Liberia: 2,400 Affected Communities to Protest Over U.S.$3 Million Land Rental Arrears

The leadership of the NUCFDC on behalf of the 24,000 affected communities petitioned the lawmakers.

Two thousand four hundred affected communities of the 23 Community Forestry Development Committees (CFDC) in 11 of the 15 counties have complained to the House of Representatives over their just arrears, which they claimed were accumulated over the period of 11 years (2007 - 2018) in the amount of US$3 million. They have threatened to protest if their arrears are not included in the 2019/2020 Budget.

The 23 CFDC comprised of 14 Forest Management Contract (FMC) areas, and nine Timber Sale Contracts (TSC) areas in 11 of the 15 counties to include Lofa, Gbarpolu, River Cess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru, Maryland, Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount.

The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) on Monday, September 2, 2019, on behalf of the affected and deprived communities, petitioned the House of Representatives to ensure that the communities affected by logging operations get their just benefits comprising the 30 percent shares of land rental fees paid by logging companies to the government, and the land rental arrears owed by the over 20 logging companies.

"We see this petition as timely and appropriate; currently, there is an ongoing budget hearing that will lead to the approval of the 2019/2020 National Budget on that note, Honorable Members of the House, we are calling on you to please ensure that US$2 million is placed in the 2019/2020 National Budget for the affected communities," Vincent C. Doe said.

"it is important to mention that from 2015 -2017, the former government provided US$2,622,000 as part of the arrears the government owed affected communities from the lands rental fees it collected up to 2009. These amounts paid to communities enable them to initiate, and implement over 40 community projects, including constriction of schools, clinics, vocational training centers, road rehabilitation, guest houses, and community halls."

"... the issue now is since the inception of the new government nearly two years now; not a single cent has been given to those communities through the Board of the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust for the benefit of the affected communities as required by the National Forest Reform Law (2006) and its code regulation," Doe said.

According to the NUCFDC leadership, they, alongside the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board and the NGO Coalition of Liberia, wrote Deputy Minister for Budget Tenneh Brunson, who preferred them to the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs, but their meeting was never materialized.

"We have also taken this matter up with the European Union-Liberia Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) stakeholder's gatherings, including the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) meetings, the National Multi-stakeholders Committee (NMSMC) meetings; during which time a lot of discussions were held around the issue of community share of the land rental fees," said Mr. Doe.

He added: "Yet still, we have got no redress to our plight with the involvement of our international partners through consultation at various forestry stakeholders' meeting. At this point, and as our direct representatives, we have come to you, considering it as our last hope, to please ensure that the affected communities are captured in this 2019/2020 National Budget."

"We remain hopeful and are strongly believing that you do your best in ensuring that the affected communities are capture in this 2019/2020 National Budget for your people to get their just benefits," Doe further said.

The co-chairman of the House Internal Affairs Committee, Grand Kru County District #1 Representative Nathaniel Barwah, received the three-page petition from the NUCFDC.

"This petition supposed to be presented to the proper committee, Claims and Petition, and I think, our people have the right over their community forests, because they are the aboriginals of all soils, and control the forests, therefore, they supposed to benefit 30%, and if they don't receive that amount; it is a concern of all of us, and its time to get the House of Representatives concern. And l want to assure you that I will give it to the appropriate committee," Rep. Barwah said.

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