7 September 2012

Liberia: In Gbarpolu County - Citizens Blame Logging Company for Damaged Road But...

Gbarpolu County — Citizens of the Konigba Chiefdom, Bopolu District, Gbarpolu County, have blamed the deplorable road condition on the operations of a Monrovia-based logging company. The Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO) struck a deal to take over more than 90,000 hectares of community-owned forest in the Konigba Chiefdom.

During a recent visit to the area by this reporter, the main road linking Bopolu City, the capital, to rural villages was almost impassable. Stretches are thick with mud; and slippery. Many of the commercial drivers who travel the route wear rain boots. Living conditions for ordinary Liberians in these parts is becoming increasingly difficult. Basic commodities are sold at high costs because of the difficulty traders have getting goods from Monrovia to the countryside.

We are really suffering, Paramount Chief Kaifa Manjo of the Konigba Chiefdom told The Heritage newspaper. A social agreement the community signed with BODECO three years ago promised many benefits. But so far, Chief Manjo said the community has received nothing.

"We expected our roads and bridges fixed, new school and hospitals built, but things are going the opposite. The company is spoiling our roads and bridges rather than fixing them. This company is really suffering us," said Chief Manjo." The contract, dated 2009, promises the people a new school, a hospital, jobs, upgrades to the road and bridges -- even $1,000 US a month for senior citizens.

We have not even received a can of soft drink from this company since its operations here, Chief Manjo said. Citizens across Gbarpolu County have expressed disappointment with the company's operations. The road condition is responsible for the continuous hike in prices of goods in this county. " I blame nobody but this BODECO," said Momo Falley, a businessman of Belleh Fassama.

Disclosing to this paper, he said it costs L$1,800 (US$25) and L$2,000 (US$28) to transport a bag of rice from Monrovia to Henry Town and Belleh Fassama respectively. Due to the high cost of transportation, a bag of rice is sold at L$4,000 (US$56) and L$5,000 (US$69) in Henry Town and Belleh Fassama respectively.

George Curtis, a commercial driver who transports goods into various communities in Gbarpolu County pointed out that what used to be a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Bopolu City to Henry Town can now take 10 hours or even days.

To drive on the Bopolu-Henry Town and Henry-Belleh Fassama highways, Mr. Curtis said one must travel with several shovels, diggers and cutlasses to make it on the road.

Traveling on this road is very hectic. Before it was just one day from Monrovia straight to Belleh Fassama, but now it takes four to six days or one week plus," said the 35-year-old commercial driver. However, when contacted, the Chief Executive Officer of BODECO, Mr. Isaac Mannah, said the company is not failing its responsibility to honor its social agreements with the community.

One of the main issues, he said, is that the community needs to create a proper bank account into which BODECO can deposit funds. On the allegation of BODECO spoiling the road, he said, "that isn't so. I think the issue of the bad road condition is caused by the rain."

Mannah said his group gave community members a few hundred dollars in shovels, diggers and cutlasses to work on the roads. "We, in fact, reconditioned the road when we began our operations, but unfortunately the rain has now spoiled everything. That cannot be blamed on us, it is the rain and that is natural," Mannah said.

Community members in Konigba said the company should have known better than to transport massive logs on wide-load, flat-bed trucks in June, during the height of rainy season. Mannah accused the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) of creating problems by riling up the communities about their rights after negotiations have finished instead of educating them before the deals are struck.

Based in Margibi County, SDI is an environmental watch group operating in the country. SDI is just causing trouble, he said. "They are trying to bring country back into chaos."

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