6 January 2013

Liberia: Renewed Moratorium On Liberia's Forests

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has issued Executive Order No. 44, protecting Liberia's forests by a temporary moratorium on Private Use Permits (PUPs).

According to an Executive Mansion release, Executive Order No. 44 issued here on Friday, January 4, 2013states among others that a moratorium on the issuance of PUPs is in force and activities involving or related to the felling or export of logs under any PUPs granted, authorized or approved by the Forestry Development Authority is suspended.

The moratorium applies to all individuals, communities, groups, and associations holding Private Use Permits of PUPs. It applies also to all logging activities of any person, whether natural or juridical, who holds a PUP and operates in Liberia under any other logging license.

Meanwhile, the relevant ministries and agencies of government have been requested to take appropriate actions to remedy the situation through criminal prosecutions, review of the relevant legal and regulatory framework, validation of deeds, audit of the Forestry Development Authority, public sensitization, and such other necessary measures.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has noted in the Executive Order that while the forests are part of Liberia's natural heritage that exist for the benefit of its people, there had been 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 government had 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 states that because the mismanagement of the PUPs poses a threat to the efficient, effective, and sustainable management of the country's forests, 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.

These included the 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; dissolution of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and full independent audit of the Agency.

Other measures included 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 as well as conduct an inventory of logs across the country by a National Inventory Team, with logs harvested in contravention of the moratorium or under PUPs to be subject to appropriate legal actions including confiscation and public auctions, with proceeds going to settle tax obligations to government and to benefit communities affected by PUP abuse.

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 these deeds, and implementation of a massive public education program to create awareness of the actions being taken by the government; the reasons why, and the need for full support from the communities for government's efforts to conserve the nation's forests and permit only legitimate use consistent with the law.

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