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Liberia: Decision made unknown to us-Community Forest Assembly Member

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While there have been some good sides of concessions in the forest sector such as construction and rehabilitation of roads and bridges into hard-to-reach areas, there is also a downside of the table as many decisions are said to be made unilaterally by community leadership to the detriment of ordinary citizens.

Madam Victoria N. Saydee, a member of the Community Assembly (CA) in Tartweah-Drapoh Community in Sinoe County and an advocate, said major decisions are made unknown to the locals, even including members of the assembly who are not lettered.

At the level of the community forest, the CA serves as a supervisory arm for the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB). In other words, the CA is the legislative arm of the forest management.  

Assemblymember Saydee, who has worked in the sector for more than a decade, is well noted for her strong advocacy in the forestry sector, especially in Sinoe County, when she reportedly rejected US$1,000 to sign a forest agreement contract with a concession company. 

Outlining some challenges faced by advocates in the forest sector during a recent interview, Madam Saydee pointed out that awarding concession to the current right holder of the forest – Sinoe Forest was done at a meeting held in Monrovia between a few learned CA members and local leadership of the county on one side and the company on the other hand.

Ma Victoria, 48, a mother of three and three grandchildren, explained that because some of these decisions to award forest concessions are politically motivated, the companies at most times don’t live up to their promises, especially their social responsibilities to the people.

She noted that the new company is still reneging on most of the promises made to the community within the timeline but they are still watching due to the covid-19.

“The time that the company gave us is going beyond. They said from July they were going to be going into the community to start block cutting and start the construction of our bridge and erect few hand pumps but nothing yet we are seen,” said Ma Victoria.

“Even though some of us don’t know the book, but we must be respected as citizens, especially as advocates and leaders of our community forest. We must be in the know of the day-to-day decision-making process so that we will be able to hold whatever company to its feet of its obligations as it has been done in the past,” she added. 

On the heel of some of these complaints, the Community Forestry Working Group (CFWG) at a one-day working session crafted a memo to the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Mr. C. Mike Doryen through the Technical Manager of the Community Forest Department (CFD) at the FDA, Atty: Gertrude Korvayan Nyaley regarding the administration of community forests across the country.

In the communication to the FDA boss comes on the heel of several observations in the sector.

As part of its observations, CFWG observed that the list of 16-companies that are currently implementing third-party agreements with Affected Forest Communities (AFCs) owe the communities a combined total of  US$588,319 from the cumulative sum of US$1,014,427.02.

The group also established that FDA has no mechanism in place to scrupulously monitor the disbursement companies are making to communities and FDA itself; and that there is no evidence that, communities are making a periodic report to FDA about how their community forest funds are being managed.

Predicated on the observations, the forest working group called on FDA to develop and put in place a monitoring mechanism to track the disbursement of community forest funds.

Such mechanism, CFWG stated must enable the Authority to track community contract value in royalties and other fees as stipulated by the terms and conditions of their agreements and contracts, the contract holder obligations, disbursement plan, payment terms, amounts paid, and balances.

“Such simple measure should be enough to provide FDA and its partners with basic information and or up-to-date data on the status of payments by companies to communities, liabilities of the companies, etc.,” said the group.

“As required by Section 9.7 of the CRL Regulation as amended, the FDA must ensure that the Community Forest Management Bodies (CFMBs) of all AFCs make a quarterly report to the Authority. This process is necessary, as it would help FDA to determine whether ECs and CFMBs are properly managing community forest funds. As part of its mandates to provide technical assistance to communities, FDA should guide CFMA communities and ensure that they administer their community forest funds expeditiously,” the group’s statement among other things added.

CFWG was formed to facilitate input from communities and other key stakeholders in the development and eventual implementation of laws and policies relevant to community forestry, including the National Forestry Reform Law (NFRL), the Community Rights Law, and regulations guiding their implementation. The Group is an advisory body to the FDA and part of its role is to make policy recommendations to the FDA, assist the implementation of community forestry program; and help to build stronger ties between FDA and forest communities.https://thenewdawnliberia.com/community-forest-body-wants-training-in-forest-laws-regulations/

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