10 January 2013

Liberia: Pretense or Real Business, the Case of PUP

Photo: Charles Akena/IRIN
Unscrupulous loggers cutting down trees.


Last Week, The Special Independent Investigation Body (SIIB) set up by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to look into the abuse of Private Use Permits (PUP) submitted its report with finger pointing at several government officials and

civil servants at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Agriculture as well as private citizens of violating the forest regulations.

The Committee's Report blamed government institutions and officials of aiding and abetting directly and indirectly in plundering the country's forest sector. Although the committee fell short of naming those officials who are allegedly linked to pillaging the country's forest, however, President Johnson-Sirleaf has already dissolved the Board of Directors of FDA.

The SIIB Report, which has been approved by the President, highlights the conduct of the chairperson and members of the Board of Directors of FDA for their failure to provide the appropriate oversight and conduct due diligence in the issuance of Private Use Permits.

In Reaction To the report, President Johnson-Sirleaf ordered that the moratorium placed on the use of PUP will continue and that any person or business entity in violation thereof will be prosecuted in accordance with the law of Liberia.

The Document Released by the special committee is clear and to the point but we are worried over its implementation. Our concern stems from the background of series of reports that clearly pointed out names of individuals in high places but nothing was done to ensure deterrence.

Another Issue About President Sirleaf's decision to dissolve the FDA Board of Directors seems not to be done in good faith because the chairperson of the FDA Board, who is also the Agriculture Minister, is still functioning in her capacity as minister, although the Ministry of Agriculture was implicated in the report. Anyone listening to this narration would presume that the entire episode sounds like a comedy of error in which a major player linked to misconduct of the forest sector remains largely unscathed.

If The Ministry of Agriculture and other government agencies were affected by the President's decision, then we think Dr. Florence Chenoweth should cease to function as Minister of Agriculture either by dismissal or suspension as it was done in the case of the FDA Managing Director (and several others), because the FDA Board failed to provide oversight which led to the corruption of our forest.

We Are Afraid that the action taken by President Sirleaf to dissolve the FDA Board and ignore the role of Dr. Chenoweth as chairperson and Minister of Agriculture appears to be a pretense to cover up infringements committed by the Minister. We believe that the President should have been sight forward on the specific role of Minister Chenoweth; if her role was an issue of gaffe, then it should have been stated.

Since Others who were implicated by the report have been dealt with, Minister Chenoweth should face similar action as head of the FDA board. By that, we mean, the leader takes responsibility once he or she fails to exercise control and oversight.

Government Officials Who are linked to the wanton pillaging of our resources should not be shielded on the basis of friendship. All of those accused of wrongly handling of the Private Use Permits should be prosecuted without delay.

It Is Our Hope that this report will not be implemented on the basis of pretense but rather to ensure that justice prevails.

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