11 January 2013

Liberia: Dangerous National Consequences - CUPDL Decries PUP Moratorium

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

The Citizens United to Promote Peace & Democracy in Liberia (CUPDL) has described as "dangerous consequences" for national development the decision by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to issue a moratorium on the issuing of the controversial Private Use Permit (PUPs) as recommended by the special probe committee.

The decision by the President to put a moratorium on the on the PUP will have grave economic and social harm not only on the thousands of people who work in the forestry sector, but the economy in general as it is going to have greater effect on revenue generation," CUPPDL executive director Prince Kreplah told a press conference Thursday (Jan 10) in Monrovia.

The moratorium in question will force thousands of Liberians out of job in the forest sector and slice away up to US$15 million from government's revenue generation--am amount badly needed to enable government attend to its mammoth challenges of rebuilding the post war country.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Friday, January 4th 2013 issued Executive Order No. 44, placing a Temporary Moratorium on Private Use Permits (PUPs). The Government said its action was aimed at protecting Liberia's rainforest of which huge portion is said to have been exploited under the PUP scheme.

In August 2012, President Sirleaf established a Special Independent Investigating Body (the SIIB) to investigate allegations related to the issuance of PUPs. The SIIB presented its Report to President Sirleaf on December 19, 2012.

"From the current trend of events," Kreplah noted, "we can safely conjecture that Government's halt action on PUPs is a based on direct recommendations from this report, a report which we have thoroughly dissected and found deficient in scope and substance."

The Civil Society group chief said the SIIB report and recommendation was flooded with errors and inconstancies, though admitting that it did well by raising critical issues of the forest sector that must be addressed to save the country's remaining forest reserve.

"We have assembled here today not to question the wisdom of Government's action when it called a halt on all logging activities involving PUP in the country. Rather, we are here to draw attention to some grave issues arising out of the action-- issues that could jeopardize the development agenda of this very Government.

Among other things, Kreplah said, the underlining purpose of a government as it relates to the issuance of PUPs is to address basic social, and livelihood needs of the people and inhabitant as well as to ensure the forest generate returns for development purposes in the country.

He said the whistle blowers, civil society and other actors who are raising issues on the PUPs claim to be doing so in the interest of the inhabitants of the forest areas affected, and for the economic benefit of the country. "However, the SIIB and Global Witness reports [recommending halt to PUP] fall short of recommending any alternative source(s) of sustainable livelihood for the thousands of forest inhabitants and how government revenue generation drive will address the gap in the absence of the PUPs which is a significant base of revenue generation within the forest sector and inhabitants of the forest areas affected," he said.

Kreplah said "It is already common knowledge that Government will lose 12 to 15 million United States Dollars with the suspension of PUP logging activities in the country," wondering, "How does this Government expect to deliver on many of the vital developments projects is anyone guess."

The CUPDL boss said these were serious economic and social problems, if not handled, that could cause devastating effect on the country's already fragile peace and economy.

Among others, he recommended that government, in consort with civil society, reconstitute a new committee and disregard the current SIIB report based on the legal shortfalls within the report. "As the SIIB is not a court, it would be prejudicial for it to render judgment or suggest specific terms of punishment for alleged violators of the PUP. The SIIB cannot take unto itself the powers of the court," CUPPDL argued.

The Court system, he contested, should be final resort to provide interpretation and adjudicate issues relating to the PUP as the government at the moment does not have legal basis to undo legal contracts especially when the same government is party to reasons for wanting to undo PUPs.

In the third recommendation, CUPPDL said if the reason for wanting to undo the PUPs is to mitigate against the effect of green house gases, climate change and pollution, interested parties such as Global Witness, international powers and government must revert to the carbon trading where Liberia will be requested to preserve her forest resources, halt deforestation and the international community adequately compensate Liberia and inhabitants of forest areas.

"There is need for the government to consider the economic and livelihood implications of the termination of PUPs been fully mindful of the fact that 25% of the work force in the forest industry is women," Kreplah noted, adding, "instead of placing moratorium on all PUPs, there is need for government to streamline all PUPs, ensure that they meet up with the legal requirements to continue operating within a specific time frame."

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