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Custodians of 24,449.9 Forest Concession lack safe drinking water

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By Liberia Forest Media Watch/lfmw.foresreporters@gmail.com

The Community Rights Laws of 2009 seek to put resources at the disposal of forest communities to decide their own development agenda. It creates the legal framework for communities to control and manage their own forest and its resources. Under such arrangement, the communities have the right to 30% land rental feels plus other benefits enshrined in the Social Agreement (CA) or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), including access to safe drinking water and roads.

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Logs

Despite such a progressive framework, the community forest initiative is gradually turning into a curse for many communities rather than a blessing as was envisioned since 2009. One forest community with no reason to lack certain basic necessities, but is currently crying woes is the Ziadue/Teekpeh community with ownership of 24,449.9 logging concession, Eric Opa Doue LFMW reports from River Cess County. 

Located in River Cess County; Ziadue/Teekpeh community signed a five years forest contract with E J and J/Brilliant Maju Logging Company on November 7, 2018. The contract gives the company the right to harvest logs on 24,449.9 hectares of land.

Since November 2018, Community members represented by Community Assembly members (CA) say E J and J/Brilliant Maju Logging Company has not met up with any of its social responsibilities as agreed to in the forest contract with the community.

Kpageeyah Town is one of the communities within the Ziadue/Teekpeh Authorized Community Forest area. Residents of the town told LFMW that the community has been out of safe drinking water for two years now amidst the company’s failure to complete the construction of a hand pump it started in 2019.

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Compound of one of the logging companies

“The company dug this big hole here and left it open,” a lady only identified as Esther referring to an open well dug by the company. “This is a serious risk for our children so we ourselves have to cover it before anyone falls in there.”

As a community of over 4,000 residents struggle for safe drinking water, each Liberian Legislator was recently paid US$30,000 for what the Government of Liberia referred to as a legislative support project, which is being construed for political expediency by critics of the government. https://thenewdawnliberia.com/statement-by-mr-alexander-b-cummings-political-leader-of-the-alternative-national-congress/.

Abraham Wizard is the Chairman of the Community Assembly (CA) and resident of Zammie Town. He expressed concern about the health situation of residents of Zammie town, which hosts an estimated population of over four thousand. According to him, there are just two functioning hand pumps in this town. Wizard says the company was supposed to build 16 hand pumps in the various affected communities, but this has not happened.

“These pumps are opened to the community on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays of every week because if we don’t do that way, they will spoil and there will be nowhere to get drinking water from”, Wizard explained.

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The CA Chairman says due to the lack of safe drinking waters in the area, there is always outbreak of diarrhea and other waterborne diseases in several communities including Sayee, Johnney and Gumue Towns repetitively.

Wizard reported that as an additional requirement, the company was to ensure it protects water sources, but this too is not happening as the company’s equipment is contaminating water sources.

“This company was supposed to protect our sources of drinking water but their machines have contaminated all of the water sources in the area”. The people are getting sick from the contaminated water they are drinking”, Wizard lamented.

Financial Secretary of the Community Forest Management Body’s Executive Committee (EC), Ozrine Benneh says since the signing of the contract, there has been no quarterly meeting held with the community even though it was agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Benneh says since June 2021, the community through the CFMB/CA wrote the head of the company Madam Eliza D. J. Kroyahn calling for a quarterly meeting to discuss the way forward. The meeting which should have been held on July 17, 2021, was not held, and there has been no response from Madam Kroyhan”, Benneh, says Ozrine Benneh of the CFMB. 

“We and them [the company] will sign the agreement, but they will never do it,” and there are too many bureaucracies in accessing the funds even if they pay”, Benneh discloses to LFMW.

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Eric Opa Doue of LFMW reports from River Cess County

Like several members of community forest bodies, Banneh is not aware of the complaint filling mechanism developed with the support of the European Union and other forest stakeholders. She says when there are issues, the CFMB often files complain to the EC and EC to the CA for onward transmission to the FDA.

But according to her, carrying complaints to FDA is just a “waste” of time as FDA takes ever so long to respond or may not even respond. “Carrying complains to the FDA is just a waste of your precious time, because we have been complaining but they don’t do anything about it and the company is emptying the forest”, Benneh said. 

Officials of the Forest Development Authority have said on numerous occasions that the FDA lacks logistical and financial support to follow up on complaints coming from communities with concessions. https://loggingoff.info/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/VOSIEDA2019-CountyForestDialogue-Gbarnga-Report.pdf

Unlike the Financial Secretary, Ozrine Benneh, the Secretary of the CFMB Garpue Neewon says he knows about the complaint mechanism, but they have never filed any complaint using the form since it was introduced to them.

Neewon accused E J and J/Brilliant Maju Logging Company of failing to among other things, construct an Elementary School, five hand pumps, and two-compartment concrete latrines which, according to him, should have been done in the first and second year of the company’s operation in keeping with chapter 5 section 8 of the MOU.

The MOU also mandates the company to pay to the community the amount of ten thousand five hundred United States Dollars (USD10, 500.00) as scholarship funds annually. But Neewon says the company has not paid anything from August 2019 to Jan 2021.

Meanwhile, Financial Secretary Ozrine Benneh has expressed the need for more capacity building for the CFMB/CA/EC. She says even though the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) and DEN-L have been offering some training on conflict resolution and financial management, the need for more training to manage their forest and its resources cannot be over-emphasized.

Benneh wants the government and Civil Society Organizations to put pressure on the company to live up to their Social Obligations “before the people run out of patience”.

But Madam Eliza D. J. Kroyahn of E J and J/Brilliant Maju Logging Company did not respond to LFMW for comments on the allegation made against her company by officials of Ziadue/Teekpeh CFMB. Vowing not to talk to the press, she instead lamented that “25” hectares of her concession area in the Forest Management Contract area “B”-FMC-B (which was not the topic for discussion) had been overtaken by pit sawing activities, with the full acquiesce of the county authorities.

“I am not prepared to talk the press. Go and ask the superintendent about what is happening to the forest. The people say they own the forest so they have the right to do anything with it. In fact, LRA does not send me notice of tax payment reminder anymore because they too know what is happening”, said Madam Kroyahn.  

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