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Thursday, June 20, 2024

LOGS ABANDONED BY FLEEING COMPANY DECAYING IN LOFA FOREST

Date:

By Junior B. Kesselee

Waste and abuse of forest products is said to be on the increase in Liberia despite the country committing to sustainable forest management. The problems mostly involve companies that are said to have abruptly abandoned their concessions due to lack of capacity. In all of this, forest dependents are the ones left to suffer the excruciating perils associated with these illegalities.

Months after the departure of Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company from the Salayea Region of Lofa County, the aftermath of their operations continues to haunt the Liberian forestry sector. A fact-gathering mission by the Liberia Forest Media Watch revealed a distressing scene of vast quantities of harvested logs left to decay in the Gbarlin Clan area where the company once operated.

The root of this issue dates back to a 25-year concession agreement signed between the Liberian Government and the management of Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company in 2007. The agreement granted Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company the rights to harvest logs on 119,240-hectares of forest land affecting 10 towns within the Zorzor and Salayea Districts. The 10 towns include Kpayarquelleh, Kpeteyea, Kpowansanyea, Barquelleh new town and Gbaquata. Others are Gorlu, Ganglota, Beyan town, Gbonyea, and Fassawalasu.

On 6th October 2008, the company signed social agreement with the community, which was later reviewed on 7th December 2016. In late 2022, 13 years after, the company abruptly ceased operations due to a report of outstanding debts it owed to GT Bank, a report we have not independently verified. But the company’s abrupt departure did not come without the corresponding effects. The logs abandoned by the company are decaying, leaving community members in pain.

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The poorly constructed bridge alongside the alternative route

Section 3(a) of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Regulation No 116-17 on Abandoned Logs, Timber, and Timber Products, abandoned logs left unattended to shall be deemed abandoned by the Authority after the expiration of the following periods:

30 working days after the discovery by the Authority or its agent next to a stump in an area covered by a Forest Resources License, or in a Communal Forest, a Community Forest or on deeded land not covered by Forest Resources License;

60 working days after discovery by the Authority at a Landing Site in an area covered by a Forest Resources License, or in a Communal Forest, a Community Forest or on deeded land not covered by a Forest license;

15 working days after discovery by the Authority or next to any public or private road;

180 working days after discovery by the Authority at any log yard;

180 working days after discovery by the Authority of any wood processing site (sawmills, woodshops, etc.);

30 working days after discovery by Authority at any port of exit; or

30 working days after discovery anywhere else by the Authority.

Despite the regulation in placed, the Authority has failed to take action or investigate the abandoned logs, which violates section 4 (c) of the same regulation. Section 4 (c) says FDA shall investigate abandoned logs within seven working days and make the findings available via its website and other means deemed appropriate by the Managing Director.

On 18th January 2024, former FDA’s Managing Director, C. Mike Doryen acknowledged the abandonment of the logs in an interview with LFMW, but failed to disclose plans by the Authority to address the situation. He, instead, referred to the community as having the rights to request authorization to sell the logs, but said the FDA has no legal basis to grant authorization for such a request.

The Head of the Community Forestry Development Committee (CFDC), David P. Gahngalapa said his team has notified the FDA about the abandoned logs and requested authorization to sell them. David accused the management of Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company of owing the community over US$20,000 in cubic meter fees and other obligations stipulated in the Social Agreement.

A visit to the site of the abandoned logs established that some of the logs are already decaying, causing concerns among community members. The situation highlights the need for urgent action to address the abandoned logs issue as well as community’s arrears from land rental and cubic meter.

Additionally, Alpha Logging & Wood Processing Company failed to implement other commitments it made to the community. For instance, the company promised to construct housing for workers within nine months, build one road within two years, and construct one school and one clinic in workers’ camp within three years, employment preference to community residents in skilled and unskilled jobs and representation at middle manager level.

Other commitments include, construct two roads within three years, provide cubic meter data and payment records, build five latrines within five years, provide Scholarship of US$13,000 annually, build ten hand-pumps  and three roads within five years and build schools where needed and agreed.

An assessment conducted by LFMW proved the company did not live up to 40% of its commitments with the community. The assessment found out that the company only provided scholarship fees for three of the 5 years after the revision in 2016. Of the 10 hand pumps it promised, five were constructed. At the same time, the company only constructed two of the five latrines it promised, while it only opened one new road and left the rest of the roads it said it would do for the community.

Andrew Y.Y. Zelemen is the National Facilitator of the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), and the Communication and Public Relations Officer for the Community Forestry Development Committee (CFDC) and the affected communities. He grades the company’s performance 25% out of 100. Andrew confirmed report that the company did not fulfill its responsibilities as outlined in the Social Agreement. “The company did not construct most of the roads, not all the hand pumps and latrines to be constructed within the five years were done. The bridges, especially the Wandan Bridge that connects five of the affected communities to the main road, and community clinic, are cut-off as a result of that unfinished bridge. The company did not pay all the cubic meter fees of the logs they harvested and land rental fees as it should have done”.

A tour of the community confirmed that the company constructed a substandard bridge that makes passage difficult for community members during the rainy season. “This is a major bridge that connects those communities. This bridge contract was awarded to a contractor and the contractor did a poor job, and later on the work was disqualified by the Ministry of Public Work, and the company was asked to redo the bridge. Up to now they have not done it”, said Zelemen.

Some aggrieved community members told LFMW that during the rainy season; five towns get disconnected from the rest of the area, adding, access to clinics in those five communities become impossible due to heavy flooding that covers the bridge.

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Smart News Liberia is an online news outlet and a product of Smart Media Group Inc. Our website, smartnewsliberia.com, covers a broad spectrum of news content. For inquiries or information, you can reach us at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or email us at smartnewsliberia@gmail.com or info@smartnewsliberia.com.

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