4 January 2013

Liberia: Benedict Sannoh Lambasts FDA

Acting Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh says the actions of Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to play a blind eye to the floating of laws governing the Liberian forest sector has jeopardized the country’s conservation goals and ability to meet its obligation under the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),” Acting Justice Minister Benedict F. Sannoh had told journalists in Monrovia yesterday.

Sannoh, who made the remarks when he addressed the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) regular press briefing in Monrovia on Thursday, asserted that FDA failed to comply with the National Forest Management Strategy (NFMS) which envisions 13 new protected forests to be maintained for conservation in compliance with Liberia’s obligation under the UN CBD-which aimed at totaling protected areas of over one million hectares.

Accusing the FDA of completely disregarding NFMS, Cllr. Sannoh alleged that FDA failed to exercise due care and legal prudence in the review of documentation presented for PUPs.

Quoting the report of a Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB) as was presented to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on December 21, 2012, the Acting Justice Minister stated that the committee discovered that most of the documents reviewed showed errors in date, signatures, deeds and others

While, actions taken by FDA in time past indicated culpability by officials of the FDA who were in cohort with individuals working for logging companies and communities.

“That the field verification memorandum written by FDA to justify issuance of PUP was falsified in many cases and did not support the grant of PUP in others. Field verifications supported completed in 2011 were actually completed between 2009 and 2010, in many instances prior to the request for the permit,” Cllr. Sannoh added.

Speaking further, Cllr. Sannoh indicated that the SIIB report also revealed fundamental flaws in the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (MLME) validation process for deeds, based on an assessment completed by the Land Commissioner, of 59 land deeds reviewed, 57 were not eligible for PUP license because the deeds presented evidence of collective ownership and therefore should operate under the requirements of the community rights law.

He disclosed, “The regulatory agencies involved in the PUP licensing process, including MLME and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were negligent in carrying out their regulatory responsibilities as required by law. Further, the land survey and cartographic department approved fraudulent conveyances of land in issuing certificates of corrections in violation of property law.”

The former managing Director of FDA Mr. Moses Wogbeh could not be reach for comment up to press time, as his cellular phone rang endlessly without any response.

It can be recalled; in January 2012, a coalition of None-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) communicated with the management of FDA, raising concerns and or complaining of the alarming rate and scale of PUPs and flaws in its issuance.

In response to the coalition of NGOs concern, the Board of Directors of FDA in February 2012 placed a moratorium on the issuance of new PUPs and halted all activities under all existing documents of such.

Ironically, this moratorium was not upheld, as timber felling under PUPs still continued unabated, thus raising lot of public outcries, claiming the attention of President Sirleaf.

In response thereto, President Sirleaf on August 5, 2012 reinforced the FDA Board’s moratorium and subsequently established the SIIB in September 2012 so as to investigate allegations related to the issuance of PUPs by FDA.’

Meanwhile, President Sirleaf is keen on implementing all of the recommendations as per the SIIB report, which among other things called for the nullification of all PUPs issued by FDA.

The Liberian Leader has also dissolved the entire Board of Directors of FDA and ordered an immediate audit of the forestry authority and findings thereof be made public and appropriate actions taken.

She has also ordered that the moratorium remain in effect and any person or business in violation thereof be prosecuted and penalized in accordance with the Liberian law, while activities of all logging companies involving PUP be suspended until the moratorium is lifted.

President Sirleaf further mandated her cabinet officials to take appropriate administrative actions, including dismissals against all government employee(s) across every agency and ministry with connection to the forestry sector that have engaged in gross administrative misconduct and named in the report.

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