13 December 2012

Liberia's Stability Under Threat - UN Panel of Experts Reports

Photo: Greenpeace International
A report by Global Witness uncovered how "secret logging contracts" were awarded.

The United Nations (UN) Panel of Experts on Liberia has reported that the country's stability is under threat. In the Panel of Experts final report submitted to the UN Security Council early December 2012, the Panel in its overview of Liberia's forestry sector indicated that weak natural resources governance is among other things threatening the stability of the country.

The Panel acknowledges that in its previous report, Liberia has comprehensively reformed its forestry sector, which remains a model for post-conflict resource management. But the UN Panel of Experts was quick to note that: "However, weak natural resource governance jeopardizes the Government of Liberia's post-conflict reconstruction efforts, while simultaneously undermining the rule of law, hampering development, weakening the fragile social compact between the Government and its citizens, and threatening stability."

In its report signed by Masood Khan, Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1521 (2003) concerning Liberia, the Panel cautioned that: "Unless the many problems that beset the forestry sector are addressed robustly and urgently, the current situation may undermine stability, most acutely in remote areas of the country that are already under considerable pressure as a result of regional ethno political tensions."

"Particularly worrisome is the Forestry Development Authority's procedurally flawed and -- in most, if not all cases, in the context of violations of the Community Rights Law -- apparently illegal issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs) as an alternative, largely unregulated route to substantial concession holdings, bypassing a formal concessions process," the Panel's report noted.

The Panel of Experts report added that: "The status of Private Use Permits in Liberia is a symptom of the ailing forest sector; analyzing the permits provides a window on the broader sectoral challenges and reveals that the deeper, persistent root problems are uncertain land tenure and poor natural resource governance."

"Moreover, the Panel of Experts report stated, the Forestry Development Authority's focus on Private Use Permits has come at the expense of more sustainable forestry concessions, principally forest management contracts and timber sales contracts."

The Panel's report says no new forest management contracts or timber sales contracts have been issued since

2010, whereas the Panel found that 99 per cent of the Private Use Permits granted for a total of 2,327,352 hectares of land, 24 per cent of Liberia's total land area, were issued in 2010 and 2011, with 89 per cent issued in 2011 alone.

The UN Panel of Experts in its report declared that while no new permits were issued in 2012, the Panel placed priority on investigating the application of this mechanism, and the associated legal and procedural problems in Private Use Permits' allocation, since those permits issued prior to 2012, which could number more than 65 contracts, remain valid.

"Moreover, between January and October 2012, nearly three times as many timber shipments were made under Private Use Permits as under forest management contracts," the Panel of Experts report said.

The Panel of Experts report furthered that: "Moreover, Private Use Permits often pertain to areas that are vulnerable and outside the effective control of government, adding that areas covered by private use permits overlap with locations that mercenaries and Ivorian militia members use as staging grounds and support bases for cross-border attacks into Côte d'Ivoire, particularly in Grand Gedeh County."

The report divulged that areas covered by PUPs which also contain many artisanal gold and diamond mining claims that the mercenary and militia groups use to sustain themselves, indicating that: "As the Panel previously reported, this makes the lack of government oversight and regulation more worrisome in the current environment and a destabilizing factor for the future."

According to the UN Panel of Experts report, the Panel conducted an extensive analysis and assessment of legal irregularities, the misapplication of the Private Use Permit's provision and fraud, and has assessed the impacts of those factors on local communities.

"Furthermore, the Panel report added, the proliferation of Private Use Permits has the potential to incite land conflict as the process required in order to receive a permit and subsequent logging activities can uncover overlapping deeds, lead to conflicting claims of land ownership and rekindle latent traditional land conflicts."

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