Liberia: Environmental Assessment Fees Backed by Law; EPA Dispels Reports of Arbitrary Hike, Conflict of Interest

EPA Deputy Managing Director (far right) said the current fee regime was set in accordance with the law in 2016 – two years prior to the current administration coming into being

MONROVIA – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has debunked media reports that its Executive Director, Nathaniel T. Blama, Sr. unilaterally increased environmental permit fees from US$5,000 to US$11,000 and diverting same to a private account.

At a press conference held Tuesday at the Agency’s Headquarters in Monrovia, the Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Randall M. Dobayou, explained that the current fee regime was set by his predecessors in line with the Act establishing the Agency long before the current administration.

“The public should be informed that sections 29 and 45 of the Act Establishing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA Act) approved on November 26, 2002 and published by the Authority of the Ministry of foreign affairs Monrovia, Liberia on April 30, 2003, together with the Environmental Protection and Management Law of Liberia, respectively, mandate the EPA to charge fees on permits for the approval of environmental licenses and other regulatory requirements which enable the EPA to review the compliance of environmental projects with the standards of sustainable management of the environment,” said the Deputy Executive Director at the EPA.

He noted that the EPA an administrative process for the review of project briefs. He also boasted of a robust Compliance and Enforcement Department which independently ensures the implementation of all rules, regulations and procedures relating to the environmental impact assessment. 

“This regulatory process undergoes a review every five years after the implementation date to ensure continued compliance and effectiveness,” he said.

According to Dobayou, the current fee regime is based on the outcome of and recommendations of the 2016 Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) in September 2016.

“Indeed, it is evident that the current fees regime is a mandate of the law and was established by the Agency prior to the appointment of the current management team led by Honorable Nathaniel T. Blama Sr. and his able Deputy Hon. Randall M. Dobayou,” he said.

He added, “For further evidence on fees payment, the EPA invites the public to counter check with the Agency’s ESIA Unit and Finance Department which would reveal that the fees for agricultural projects communicated under the previous EPA administration remain unchanged, meaning there has been no arbitrary increase in fees levied for the acquisition of Environmental Assessment permits or licenses since the Executive Director’s appointment.” 

According to the Mr. Dobayou, the EPA is undergoing auditing by the General Auditing Commission and as per the arrangements with its international partners, the Agency is periodically audited by the PWC, one of the biggest accounting firms in the world to ensure transparency which leaves no room for acts of corruption at the EPA.

He noted that laws governing how permits are issued and the fees to be paid are public documents that can easily be obtained from the EPA’s website or in hard copies at the Agency’s headquarters. 

According to him, it is said fees that the EPA used to run its affairs in other 15 counties, especially the remote areas and procure vehicles, lubricants and other essentials for the running of the Environmental Agency.

He bragged that through the hard work of the current leadership team at the EPA, the Agency has managed to earn millions of United States dollars to support some national projects relating to climate change and the effects of climate change. 

The Deputy Executive Director referenced the Global Climate Fund Informal Board Meeting which was held in Liberia for the first time that led to the securing of US$50 million for coastal defense to save West Point and the famous Hotel Africa.

Issues Concerning Third Party

The EPA further dispelled allegations of its Executive Director gave a directive for concession companies to hire a third-party company to monitor and carry out an assessment of project sites. According to the EPA, while it is the function of the EPA, as per law, to ensure that concession companies hire a third party for environmental assessment, the laid-out process cannot be flouted due to its stringent nature of enforcement. 

“The EPML clearly outlines the duties of the EPA in an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment process i.e. (a) to develop and implement regulations establishing the procedures for evaluating the impact of the proposed project; (b) maintain a Registry of the names and qualifications of approved consultants from which the Agency, in consultation with the Line Ministry, shall authorize a consultant to prepare an environmental impact study; and (c) employ and train such personnel as may necessary to ensure effective compliance by project proponent/applicant with the environmental impact assessment requirements under the law,” the Deputy Executive Director explained.

He added, “The Agency conducted an ESIA Licensure training in 2018 for Environmental Consultants or evaluators, and based on the criteria outlined above, as seen in the communication below, 21 firms were declared fully compliant with the Agency’s requirements, were accredited and incorporated into the Agency’s Registry as the only License Environmental Consultant firms to undertake environmental-related studies in Liberia. The law therefore permits licensed consultants to conduct and prepare environmental impact reports, audits and management plans which the EPA is mandated to review.”

Alleged Links to Planet Management Services

The EPA Management noted that with such a system in place, it is impossible that the EPA would be awarding environmental assessment contracts to a company simply because it has links with the Executive Director.

However, the EPA further explained that its Executive Director, Mr. Blama, has no links with Planet Management Services which is alleged to be favored by him in terms of awarding contracts.

The Agency, however, acknowledged that Mr. Blama co-owned the company years prior to George Weah-led administration that nominated him to the position. According to the EPA, Mr. Blamah resigned upon his appointment and turned over his shares to an individual. 

According to Mr. Dobayou, the Planet Management Resource the company once co-owned by Mr. Blamah ceased to exist about two years ago prior to Mr. Blamah taking over the EPA.

He further clarified that though there is another company with a similar name – Planet Resources Management – which is currently listed by the EPA as one of the 21 companies certified to carry out environmental assessment, it has not received any contract for the past two years for failure to meet up with some criteria required. 

“So, if Hon. Blamah was connected to this company and making recommendation for this company to be awarded a contract, why hasn’t the EPA approved their contracts? The EPA does not function like that and it is clear that this newspaper’s publication is nothing but falsehood and has an intent to impugn the reputation of the Executive Director,” Ms. Danise L. Dennis, Communications Specialist at the EPA who also addressed the press conference.

According to Ms. Dennis, the Agency also has a unique record of all its Environmental Consultant Firms and the level of professional work done by each institution across Liberia. 

“The EPA is completely independent or neutral as per the requirement of its procedure relative to firms hiring the services of ESIA Consultant firms. Any members of the public may contact the umbrella organization Union of Certified Environmental Professional of Liberia (UCEL), headed by Mr. Dweah Siehwloh Borley as its President for clarification on these matters. It is important to note that the practice of the licensed environmental consultants is guided by a ‘code of professional ethics’, consistent with the EPML,” she noted.