When the final report of the special investigation committee headed by Counselor James Dorbor Jallah that was appointed by Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe into the various abuses and fraud in the issuance of the Private Users Permit (PUP) was read by the Acting Justice Minister Counselor Benedict Sannoh was read during the first regular press briefing of the Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) last week Thursday, what came into the minds of many is that indeed President Sirleaf is keeping up to her promise to the nation when she took the oath of office nine years ago that she will make corruption a public enemy number one of the Liberian government.
Certainly a President of any country by him or herself will not be expected to see all and know all. It is those entrusted by the president and the governments to overseer responsibilities are the ones that will be expected to brief and advise the president on what is happening within the domains that fall under their respective purview. The Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) on the other hand, was created by the Liberian government with the mandate to find, pursue and prosecute corruption in the society. This is why when it comes to identifying where to place blames for the gross abuses and fraud in the issuance of the PUP in the forestry sector that is bound to cost government the loss of about US$12 to US$13 million as had been projected by the Acting Finance Minister James Kollie during the press briefing, any logical thinking individual would be prone to wonder where the blame should lie?
A close look into the contents of the entire report throws the warning signs to government that there is a need for them to be robust and decisive in taking decisions rather than adopt a wait and see attitude. The Land Commission, which was timely established by President Sirleaf to institute reforms in the land sector meant to empower legal framework in the acquisition and disposal of the lands appeared weak and mute to serve as a whistle-blower to forestall the abuses because as the commission had rightly observed there are in fact question marks as to who really own communal lands in Liberia, who owners dispose of the lands to the various companies that were involved in the PUP fraud scheme. There are many who are full of doubts about what should have been the role of the LACC in mitigating the fraud.
The newly established LC at the time remained to come out with clear definitions of land ownership in Liberia, now categorized as: private lands, public lands, traditional lands and government lands in Liberia. The intrigues in who owns the land was a motivating force for complicity in the presentation of dozens of false deeds for the acquisition of lands in the country under the PUP arrangement resulting into incursion on over 2.5 million hectares of lands in Liberia. Indeed fraud in the issuance of the PUP has also resulted into Liberia violating international conventions it had signed for the conservation of forests for the benefit of future generation of Liberians.
The LACC utterly failed to alert the government and the general public, and in instances where the press issued warning signals, such fell on government's deaf ears. The other burning observation and fear of complicity is that despite moratoriums placed on logging activities including its export from Liberia, the culprits whose logs at the Free port have been confiscated went ahead with operations unheeded with no stern action taken until much later.
Certainly key stakeholders in the forestry sector such as officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, which chairs the Board of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy (LME) and the LACC are to share the blame for negligence of functions. The report also identified many top officials of the MOA, FDA, and LME for their involvement by failing to exercise oversight responsibilities. This is why all 63 PUP that have been issued are declared by President Sirleaf as null and void and are to be revoked for failure to comply with government's reform laws. The report called for anj inventory of all logs acquired unscrupulously and the confiscation of those at the port waiting to be exported.
We applaud the government of President Sirleaf for backing the draconian measures which many patriotic Liberians view as a way forward in bringing sanity and orderliness into the country's forestry sector. Many Liberians are exonerating President Sirleaf in the entire logging scan for having indicated in her recommendations that the implicated officials should not only be suspended as the Report had recommended, but be dismissed and handed over to the Justice Ministry for prosecution.
We hope that the prosecution process of implicated offials which the Acting Justice minister alluded to as being already well on course at the magisterial courts and the Supreme courts, to serve as a deterrent to others will not be compromised on the basis of sentiments. It is also hoped that such errors, on the part of certain government officials, for which Liberia will dearly pay for in its financial and revenue intake will no longer be repeated in the future as the nation transforms into a middle income earning nation.