28 March 2013

Liberia: Forest People Still Complaining of Malpractices

It is a fact that the Forestry Sector in Liberia is undergoing changes in terms of development in the areas of policy, law, engagement of stakeholders and sharing of benefits to say the least.

A report by Liberia natural resource advocacy groups, Save My Future Foundation (SAMFU) and Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) indicates that their policies and legal frameworks have improved the sector. The SAMFU and SDI issued a joint statement to this regard after a one year evaluation closing program which took place last weekend.

The report covering a three year Sustainable Forest Management Project through a program workshop held at the Environment Defend Center in Duarzon, Margibi County indicates that policies put in place couple the necessary legal framework is making the sector better and improving the entire sector.

However, reports issued by the two organizations, SDI and SAMFU are seriously warning that there are many other challenges still facing the sector and need to be addressed immediately with what they call a strong political will from the Liberian government. According to SAMFU and SDI, the goal of the SFM project is to ensure good governance and sustainable forest management in Liberia. The two forest advocacy groups said the overall objective of the project is to reduce marginalization of local community and to ensure their increase in advocacy for benefits under the agreement.

The two groups also said the core issues that need urgent attention are the exclusion and marginalization of local populations from policy formation, implementation arrangements and the sharing of benefits derived from their forests. The two group also spoke of the need to address the lack of access to forest related information at the local level, the lack of local level capacity to monitor and advocate on issues related to natural resources in general and the forest in particular and the lack of resources to support community organizing to purse community rights issues.

During the closing program, Community Forest Development Committee (CFDC( Representatives from Rivercess, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Gbarpolu Counties complained of the lack of payment of their land rental fees since the signing of concessions by the Liberian government and multinational companies more than five years ago.

The affected CFDCs said they have been told by companies that nearly Seven Hundred United States Dollars for land rental fees have since been paid at the Central Bank of Liberia, CBL but that the Ministry of Finance under Minister Amara Konneh who is currently fighting sickness in the United States has refused to order the legal payment to the forest people.

They said all efforts by the body constitutional mandated to control and manage all forests in Liberia, Forestry Development Authority, FDA through letters to Minister Konneh to release the land rental fees have proven useless for reasons best known to the most powerful under the President Sirleaf led second term administration.

The more than twenty organizations under the forest union of CFDCs agreed that as a last option they will invite Minister Konneh, members of the National Legislature, authorities of FDA, local and international partners to a mass meeting to explain why the money should not be paid to them. The CFDCs through the Union said the refusal of government to pay the land rental fees was greatly affecting their desire to institute meaningful development to their different communities and people. Some of the forest people say they have learnt highly that the Finance Ministry has redirected the nearly Seven Hundred Thousand United Dollars forest land rental fees without their involvement.

But the Finance Ministry, through Minister Konneh could not be reached for comments prior to the departure of the forest representatives over the weekend.

The SFM program which is for three years under SAMFUL and Sustainable Development Institute, SDI covers Gbarpolu, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, Grand Bassa and Rover Gee Counties.

In closing remarks, SAMFU, SDI and the Forest Coalition agreed to join the affected and underdeveloped communities the best way possible to ensure that the dream of transparency and accountability in the forest sector is implemented for local communities to receive their legal benefits under the agreements signed with the government and multinational companies throughout Liberia.

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