Liberia: U.S.$165k Clinic Funded By Community Logging Benefits Stalls Over Furniture

Tiah Town — Fifty-two-year-old Elizabeth Zialue traveled 55 kilometers from Tiah Town in Nimba to Boegeezay Town in River Cess County to seek treatment for her two-year-old grandson. Medical services in the Boegeezay community are free but Zialue has to pay LD3,500 for a motorcycle taxi to get there, and the same amount to get back.

Zialue had lost her daughter, the boy's mother, two years ago. "My daughter was sick when she delivered. There was no money to go to the hospital in Boegeezay or Tappita so she died," she recalled.

But Zialue's daughter would not have died if a clinic Tiah Town was operational. In 2017, communities around here received US$125,000 to construct a clinic here in Tiah Town. The money was a portion of their benefits from a logging concession between the Liberian government and a logging company called International Capital Consultant (ICC). The concession, known in the forestry sector as Forest Management Contract Area K, covers 266,910 hectares of in both River Cess and Nimba. The community's leadership added another US30,000 for other utilities such as water towers and an insinuator.

The clinic's construction started in April 2017 and was expected to be completed, dedicated for full operation in March 2018. The Nimba County Health Team was supposed to provide the workforce and medical and non-medical supplies for the running of the facility. Due to its strategic location, it was supposed to serve both River Cess and Nimba Counties when completed.

Five years after its completion, nothing has happened according to plan. The National Benefit Sharing Trust Board, a watchdog that manages communities' funds from forest concessions disbursed US$10,225.25 plus L$5.3 million to purchase furniture and drugs for the clinic. The fees come from logging-affected communities' share of land rental fees companies pay to the Liberian government. However, the community's forest leadership used the fund to build a guesthouse instead.

Jerry Gbaye, the head of the leadership at the time, told The DayLight his decision to divert the fund was backed by all affected towns and villages in Gbi, Gbiagloh and Doru chiefdom, where the clinic is located. The clinic is meant to provide thousands of people access to healthcare in one of the remotest places in Liberia.

"It was not the CFDC's decision to use the money for a guesthouse," Gbaye said. CFDC means community forest development committee, a body of villagers that co-manages a certain logging concession alongside the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).

"The people of Gbiagloh and Gbi said the people of Doru already had the clinic in their area so that money should be used to construct a guesthouse for them to benefit, too," he added.

Alfred Zelee, an elder responsible for Tiah Town's development matters, refutes that claim. "If a decision was reached to use the money on the guesthouse, I don't know," said Zelee." "All I know is that Gbaye took the money and used it on the guesthouse.

"We are suffering here because few people decided to use the money from the land rental fees that they were supposed to use to put medicine in the clinic," he added.

The National Union of Community Forest Development Committee (NUCFDC), a group that advocates for the benefits for villagers affected by logging concessions, is investigating the matter.

"We are now investigating whether the project was identified by the citizens and, and the project was awarded to a competent company," said Andrew Zelemen, the national facilitator for the group in an interview with The DayLight. "Since it is established that the money was diverted, the NUCFDC is now contemplating what punishment awaits the [community's leadership."

The Trust Board has also said it would not give the community's leadership any more money unless it accounted for the furniture fund for the clinic, the most expensive of the 53 projects it has funded countrywide since 2015.

"The board has the intent to release additional funding for the Tiah Town project and all other uncompleted projects across the country, under conditions," said Roberto Kollie, the head of the secretariat. "The first criterion is the [community's leadership] must be able to present an assessment report to the board.

"The Assessment report will include the project that was approved, the cost of the project, and the total amount that was disbursed for the implementation of the project and they must be able to provide a reason to the board why those projects were not completed."

Zialue in Tiah Town is unaware of the unfolding. Her grandchild was treated but she had to spend additional days in Boegeezay before going back to Tiah Town.

"Ever since the people talked about the hospital about the hospital to build, everybody was happy, but today no head, no tail," Zialue said. "We [are] still doing the same thing."

This story was originally published by The DayLight, and has been republished here by permission.

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