4 January 2013

Liberia: Ellen Cites Abuses in PUP

Following the review of a report submitted to her by the Special Independent Investigating Body commissioned to review the policies and procedures regarding the issuance of Private Use Permits (PUPs), President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has directed that all logging companies that are engaged in PUP activities suspended until the moratorium is lifted.

The President said her decision is based on the review of the report which revealed that the process was abused by investors, government employees and community leaders.

The President said the abuse of the PUP will not be tolerated and that punitive and corrective actions will be taken to ensure that the situation is not repeated.

President Sirleaf forthwith effected that the dissolution of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and that same be reconstituted, and accordingly mandated a full audit of the FDA.

President Sirleaf made the statement at the weekend following a consultative meeting with the Ministries of Justice, Lands and Mines, Finance and the Land Commission.

"Let it be clear that I remain committed to protecting our people and ensuring that our natural resources are used to benefit the country and communities in which those resources are found. 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 Liberian leader stressed.

In an effort to comprehensively address the legal, social, economic and administrative implications revealed by the report, the President, according to an Executive Mansion release, directed that the following measures be taken:

"that the moratorium will continue on PUPs and any person or business found in violation thereof will be prosecuted and penalized in accordance with the law;

that 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;

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 inappropriate or unauthorized action in relation to the granting of PUPs;

that 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 President also mandated that a national inventory team begin an inventory of logs across the country and that logs harvested in contravention of the moratorium or under PUPs will be subject to appropriate legal action which will include confiscation and public auctions, adding that proceeds will be used to settle tax obligations to government and to benefit communities affected by PUP abuse.

According to the President, the Land Commission will proceed 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.

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