7 January 2013

Liberia: Ellen Declarers Moratorium On Private Use Permits to Protect Liberian Forests

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on Friday, January 4th, issued, with immediate effect, Executive Order No. 44, on Protecting Liberian Forests by a Temporary Moratorium on Private Use Permits (PUPs).

According to an Executive Mansion release, Executive Order No. 44 states, in its operative paragraphs: 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; That this moratorium applies to all individuals, communities, groups, and associations who are holders of PUPs; That this moratorium 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; That the relevant ministries and agencies of Government shall 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; That this moratorium shall remain in effect until otherwise lifted.

Citing the reasons for declaring the moratorium, President Sirleaf states, 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. They included 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; Dissolution of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), which will be reconstituted; 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; 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 action to include 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 the full support by 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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