Citizens of Central River Cess District have decried serious setback in the development agenda of both the district and the entire county since the “unceremonious” closure of EJ and J Logging Company.
EJ and J signed its first concession agreement with the people of River Cess County by and thru its representatives and the Government of Liberia (GoL) in 2008, and later extended the deal to an additional five years in December 2016.
However, the company “unceremoniously deserted the forest on grounds that some “illegal” pit sawyers were intruding into its concession area.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with this paper during a recent visit to the county, several citizens of Central River Cess and the Head of the Community Development Committee (CFDC) of the Forest Management Contract-B explained how major development projects, which were sponsored through funds paid by the company as land rental fees, are currently at a standstill.
Basically, there are CFDCs in River Cess County with FMC-B being the biggest, totaling 57,262 hectares with 11 affected communities and headquarters in Nezuin, Central River Cess District.
Mr. Matthew Wallace, Head of the CFDC FMC-B explained that citizens of the district and the county at large have benefited proceeds from land rental paid by the company as well as other benefits in kind and cash since the company began operation in 2008.
However, he said those benefits, which were moving the district and the county forward in terms of development no longer exist since the departure in 2008.
“We signed the first forestry agreement in 2008 with EJ and J Logging Company and we have been getting benefits in kind and cash and other things. Mainly our 30%, we have benefited from that. We have built a vocational training center with 56,340 US, and we have built a clinic that worth USD62,000. We are building a bridge that we have contributed 35,000 to. We have gotten money for the cubic meter fees and we have distributed 1,000 in each of the 75 towns in the 11 clans and have carried some things there. So, with benefit, we have really benefited, even though that may not be to our expectation,” Wallace stated.
He said they signed a second agreement in 2016 on December 21, 2016 that covers land rental and scholarship besides cubic meter fees, adding, “So we supposed to receive 5,000 per semester for our students. But we went six semesters and we were only able to receive only two, the other four semesters left on the company and the company closed down unceremoniously and the only complaint they gave us is that pit sawyers illegally got into the forest against the will of the CFDC and the company and they started sawing pieces. The company said since we could not do anything, it was leaving and since it left, we are not getting those benefits anymore.”
He said all 11 affected communities have been affected since the closure of the company and there is no prospect for completion of those projects that had already started or to begin new development projects.
“The second contract has duration of five years, but the company closed down just in the second year. As I speak to you all the 11 communities are all affected by this, because it hampers our developmental progress,” he lamented.
He added that they contacted relevant authorities, including Forestry Development Authority and the CEO of the company, Madam Eliza Kranyahn, who told them she has written an official communication to the FDA, stating her disappointment with the local authorities and the community people.
“I brought the matter to the attention of the FDA and it said the money being paid by the pit sawyers doesn’t give them ground to saw in concession areas. It means that they supposed to go to leftover forest, where community people have their own forest. FDA again said it never knew that the people were sawing planks from the concession. They promised for us to work together and go to the forest to take the people from there, but since then we have not been able to form that team. It has been a year now, since January 2020. The sawing is against that contract. This is hampering the developmental needs of the county,” Wallace concluded.
When contacted, the Chief Executive Officer of EJ and J Logging Company, Madam Mrs. Eliza D. J. Kronyanh, admitted the sudden departure of the company, stating that it has not been protected.
“I don’t want to discuss this because it has to do with the government and FDA is the government. Just take car and go there and you will see exactly what really wrong. You will see it and nobody will have to tell you. Just go there and take picture,” she explained.
“FDA is sitting here and a concession that the President has signed; the Legislature has ratified has been in a ruin. What happens, they will tell you. I paid all debts, I don’t owe government one cent. Be it premier, be it reactive premier, or land rental, I paid all. So that’s it yaa baby. The people put me in mess,” said Madam Kranyahn, who is also Treasurer of the Liberia Timber Association.
FDA has yet to comment despite several engagements through calls and text messages to Managing Director Mr. C. Mike Doryen and Department of Communications.
–Editing by Jonathan Browne