A day following the release of a damaging report on the Liberian forests, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has issued with immediate effect, an Executive Order No. 44, placing a Temporary Moratorium on the Private Use Permits (PUPs).
According to a release, Executive Order No. 44 places a moratorium on the issuance of PUPs. The presidential decree has also suspended other activities involving or related to the felling of logs as well as the export of logs under any PUPs granted, authorized or approved by the Government of Liberia through the Forestry Development Authority.
The suspension applies to all individuals, communities, groups, and associations who are holders of PUPs. The moratorium also applies to all logging activities of any person, whether natural or otherwise, who holds a PUP and operates in Liberia under any other logging license.
The release indicated that the relevant ministries and agencies of government shall take appropriate actions to remedy the situation through a series of actions including criminal prosecution, review of the relevant legal and regulatory framework, validation of deeds, and audit of the Forestry Development Authority. The moratorium shall remain in effect until otherwise lifted.
Giving reasons for her actions, President Sirleaf cited allegations of misrepresentations and abuses in implementing the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006, in which provision is made for PUPs, which allow landowners who have forest resources on their land to apply for such permits.
Based on these allegations, the Liberian government established a Special Independent Investigating Body (SIIB), in August 2012, to conduct a comprehensive review of the issuance of PUPs.
The report issued by the Special Independent Investigating Body revealed that 'there have been massive fraud, misrepresentations, abuses and violations of the National Forestry Reform Law in the issuance of PUPs to the extent that this inter-generational asset has been severely threatened'.
The Executive Order further stated that the mismanagement of the PUPs poses a threat to the efficient, effective, and sustainable management of the country's forests, therefore, it is imperative to impose a moratorium to protect the national interest.
President Sirleaf began taking action on PUP abuse on Monday, December 31, 2012, following initial review of findings and recommendations of the Special Independent Investigating Body, ordering that a series of measures be taken in an effort to comprehensively address the legal, social, economic and administrative implications revealed by the report.
The recommendations include the following: establishment of a Special Prosecution Team at the Ministry of Justice to prosecute all violations of the law in relation to PUPs by government officials, PUP holders, community leaders, logging companies and others.
The dissolution of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), which will be reconstituted following a full independent audit of the FDA; a full review of the legal and regulatory framework governing the management of community forest and private user permits, to assure intended reforms of the forestry sector, as embodied in the National Forestry Reform Law and the Community Rights Law.
The committee also want an inventory of logs across the country by a National Inventory Team be taken, with logs harvested in contravention of the moratorium or under PUPs to be subject to appropriate legal action to include confiscation and public auctions, with proceeds going to settle tax obligations to government and to benefit communities affected by PUP abuse.
The committee also recommended that a thorough validation by the Land Commission of all deeds granted for PUPs, to establish their authenticity and provide advice as to associated property and use rights for all categories of deeds; and implementation of a massive public education program to create awareness of the actions being taken by the government.