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Editorial: Bleeding Forests

A joint investigation by three advocacy groups on Liberia’s forests released a damning report last week, which among other things revealed that authorities in the forest sector granted some 66 Private Use Permits to dozens of foreign companies here in two years through shady deals to exploit 26,000 square km forest areas, covering over 23 percent of the country’s territory.

Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute, which conducted the investigation,  further disclosed about 40 percent of Liberia’s forests, half of them virgin, were put at the disposal of a notorious Malaysian logging company Samling, giving unparalleled access to some of the country’s most pristine forests to the Asian logging giant.

Global Witness’ Jonathan Gant is quoted as saying Atlantic Resources, a logging company linked to the notorious Samling currently controls 8 percent of Liberia’s land areas through Private Use Permits, despite being indebted to the Government of Liberia in taxes totaling millions of dollars.

The Forestry Development Authority or FDA, which is responsible to manage the nation’s forests, has been granting new Private Use Permits in a complete give away, despite a moratorium in February this year. The report quotes Robert Nyahn of Save My Future Foundation as saying “Some communities will receive less than one percent of their timber’s value, while very little revenue will reach state coffers.”

As a result of the findings, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced an indefinite suspension of the Managing Director of the FDA Wongbe, while calling for a probe of the sector. The proper management of Liberia’s natural resources has remained a serious challenge for subsequent administrations, dating from the 99 years Firestone agreement in 1926 to succeeding concessions, the country and its citizens have been robbed repeatedly with the acquiescence or connivance of powerful and unscrupulous individuals.

Under the Tubman, Tolbert, Doe and Taylor regimes, the country’s rubber, iron ores, gold, diamond, timber and other natural resources were insatiably extracted and shipped abroad with no significant returns in taxes. And so after 165th years of independence, Liberia still lacks basic infrastructure, quality education and health with life expectancy less than 60 years and widespread grinding poverty.

During the Taylor’s era, the forest sector served as a major lubricant for the regime’s war machinery, while hundreds of thousands of vulnerable groups mainly women, children, infants and the elderly bore the brunt of disease, misery and death due to neglect. It took the intervention of the international community through the imposition of sanction on Liberian timber and a Kimberly process on diamonds and gold here to rescue these resources from the hands of dubious foreign firms and their collaborators here.

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Despite those past interventions and current efforts, leakages still abound with criminal-minded individuals in positions of trust bent on depriving the country of its God-giving blessings. We must put a stop to this broad day robbery!         

President Johnson-Sirleaf should go a step further by ensuring that the suspended FDA boss accounts for all Private Use Permits issued to unscrupulous firms after the February moratorium so that the revenues accrued from those dubious deals are placed in the national coffers for the general good.

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