmaker in 2017.

Interestingly, Jotoken mines zircon sand, the same mineral the Liberia Mineral Export is extracting in Margibi, which drew Tarponweh’s criticism. Moreover, Jatoken’s mine falls within Liberia Mineral Export’s 151-square-kilometer gold exploration license area, stretching from Butaw all the way to Sanquain along Bafful Bay. Both firms are two of at least four mining zircon sand, a black mineral used in the ceramics and electronics industries. STT Heavy Mineral Resources Ltd and Tetra Mineral Resources Limited complete the quadruple, based on the ministry’s online, public records.

Tarponweh’s ownership of the active company violates Liberian laws. The Minerals and Mining Law of 2000 bars lawmakers from holding shares in companies actively mining. The Liberian Constitution and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials also prohibit such a conflict of interest.

Tarponweh and Jianjun established Jatoken in May 2014, about the same time Tarponweh famously advocated for the rights of communities adjacent to a facility where Ebola victims were being cremated. That helped spur his ascendency to the House of Representatives, defeating 20 other candidates in a tight Margibi District Number Two race in 2017.

In an interview, Tarponweh claimed he did not know Jatoken was still operating after his election to the National Legislature.  

“Your enquiry has opened up another investigation: I have just established that Mr. Jianjun Huang, who has 85 percent shares has been operating the company without my knowledge,” Tarponweh told The DayLight.

A collage of pictures showing Jatoken bagging zircon sand at the Port of Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. The DayLight/Johnson Buchanan

The ministry said Jatoken filed a new article of incorporation that removed Tarponweh as its shareholder just after he became a lawmaker. The document and the tax payment records show Tarponweh was replaced by Abdullah Mohammed on July 3, 2019.

“They brought a board resolution amending the shares distribution and their article of incorporation. They brought that with their business registration certificate,” said Assistant Minister for Mines Emmanuel Swen in a phone interview.  

“With that, Tarponweh shares were transferred to another person. That shareholder resolution that they brought, Tarponweh name is on it with his signature affixed,” Swen added.

Tarponweh denies he signed any paper, accusing Jianjun of forging his signature.  “My lawyer has taken charge of the situation. The action of Jianjun Huang is criminal. My name has been used to generate thousands of dollars,” Tarponweh said.

Swen said the Ministry of Mines would investigate if the Margibi legislator lodged a complaint. “If Tarponweh is not the one who signed, there is still a room,” Swen told The DayLight when asked about Tarponweh’s accusation. “He must [inform the ministry] that… his signature was forged. Then the ministry can act.”

‘Loopholes’

Jatoken did not register the change to its legal documents at the Liberia Business Registry, based on the Business Association Act. The law requires firms to enroll their legal documents within the registry and get a business registration certificate. It helps the government combat everything from conflict of interest and money laundering to tax evasion and terrorist financing.

Apart from the 2019 illegal amendment, Jatoken amended its article of incorporation once more on September 29, 2021, according to its tax payment record. Again, it did not file that change with the business registry. The Ministries of Mines and Foreign Affairs did not grant The DayLight’s request for a copy of that document.

Swen conceded that the ministry could have averted the  Jotoken scandal had they checked with the Liberia Business Registry before honoring changes to Jatoken’s legal documents. The mining law requires the Ministry of Mines and Energy to verify the validity of firms’ documents before granting them mining rights.   

“We have not been contacting the Liberia Business Registry to further investigate these documents,” Swen added. “We learn from some things that happened. You know the governance process is such that as you encounter one thing, you put into place measures to close the loopholes.”

“Anointing” is one of the boats that transport Jatoken’s zircon sand from Sinoe to the Port of Buchanan. The DayLight/Johnson Buchanan

Signature forged or not, the ministry awarded Jatoken a class B license on September 18, 2018, according to official records. That was nine months into Tarponweh’s legislative term and one year seven months before Jatoken unlawfully made changes to its shareholding. The mining law requires government officials with shares in companies to surrender their stakes or place them in a blind trust before assuming office. A blind trust controls public shares to avoid conflicts of interest.

