10 January 2013

Liberia: Why PUP Issuance Embarrassed the Sirleaf Government

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


Whether one may believe it or not, the Private Users Permit (PUP) scam that has been uncovered is to date one of the heinous scandals facing the Liberian government since the enthronement of Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as President in 2006.

This is a government that came to power, with President Sirleaf promising the nation that she will make fighting corruption public enemy number one. And to a large extent the President has been unrelenting in expressing her displeasure and by adopting a zero tolerance attitude to corruption.

In assessing the involvement of key government officials, one may stand to pose questions over the degree of this government's committed to fighting corruption in line with the presidential mandate. Many a time the president has gone beyond words by demonstrating why government officials should sign performance bonds first with the Civil Service Agency (CSA) and then the Liberian Anti Corruption Commission (LACC).

In fact when some government officials missed the deadline for the declaration of assets as required by the LACC Act, they were blacklisted for disciplinary actions. Moreover, when the president was informed about what was going wrong regarding the issuance of fake land deeds for reasons of securing the PUP rights as was announced in the middle of last year, she dismissed the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and immediately ordered moratorium on the issuance of the PUP until investigations are concluded.

Notwithstanding however, the issuance of the PUP continued unabated bringing the total number to 63. The Board of the FDA especially its chair-person the Agriculture Minister Madam Florence Chenoweth and other stakeholders at the Ministry of Lands Mines and Energy (LME) can hardly offer justifiable excuses to completely exonerate themselves.

The dismissal of the cartography director at the LME for the role he played in the PUP scam is very laudable. Many Liberians are still thinking over who were key beneficiaries of the entire PUP deal. Global Witness, a New York based anti-corruption watchdog and human rights international organization was quick to point accusing fingers pointed at an Indonesian company that has been operating in Liberia whose activities in the logging trade has been considered questionable.

We commend government for the systematic investigations that have been carried out to ensure that those who profited in the shady deals are brought to book. It is also gratifying to note that the PUP controversies have been unearthed at a time that the Land Commission, an entity that was established few years ago to design policies on land issues in the country has concluded its works.

Indeed nipping the loopholes from the forestry sector such as the issuance of fake deeds and fake PUP rights under the impression that companies that are benefitting from the privileges of the rights to extract timber will honor their corporate responsibilities that constitute parts of their terms of reference, such as the construction of schools and health centers to areas and communities in which they are felling timber.

Government also deserves commendable for the simple reason that the transparent report presented on the PUP would indeed not only galvanize investor confidence that government is determined to bring law and order in the timber trade. This initiative will equally go a long way in ensuring that the respect for law and order in the forestry trade in Liberia when observed scrupulously would also lead to increases in revenue generation for government treasury, instead creating loopholes that would let all financial transactions go into the pockets of corrupt government officials.

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