4 January 2013

Liberia: Govt. Officials Linked to 'Plunder'

A report released by the Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB) established by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to look into the abuse of the Private Use Permit (PUP) has blamed authorities at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and other agencies for series of forest regulatory violations.

The report also identified several government officials and civil servants at the FDA, Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, and the Ministry of Agriculture as culprits who aided and abetted directly and indirectly in plundering the country's forest sector.

In reaction to the report, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered that the moratorium placed on the use of PUPs will continue and that any person or business in violation thereof will be prosecuted and penalized in accordance with the law.

President Sirleaf said appropriate actions including dismissals be taken against all government employees across every agency and ministry with connection to the forestry sector that have engaged in gross administrative misconduct.

Although the names of the government officials and civil servants have not been released but the Liberian leader dissolved the Board of Directors of the FDA pending a reconstitution and ordered a full review of the legal regulatory framework governing the management of community forest and private user permits.

Accordingly, the report also lamented the conduct of the Chairperson and members of the Board of directors of FDA for their failure to provide the appropriate oversight and also failing to conduct due diligence in the issuance of PUPs, and breach of duty of care owned to the corporation.

In its report, the committee's recommendations endorsed by the President at a meeting declared all PUPs issued by the FDA null and void as their issuance preceded promulgation of regulation as required.

The committee also recommended that all PUPs be revoked for failure to comply with the National Forestry Reform law, and constitute an internal audit secretariat and independent members to conduct inventory of all logs felled in PUP operations, which institutes confiscation proceedings for auctions of logs catalogued in the inventory.

"The committee recommended the conduct of an independent audit of FDA and findings made public, and the debarment of logging activities and the prosecution of individuals who submitted forged land deeds to FDA, and the referral of some companies for further investigation," Acting Minister of Justice Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh disclosed.

The Acting Justice Minister speaking Thursday at the Ministry of Information organized press briefing said the report also submitted findings on the conduct of logging companies, which they concluded was tantamount to orchestrating fraudulent activities in the country's forest sector in violation of the National Forestry Reform law.

"The management of FDA, SGS, and operators violated the moratorium placed on Private Use Permits by the FDA board of directors, and FDA failed to promulgate the regulations governing the issuance of PUPs and that senior management took advantage of the lack of regulations in ways that were unconscionable, illegal and a violation of public trust," Cllr. Sannoh read.

He said regulatory agencies involved in the PUP licensing, including the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy,(Land survey and Cartographic Department) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were negligent in carrying out their regulatory responsibility as required by law.

Furthermore, the report said the Land Survey and Cartographic Department approved fraudulent conveyances of land in issuing certificates of corrections in violation of property law, noting that FDA failed to exercise due care and legal prudence in the review of documents presented for PUPs.

According to the committee, most of the documents reviewed showed errors in dates, signatures, deeds, and associated documents, nodding that some actions of FDA indicated culpability by officials of the FDA in cohort with individuals working for logging companies and communities.

The report, which was read by Acting Justice Minister Sannoh, said FDA failed to comply with the National Forest Management Strategy, which envisioned thirteen (13) new protected forests to be maintained for conservation in compliance with Liberia's obligation under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

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