7 January 2013

Liberia: Ellen Takes Stand to Protect Forest - After FDA Blunders

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has issued Executive Order No. 44, on Protecting Liberian Forests by a Temporary Moratorium on Private Use Permits (PUPs) which had reportedly been wrongly used to plunder the country's forest, and caused the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.

The Executive Order states 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."

Troubling reports from the application of the PUPs caused the President last year to set up a special investigative body to find out what was happening.

The report from the Special Independent Investigation Body disclosed that the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) was very reckless and operated with disregard for the law, which has resulted to the country loosing million from the forestry sector.

Acting Justice Minister Benedict F. Sannoh told a Ministry of Information organized press conference last Thursday that the actions of FDA have jeopardized Liberia's conservation goals and the ability of Liberia to meet its obligation under international conservation and biodiversity programs.

"The failure of the FDA to issue the Regulations...is the most significant underlying cause for the reckless and illegal manner in which PUPs have operated over the past few years," the Acting Justice Minister declared, adding, "as of date, FDA has issued 63 PUPs totaling 2.5 million hectares representing 23% of the land area of Liberia."

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 stated that the "this moratorium applies to all individuals, communities, groups, and associations who are holders 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."

The Executive Order furthered that "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," and that the "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.

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.

The decision, among others, included the dissolution of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority, while it's Managing Director Moses Wogbeh, who has never spoken remain suspended.

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