The Inquirer (Monrovia)

10 January 2013

Liberia: Citizens, PUP Holders Unhappy Over Gov't's Moratorium

The Government of Liberia recent decision to suspend all logging activities involving Private User Permits (PUPs) in the country based on recommendations of the Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB) is expected to have serious adverse effect not just on the national economy but many rural households as well who directly benefit from various logging activities across the country.

According to cross section of citizens who spoke when this paper conducted an in-depth investigation on the impact of Government's suspension order, there is a strong likelihood that the action could have a negative ripple effect on economic activities in the country, contrary to Government's seemingly good-natured intentions, which is to curb "irregularities" in the operations of the PUPs.

"It is very clear that the Government means well, but by suspending PUP logging activities without conducting any economic impact analysis, this Government is shooting itself in the foot," says Mambu Kiatamba of Gola Konneh District in Grand Cape Mount County.

Mr. Kiatamba rhetorically wondered: "Will our international partners shoulder the loss of revenues accrued from suspending all PUP logging activities in Liberia?"

Critics of the logging halt action further maintained that Government's decision is based purely on sentiments, just as some of the reports were that precipitated the reaction. "This Government is playing to the gallery of international partners whose only aim is to suffer the poor Liberian people of needed development resources, while always calling for compliance with international conservation interests," James Sumo, a resident of Bong County maintained.

Momodu Dagoseh, 47, a yellow machine operator for one of the affected logging companies operating in Gbarpolu County, declared outright indignation over the halt action. "How will I send my children to school and provide food for my family?" the father of 10 wondered.

Already, authorities at the Finance Ministry have hinted that Government stands to lose 12 to 15 million United States Dollars with the suspension of PUP logging activities in the country, thereby directly affecting Government's ability to deliver on critical development projects outlined in the Fiscal Year 2012/13 Annual Budget.

Interestingly, while Government is claiming that private land owners and logging companies colluded to misuse the Private Users Permit to the detriment of the country, some PUP holders who spoke with this paper on basis of anonymity due to a pending Supreme Court ruling, said they have done nothing wrong to merit suspension of their activities.

Most of the PUP holders declared that although they are legitimate owners of deeded lands free of encumbrances they found it necessary to enter into agreements with logging companies that have the financial capabilities and technical know-how to manage and operate their forests.

Displaying receipts of taxes paid to government revenue, a PUP holder declared that these logging companies have paid taxes, royalties and other fees which they the holders of PUPs were required to pay to Government.

Describing the suspension order as "counterproductive and unhealthy for investment climate in the country", one PUP holder said while the matter is both at the Civil Law Court and the Supreme Court of Liberia, government took a decision without awaiting ruling from these courts.

In January 2012, a coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) raised issues with the alarming rate of PUP issuance and its many loopholes. As a result, the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in February 2012 placed a moratorium on the issuance of new PUPs and halted all PUP activities.

Government suspension of all PUP logging activities on January 3, 2013 comes in the wake of reported continued felling of timbers by companies operating under PUPs.

However, some of the affected companies claimed that authorities of the FDA failed to officially inform them about the moratorium, an argument buttressed in the December 19, 2012 FIIB Report to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

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