11 July 2019

Liberia: No Need for Pretense, Mr. Speaker. When Chicken White, It White, Yah!

opinion

Both Norway and Botswana, cited by Speaker Chambers as exemplary in the management of their natural resources, have made strides in assuring the welfare and prosperity of their respective peoples through the efficient management of their natural resources.

In his opinion, Liberia needs to study and, if necessary, copy the examples of these countries. His remarks were the subject of a July 9, 2019 story written by Daily Observer reporter Leroy Sonpon headlined, " Speaker Chambers Eyes Fisheries, Mining and Logging Sectors for Budget Support"

According to the story, the Speaker lauded the example of Norway which, according to him, has managed its fishing industry in a way that has brought tangible benefits to its people. He also lauded Botswana for its efficient management of its mineral resources, particularly its diamond industry.

He also lauded the Germans for their efficient management of their forest resources, noting that their example could prove useful in developing a roadmap on how to fix challenges in the forestry/logging sector.

Speaker Chambers, who is reported to have made these comments when he received officials of the Law Reform Commission, said he is committed to working with this colleagues to ensure funding in the 2019/2020 budget that will support a Special Legislative Lead Committee comprised of technocrats from relevant agencies to, as he put it, explore ways n which Liberia can derive economic benefits from its natural resources especially in the fishery, mining and logging sectors.

The Daily Observer shares the Speaker concerns. However, it is constrained to point out that his expressed concerns appear belated in view of the fact that the Legislature has so far failed to pass the relevant legislation to ensure the protection of the country's natural resources including its forests, neither has it done sufficient due diligence to ensure that concession agreements do not undermine the country laws.

This newspaper recalls that the Moore-Stephens report commissioned by the Liberian government in 2013 found out that only two out of 66 resource contracts (concession agreements) awarded since 2009, worth US$8 billion, were conducted within the framework of the law. The rest were illegally awarded.

These included the lucrative deal signed with Chevron as well as that signed with ExxonMobil. The oil deal with ExxonMobil and its partner the Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited over oil Block 13 which, under the 2002 Petroleum law should have generated 20 percent in royalties, instead of a mere 5 percent, owing to massive fraud perpetrated under the watch of the Sirleaf administration.

Also, findings from investigations into the country's US$100 million timber sector revealed massive corruption and fraud with reports indicating that a vast portion of the country's forests have been concessioned out under a dubious scheme styled, 'Private Use Permit', that allowed private individuals to harvest timber outside the legal regulatory framework governing forestry activities.

It can be recalled that in 2014, at the UN Summit on Climate Change, the Liberian and Norwegian governments signed a partnership agreement worth US$150 million, intended to halt the destruction of Liberia's rainforests. The deal promised greater scope for forest dependent communities to manage their forests and increase protected areas.

The agreement, which now appears to be in limbo and generally disregarded, is part of Norway's plan to help prevent deforestation and reduce the impact of climate change by cutting carbon emissions on a global scale. Under the partnership agreement communities will be provided cash incentives to undercut the need for communities to cut down their forests for badly needed cash.

Liberia is acknowledged to contain roughly 4.3 million hectares of lowland tropical forests, which comprises 43 percent of the remaining Upper Guinea forests of West Africa. Forests cover around 68 percent of Liberia'. According to the World Bank, between 1990 and 2010, Liberia lost approximately 12.2 percent of its forest cover. Further, according to the World Bank, the forest sector contribution to GDP amounted to 10 percent and it was estimated that 10,400 people were employed directly by the forestry sector.

As regards fisheries, the other sector highlighted by Speaker Chambers, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Liberia's continental shelf, averaging about 34km in width, extending to 200 nautical miles, which affords an area of 20,000 square kilometers of fishing ground, abounds in various species of edible fish including tuna, shrimp, lobsters, etc. And they abound in both fresh water and marine water.

More to that, the sector provides about 65 percent of the country's protein needs and an estimated 10,000 people are employed in the industry. The contribution of both sectors to the economy is significant and cannot be brushed aside.

In view of the above, the Daily Observer calls on Speaker Chambers to do greater soul searching, for it appears that wittingly or unwittingly, he, as a member of the Legislature since 2005, may have appended his signature to some, if not all, of the 66 bogus concession agreements signed into law during the Sirleaf administration.

For example, only recently another of such agreements, the "Hummingbird Resources" concession agreement was passed into law granting mineral exploration and exploitation rights over nearly the entire southeast in exchange for a pittance. For the record, Senate President Pro Tempore, Albert Chie is a shareholder in this company.

In a similar move, President Sirleaf during her tenure, issued an Executive Order allowing foreign vessels to fish within 6 nautical miles offshore, in complete disregard of the rights of local artisanal fishermen to protection from encroachment and exploitation. More recently a proposed agreement between Senegal and Liberia allowing hundreds of Senegalese fishermen to operate in Liberian territorial waters raised huge outcry from local fishermen as well as from the public.

In view of this, the public is left wondering whether the Speaker was merely grandstanding when he made those remarks to members of the Law Reform Commission, or whether his was an attempt to assuage public opinion in the face of mounting public concerns about his alleged ineptitude.

In any case, the Liberian people know because they say, "when chicken white, it white, yah". No need for pretense Mr. Speaker!

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