16 January 2013

Liberia: SGS Robs Liberia Of Millions?

Credible sources gathered by this paper indicate that SGS, a SWISS Multinational organization contracted by the government of Liberia to install an inspection, verification and certification regime that should have forestall the illegal exportation of logs is  said to have indulged itself into acts of corruption at the Forestry Development Authority.

SGS provides the bar codes that are placed on each tree. The bar code ensures that each tree is traceable from pre-felling until it is exported. No log is exported without SGS's explicit approval.

But, in of spite these responsibilities the group has, information gathered by this paper says the group reneged on those obligations and formed cohort with some top FDA management in exploiting the Liberian government of millions of revenues that should have been collected from the logging sector.

PUPs-FDA saga has received wide media coverage in recent weeks, and our source wonder how some members of the FDA top management could be penalized by President Sirleaf for the misusing of Liberia's forest resources without the SGS' involvement in the PUP scandal.

"In the 90's international charges claimed that the company's involvement was furthering corruption instead of fighting it due to the alleged payment of millions of dollars to government members and their families. Most claimed is a payment to the husband of then Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari. Further suspected irregularities were published about the contracts with Paraguay, and the Philippines" our source revealed.

"In 2004, SGS-SA and the government of Pakistan reached a settlement where both parties withdrew their civil claims and counterclaims. A former employee was indeed indicted in relation with commissions paid to a Geneva lawyer who appeared to be connected with Ms. Benazir Buttho and her family.

"SGS has labeled itself as a company assisting governments to combat corruption. But its histories show a company that has smoothed corruption while benefitting handsomely. Evidence of this information is its fraudulent historical past, in which a recent Wikipedia report exposed the group's operations on numerous acts of corruption carried out in the past.

"The government must check these pieces of information in order to save the country from running into mess" Our source said.

News of the SGS' alleged involvement into the PUP Scandal also comes in the wake of GLOBAL Witness' report which called for the prosecution of government officials and companies connected to the exploitation of Liberia's forest resources, thus causing the government to lose millions of dollars in revenue.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently set up a Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB) to investigate matters relating to corruption at the Forestry Development Authority, especially when it comes to the violations of regulations regarding the application of the Private Use Permits (PUPs), where the report named several FDA top ranking officers and key government officials for their involvement in the plundering of the country forest resources.

SIIB's report failed to mention the names of the SGS for its alleged implication of exploitation and willful abuse of Liberia's forest resources, but detailed information collected by this paper indicate the group's traceable involvement in the recent PUP-FDA saga.

"I am surprised that several senior officers of the FDA have been named, linked and shamed because of this report. But, I don't know why the report failed to mention the SGS. There's no way in which these people can be held liable without the SGS' prior knowledge to the mismanagement of the forest sector. These people know it well. They supposed to know what happened. The government must review their contract or considered terminating it" our source hinted.

"One NGO that has established a reputation for exposing SGS foibles is Global Witness.  Well before exposing the corrupt practices in Liberia, GW expressed serious reservation about SGS management of the forest in Cambodia.  Among other serious findings, GW was outraged over the "steadfast refusal to acknowledge the corruption underpinning the illegal logging industry" that was condoned and facilitated by SGS.

"While it is true that the President's latest action to prosecute and dismiss all government officials connected to the FDA-PUP indignity as a welcomed development, along with the GOL review of the entire forest sector, it is also important to scrutinize the role of SGS and consider terminating its contract for violations in the similar fashion that FDA employees have been dismissed."

After the forestry sector was reformed in 2007, there were lots of expectations. Like the pre-war logging sector, it was expected to serve as a harbinger for reviving the already depressed Liberian economy. The sector has not only failed to live up to these expectations but serve as a dark plug on the country's image.

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