Moreover, in his interview with The DayLight, Tarponweh claimed Jatoken was not mining zircon sand before he became a lawmaker. That claim is not backed by facts. Jatoken obtained a zircon sand prospecting license in 2015, the ministry’s official records show. The ministry awarded it a class B mining license for the mineral the following year and later archived it.

But Tarponweh’s shares are not Jatoken’s only eligibility issues. Foreign nationals must reside in Liberia and obtain resident and work permits in order to hold majority shares in a class B company, according to the mining law. Jianjun, Jatoken’s majority shareholder, has never obtained a resident or a work permit, the company’s tax payment records show. None of Jatoken’s foreign workers or representatives has obtained a work permit in nearly 10 years of the company’s existence. By law, the ministry should check companies’ owners,  staff’s work and resident statuses, and financial history among other things, before awarding class B licenses.

It was unclear how much volume of zircon sand Jatoken has produced. However, between 2020 and 2022 the company paid just US$48,000 in mining-related fees, Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) records show.  

Our reporter who visited Jatoken’s mine in January saw a trail of equipment, including earthmovers and wheelbarrows. Sandbars and holes and mounds of zircon sand adorned the area. Workers bagged the mineral and transported it to Buchanan, Grand Bassa via boats. Some of the boats that transport the mineral are “Anointing,” “God Knows” and “Iron State.”

Photographs taken at the Port of Buchanan show men uploading 25-kilogram bags with zircon sand. One port source said workers pack 50 bags of the mineral in a single container. Another source said workers transport scores of containers with the mineral to the Freeport of Monrovia weekly.

Jatoken did not return questions for comments on this story. We contacted three of the company’s representatives between February 26 and early this week. Earlier this month, a female representative promised to comment once she returned to Monrovia from Sinoe. She stopped responding to calls and WhatsApp messages ever since.

[Mark Newa and Johnson Buchanan contributed to this story]

Funding for the story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

GVL Violates Villagers’ Rights Then Sues Them For Palm Theft

0

Top: (L-R) Two Men suspected of stealing palm nuts carry a handheld palm oil mill. Lincoln Weah, a villager suspected of stealing palm nuts is detained by the police. Bags of palm are wasted on the ground. Picture credit: Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)


By Mark B. Newa


BUTAW, Sinoe County – Things were about to change for Lincoln Weah and his friends but he did not know.

It was July 7, 2022. Weah had just returned from setting up his palm oil production worksite in a palm farm around the Bellehful village. Suddenly, a group of guards of Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) and armed police arrested him.

Wearing palm-oil-stained clothes, they accused Weah of stealing palm nuts from GVL’s plantation and demanded he took them to the worksite.

“When we reached there, they began to beat me, forcing me to call the names of my friends in the village,” Weah tells The DayLight. “They promised that when I showed the people who are making palm oil on the farm, they would let me go.”

Weah believed the guards and police officers and named his three workmates. But it was a trick. As soon as he disclosed their names, the beating intensified, according to Weah. A picture obtained from the NGO Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) shows the 32-year-old sitting on the blackened ground of the worksite, surrounded by guards and policemen. Other pictures show metal drums of palm nuts, the men carrying a handheld palm mill and Weah detained by a police officer.   

They led Weah back to Belleh-ful and arrested the other men, who had been there all long. He, Shelton Wawoe, Tolou Kamara and Timothy Tarpeh were shoved in a vehicle and taken to jail in Butaw. Not long after Moses David, 43, a GVL worker and owner of the farm the suspects produced palm oil, joined them.

GVL`s security guards and state security forces manhandle one of the villagers in Bellehful, Sinoe County.  Picture credit: Sustainable Development Institute (SDI)

The arrest is the beginning of a series of ordeals the men face that continues today: prolonged pretrial detention, loss of properties and a threat to their livelihood. David risks a possible forfeiture of his benefits for a decade of service to GVL.

