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Sawacajuah community rejects forest management body

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Community members in Sawacajuah, Sinoe County under the banner Community Assembly (CA) express vote of no confidence in the entire leadership of their Community Forest Management Body (CFMB). A total of 18 out of 28 members unanimously voted to dissolve the CFMB.

The decision to remove the forest leadership is predicated on complaints filed on allegation of misrepresentation and mismanagement of entrusted funds from forest resources committed by Mandara Logging Company to the county authority by some concerned citizens of the community.

Two years ago, Mandra Logging Company signed a contract with Sawacajuah Community to harvest logs. The total contract area is 31,336 hectares with duration of 15 years.
At a recent meeting organized by County Superintendent Lee Nangbeh Chea, in Gbalawein Town, Juarzohn District, Sinoe County, the aggrieved community members presented a 12-count resolution against the leadership of the CFMB.

Paramount among the counts are alleged misrepresentation of the community and questionable spending of US$35, 000 on the construction of a community guest house. About 79 community members attended the meeting, and witnessed the voting exercise.

Following the voting, Superintendent Chea mandated the leadership of the CFMB to desist from further transactions on behalf of the community. The Superintendent also placed a freeze on the CFMB’s bank account, and promised to forward the community’s decision to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) for action.

The courage by community members to cut short the tenure of the Sawacajuah CFMB steams from the series of coaching by the European Union Non-State Actors (EU-NSA) Project for forested communities engulfed in non-compliance and leadership deficit in regulating activities of logging companies in accordance with social agreements.

It can be recalled that in March 2019, the EU-NSA Project conducted group discussions with the leadership of Sawacajuah community, including the CFMB and held one-on-one discussions with relevant stakeholders in the community to understand issues in their forest management contract. During said meetings in the community, the project advised the community on how to engage their representatives and companies in case of crisis and other issues affecting them.

Following consultative meetings, the community, on April 15, 2019, wrote a letter of complaint against their local forest management body, accusing it of misrepresentation and mismanagement of entrust funds.

In addition to the group discussions, the EU-NSA Project has conducted advocacy and engagement training for local civil society organizations and other Non-State Actors including community members in forested communities in Lofa, Sinoe and Gbarpolu Counties, respectively.

The main purpose of the training was to enhance the capacity of local CSOs and NSAs at the national level to advocate for forest communities affected by illegal logging, non-compliance to social agreements, bad labor practices and other human rights violations, with the primary aim to improving forest governance issues in Liberia.

Meanwhile, the EU-NSA project has extended thanks and appreciation to Superintendent Lee Nangbeh Chea for his timely intervention in the case between the Sawacajua community and CFMB. The project hopes to see many of such intervention across the country, working to ensure communities get justice, and that conflicts are resolved without violence.

The EU-NSA Project is being implemented by Tropenbos International (TBI) through local partners in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia since 2016. In Liberia, the project is being implemented by Volunteers To Support International Efforts In Developing Africa or VOSIEDA, with funding from the European Union (EU).

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