3 January 2013

Liberia: Drastic Action

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has suspended logging companies found engaged in the Private Use Permits (PUP) until the memorandum if lifted, and threatened stringent actions against individuals and business entities involved in abusing Liberia's forest and other natural resources.

The Executive action follows a report by Global Witness that Liberia's forests are under threat as landowners enter into deals with logging firms, by-passing sustainability laws.

According to the reports, one quarter of Liberian land has been sold to logging companies in just two years, threatening the country with widespread devastation.

A new spate of logging contracts in Liberia - the most heavily forested country in west Africa - means that 40% of its forests are under private ownership and risk being felled by logging companies, Global Witness warns.

Companies have used what campaigners describe as a legal loophole to buy vast amounts of private land with the intention of logging and clearing forests through the use of Private Use Permits (PUPs), it report explains.

The report was given the Special Independent Investigating Body commissioned to review the policies and procedures regarding the issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs).

President Sirleaf, after holding a consultative meeting with the ministries of Justice, Lands and Mines, Finance and Land Commission, expressed firm commitment to protecting Liberia's natural resources and ensuring that the resources are used to benefit residents in those communities they are exploited.

"It is very clear, from this report, that while the introduction of PUPs was meant exclusively for private landowners, the process was abused by investors, government employees and community leaders. This cannot and will not be allowed to stand. Punitive and corrective actions will be taken to ensure that this situation is not repeated, the president said."

Therefore, she said the moratorium in effect on PUPs will continue, and any person or business in violation thereof will be prosecuted and penalized in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile, a Special Prosecution Team will be established at the Ministry of Justice for the exclusive purpose of prosecuting all violations of the law in relation to PUPs by government officials, PUP holders, community leaders, logging companies and others.

A release from the Executive Mansion said quoted President Sirleaf as saying that "Appropriate administrative actions, including dismissals, will be taken against all government employees across every agency and ministry with connection to the forestry sector that are named in the report to have taken some inappropriate or unauthorized action in relation to the granting of PUPs."

She dissolved FDA Board of Directors with immediate effect pending reconstitution, while the ongoing full audit of the FDA continues.

Meantime, a full review of the legal and regulatory framework governing the management of community forest and private user permits will be undertaken so as to ensure that the intended reforms of the forestry sector, as embodied in the National Forestry Reform Law and the Community Rights Law, can be assured.

The release says: "A National Inventory Team will begin an inventory of logs across the country. Logs harvested in contravention of the moratorium or under PUPs will be subject to appropriate legal action to include confiscation and public auctions. Proceeds will be used to settle tax obligations to government and to benefit communities affected by PUP abuse."

It directs the Land Commission "to conduct a thorough validation of all deeds for PUPs that were granted, to establish their authenticity and provide advice as to associated property and use rights for all categories of these deeds.

"A massive public education program will be put in place to create awareness of the actions being taken by the government, the reasons why, and the need for the full support by the communities for government's efforts to conserve our forests and permit only legitimate use consistent with the law."

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