23 December 2012

Liberia: President Sirleaf Receives Report of Special Independent Investigating Body Probing Issuance of PUPs - Vows to Release Report, Implement Its Recommendations

The Special Independent Investigating Body commissioned by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to review the policies and procedures regarding the issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs), presented its report to the Liberian leader on Friday evening at her Foreign Ministry office.

Receiving the approximately 200-page report, plus annexes, from the Chairman of the Investigating Body, Mr. James Dorbor Jallah, President Sirleaf thanked the panel for its hard work, which she called “a labor of love for country.” She asked for an opportunity to read the report, to seek the advice of her Minister of Justice and Legal Counsel in deciding the action to take, and to then make the document public.

The President observed that in light of the Supreme Court hearing, due on December 28, in a case brought by operators of PUPs, she had time to study the panel’s report and prepare an action plan for promptly implementing its recommendations, immediately after the Supreme Court decides the case.

According to an Executive Mansion release, Chairman Jallah, in presenting the Investigating Body’s report, said the six members, with the support of advisors, had worked diligently on the document. Explaining the methodology, he said the team had analyzed each of the Private Use Permits it could find – a total of 63 – and had solicited other background and supporting documents for the permits reviewed. It had conducted interviews; talked to parties that are connected to the different contracts – the companies, the communities, the agencies of government involved – and also conducted field visits. What is contained in the report, he said, “is a combination of all of the things we observed, reviewing the documents as well as talking to people, and going into the field and seeing things for ourselves.”

Chairman Jallah explained that the document included an analysis of the 63 PUPs, each with its supporting documents – land deeds, the social agreements, and memorandums of understanding – together with the team’s observations. General statements in the main body of the report are supported by the findings from each of the contracts. The report includes specific recommendations on each PUP evaluated, as well as general recommendations which did not fit with any particular PUP. At the end of the Executive Summary, Chairman Jallah said, are recommendations covering PUPs in general, but also covering companies, government agencies, as well as individuals who were involved in the process.

In thanking the Investigating Body, President Sirleaf said: “I know it has been a very long and difficult task that took you over the country, I’m quite sure sometimes on bad roads and difficult conditions. There’s nothing we can do to repay you for what you did. In many cases, it was a labor of love for country, more than anything else.”

A lot hinges on this report, the President continued, because of others that have been issued about the country, such as the UN Panel of Experts Report and Global Witness, which on Friday had commented further on Liberia’s PUPs. She expressed her commitment to ensuring that action is taken, in accordance with the panel’s recommendations, and said she wanted to take the time, this weekend, and read the report. She also wanted Justice Minister Christiana Tah to read the document and determine the role which her Ministry will have to play.

It was agreed that copies of the panel’s report would also be shared with the President’s Legal Counsel, Cllr. Seward Cooper, and the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy, Mr. Patrick Sendolo, to carefully review in terms of acting on the recommendations.

Regarding media interest in the report, the President assured the team that she would release it to the public as soon as she had read it and determined what action she would take.

As to the action before the Supreme Court to prohibit the committee from investigating the PUPs, Cllr. Felicia Coleman, of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, clarified that the Justice in Chambers did not issue a Writ; he had called, instead, for a hearing on December 28, and would make a determination on whether to issue a Writ or quash it. He also had not stopped the committee from doing its work.

President Sirleaf set up the Special Independent Investigating Body in August, after a report by Global Witness, an environmental advocacy group, revealed that Private Use Permits currently cover 40 percent of Liberia’s rainforests, and that such permits have allowed private landowners to cut trees on their property and lack the more stringent social and environmental protections required under Forest Management Contracts (FMC) and Timber Sales Contracts (TSC) for other large logging permits in Liberia.

In August, President Sirleaf imposed a moratorium on logging and exports of nearly all Private Use Permits pending the investigation. She also suspended, without pay, the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, Mr. Moses Wogbeh, and appointed Mr. Harrison S. Karnwea to serve as interim Managing Director, pending the report of the Investigative Body.

The members of the Special Independent Investigative Body included Individuals: Auditor James Dorbor Jallah, Chair; Ms. Diasmer Panna Bloe; and Father James Sellee, of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Representing Institutions were: Mr. Thomas Doe Nah, of the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL), a civil society organization; Cllr. Felicia Coleman, of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia; and Atty. Kou Dorliae of Justice Ministry’s Department of Economic Affairs. The Technical/Advisory Board included: the U.S. Forest Service; the European Forestry Institute; and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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