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Liberia Logged: Companies Control 60% Of Rainforest

By Countercurrents.org

04 September, 2012

Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic with a land of 99,067 sq km exporting diamonds, iron ore, rubber, timber, coffee, cocoa, has granted up to 60% of its rainforests logging companies. There are corrupt deals.

A Reuters report from Dakar on Sept. 4, 2012 said:

Liberia's forestry department has given a quarter of the nation's land to logging firms over the past two years in a flurry of shady deals now under investigation by the government, advocacy group Global Witness said on Tuesday.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fending off accusations of graft and nepotism within her government, has suspended the head of the Forestry Development Authority and launched a probe into the recent timber deals.

Global Witness’ research revealed that the scale of the deals marked a serious threat to the war-torn and impoverished country's vast rainforests, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them.

"A quarter of Liberia's total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years, following an explosion in the use of secretive and often illegal logging permits," the group said in a statement.

"Unless this crisis is tackled immediately, the country's forests could suffer widespread devastation, leaving the people who depend upon them stranded and undoing the country's fragile progress since the resource-fuelled conflicts of 1989 to 2003."

Global Witness conducted the investigation with two other advocacy groups, the Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute

Global Witness said about 26,000 square kilometres of land had been granted to timber companies through at least 66 so-called Private Use Permits - lightly regulated deals between timber companies and private land owners.

Some of the deals appeared to have been backed by forged documents.

Liberia's presidency has launched an independent probe into the deals. It added it would bar illegally-logged timber from being exported.

Johnson Sirleaf, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her work for women's rights, has been facing growing criticism for failing to root out government-level corruption as the country begins potentially lucrative iron ore exports and explores for oil offshore.

Last month she suspended her son from his position as Deputy Central Bank Governor as well as 45 other government officials for failing to declare their assets to anti-corruption authorities, a move observers said was intended to show she is serious about fighting graft.

The president has been criticised for nominating three sons to high level posts in her administration - the one at the central bank, one at the national oil company, and one at the head of the country's national security agency.

Logging has been a controversial issue in Liberia since the civil war, when rebels used proceeds from timber to purchase weapons, triggering a U.N. ban. The ban was lifted after Liberia's foreign partners, particularly the United States and the World Bank, helped it reform its forestry laws.

A BBC report on the issue on Sept. 4, 2012 said:

Uncontrolled logging is posing a risk to Liberia's virgin rainforests and depriving people of economic benefits, campaign group Global Witness warns.

The West African nation still has some of the largest areas of rainforest in the region, but the Global Witness report alleges that nearly a quarter of Liberia's landmass has been signed to logging companies using secret and often illegal permits.

Some logging companies are signing Private Use Permits (PUPs), which were designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property, in order to get round legislation.

"It does mark an extraordinary breakdown of law in Liberia's logging sector, a sector which has received an awful lot of support […] both from President Johnson Sirleaf and from the US, the EU and other international partners," said Jonathan Gant, a policy advisor at Global Witness.
Local activists first raised concerns in June 2011, and the Liberian government put a moratorium on PUPs in February - although it does not appear to have fully stopped the practice.

Afua Hirsch, west Africa correspondent, wrote in guardian.co.uk on Sept. 7, 2012:

"People being defrauded out of their forest rights at this speed and scale is worrying in itself. When you look at who the forests have been given to, it gets even more alarming," said Jonathan Gant, of Global Witness. "Giving your forests to companies like that is not a sustainable investment."

The new findings about the extent of PUPs will come as a further blow to Johnson Sirleaf's leadership, campaign groups say.

Experts estimate that $30m has been spent by donors to ensure a legal process for granting logging concessions since the end of Liberia's war, and to help communities better manage their forest reserves.

"[T]he response of the Liberian Timber Association is a major concern," said Silas Siakor, of the Sustainable Development Institute. "Too frequently, those who abuse Liberia's natural resources have not been held to account."
Another BBC report by Tamasin Ford reports from Liberia said:
The chiefdom of Korninga, where Henry Town is located, signed a social agreement with a logging company in 2009 which promised a road, a clinic, a school, land rent and even monthly salaries for the elderly.

The residents of Korninga hoped logging firms would bring economic and social benefits.

The Korninga community had signed a social agreement with BODECO, one of 66 logging companies now operating in Liberia.

Two years later, the company was given a PUP logging contract by the government for more than 90,000 hectares of land. To date, the community says they have not received anything.

The logging company denied allegations it had not honoured the social agreement, claiming it will start grading the road once the dry season starts. As for the other promises, it said there was confusion over setting up a bank account, preventing them from processing the money.

Squeezed onto wooden benches and shouting over the sound of the rain, they were angry. Some said their signatures were forged, others said they never saw the contract.

In February, an order was issued suspending operations on all but four PUPs. Six months later, the number of PUPs had increased to 66.
Each contract contains the signature of the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, Moses Wogbeh, who insisted he had nothing to hide.

"It's not a breakdown in the law," Mr Wogbeh said.

"Everything that has been done has been done in keeping with the law. We have all the supporting documents. We go by the law."

He also denied new PUPs were issued after the moratorium in February.

Mr Wogbeh was suspended on Friday by order of the president herself.

Back in Gbarpolu county, Morris Kamara's wife, Old Lady Kamara, sitting behind huge bowls of rice and pepper, said the women of Henry Town had already decided what to do once the logging company resumes in the dry season.
"When the logging company come this time around we will strike. The women will strike. They will not pass here," she said angrily.

"Yes we will block the road - they will not pass. We have already planned this because the women are suffering here."



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