‘They stopped us’

Following their arrest, four of the men spent five nights inside the police cell. They were later transferred to the Central Prison in Greenville, according to the men and court records. The other man was transferred the next day, the records show.

“Since we were arrested and beaten, I am not feeling well in my body. Sometimes when I wake up, my knees and the rest of my joints can be sticking. I do not have money to go to the hospital,” Weah tells this reporter.

“They stopped us from getting medicine,” says Wawoe, 55, the oldest of the men.

Detaining a person beyond 48 hours without charge is a violation of their rights, according to   Liberian Constitution. Diggs Drunwille, Sr., the police commander of Sinoe County declined to comment on the matter. A GVL spokesman justified the actions of the guards and police.  

“GVL has the responsibility to protect its personnel, properties and rights utilizing legal means, including the involvement of police and other authorities where appropriate,” Alphonso Kofi, tells The DayLight in an email.

Weah, Tarpeh, Wawoe and David were released on bail on July 13, according to documents from the Kaisieh Magisterial Court in Butaw. Kamara, a Sierra Leonean,  remained there until October, as no one filed his bond. The court release him only after local rights campaigners and townspeople intervened.

One day after their release, the court charged the men with theft of property. They used a motorcycle to steal loose palm nuts worth US$1,550, GVL alleges as per court records. The police seized six containers, four metal drums and other items from their worksite. All five men deny any wrongdoing.

In separate interviews, the suspects allege that the guards and police made away with their money and other belongings. Wawoe says he lost L$120,000, US$650 and a cell phone that costs US$150. David claims he lost US$600, mattresses, clothes and other properties during his arrest.

GVL has, meanwhile, suspended David, who works as a fieldworker for the company. Theft is a ground for the termination of an employee’s contract under the Decent Work Act. David’s suspension came nine months after GVL paid off 16 of its workers over their wrongful dismissals in October 2021.

Lincoln Weah, Moses Karnuah, Tolou Kamara, Timothy Tarpeh and Shelton Wawoe. The five men are accused of stealing palm from GVL plantation valued at US$1,500. They deny any wrongdoing. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

David accused GVL of trying to deprive him of years of service to the Indonesian company. Kofi refutes David’s accusation. He says his suspension had nothing to do with severance pay. “His suspension is dependent on the court’s ruling,” Kofi says.   

The accused men say they are finding it difficult to survive. The guards and police have prevented the men from accessing their worksite on the farm, according to them. Kofi dismisses these allegations.

David owns the two-acre palm farm where the accused men worked. The farmland lies between an abandoned plantation owned by Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) and GVL’s Butaw plantation. Known in the oil palm industry as an out-grower, villagers’ farms are an important part of a plantation’s development. It is one of the principles that govern the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the global watchdog for the commodity.

GVL has a 65-year agreement with the Liberian government for up to 350,000 hectares in Sinoe and Grand Kru and Maryland Counties. The 2010 deal was worth US$1.6 billion.

It is Liberia’s largest producer of crude palm oil, exporting US$31.7 million worth of the commodity between 2020 and 2021, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).  However, land-grab, deforestation and labor offenses have marred the concession for its 13 years.

Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) has an agreement with Liberia, covering 220,000 hectares of land in Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

Slow Case

The magisterial court has not heard the case yet. It has postponed the proceedings several times, in July, October, December last year, and January and February this year,  court documents show.  

Moses Karnuah, who stood the bond for Weah, Wawoe, Tarpeh and David, says the delay was taking a toll on him.

“Everyone has an activity to attend to,” Karnuah told the reporter. Karnuah, 45, says “When the people I stood for are not here, the court will hold me responsible, or I will go to jail. I want the case to… reach the final decision, then I will be free.”

“This is giving us hard time to do other things for ourselves,” Weah says, via phone on his way back to Butaw from Saclepea, Nimba County.   

The court has rescheduled the case from February 1 to a later date.


Funding for the story was provided by the Green Livelihood Alliance (GLA 2.0) through the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

Podcasts

×