Liberia: Bluyeama Residents Express Frustration Over Logging Company “Failure to Address Social Development” Responsibilities

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Lofa – Residents of Bluyeama clan are currently displeased over the operations of Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated, a company carrying out logging activities in Bluyeama Clan, Lofa County.

As FrontPageAfruca delve into reasons prompting their disenchantment recently, they have begun expressing frustration over what they termed as “Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated refusal to live up with its social responsibilities in that part of Lofa County, since an agreement was signed.

Their displeasure comes in a wake of the plan by the Clan, the authority of the county and the company to jointly conduct a revision of a15 years contract, enter into since January 2016 with ECOWOOD, followed by a Memorandum of Understanding on January 18, which was attested by the Forestry Development Authority.

According to residents, ECOWOOD did not complete their tenure of the contract, but later turned over to Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated, which revision is expected soon.

They furthered stated that ECOWOOD also failed to addressed its social responsibility, prior to turning over to Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated.

Bluyeama is a densely populated community in Lofa County.

When news broke up about Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated replacing ECOWOODCompany in Bluyema Clan, inhabitants of the dense forest community expressed delight.

But their joy to see a company that will address bulk of the social developments challenges left behind by ECOWOOD Company’ later sours away, after the citizens said, they could not see what was assured them in the agreement coming to fruition.

On January 30, 2020, Bluyeama Clan represented by its Acting Chairman, Morris Kpadeh, and Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated signed another memorandum of understanding which covers a period of 15 years, subject to revision after every five years.

According to the MOU, the annual payment of land rental fees per hectare, Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated agreed to pay to the FDA is US$1.25, and that 55% of the total amount collected, will be paid to the Bluyeama Community Forest Management Body.

Additionally, the residents further stated that a sum of US$1.25 was agreed to be remunerated to Bluyeama by Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated as “cubic meter fees.”

The resident noted that the company also agreed to link all 12 towns within Bluyeama Clan with a long-lasting road network within the first six years of the agreement duration, as well as construct three schools including two junior and one senior high school.

They went on as saying, the agreement suggested the construction of a bridge over the via river, two clinics and to provide annual scholarships to 15 university students.

With weeks lefts to the expiration of the company’s first five years mandate after extracting several logs from that region, residents said they no longer feel comfortable with Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated operation, terming it another ECOWOOD disaster.

To date, the residents who spoke in separate interview said the company had failed to construct a guarantee road, school, clinics and bridge as was mentioned in the agreement.

They alleged that the company is ‘indebted’ to the community in the tune of 100,000 USD (one hundred Thousand United States Dollars).

Residents furthered alleged that students on the Company’s scholarship did not benefit for the last one semester, while some employees who preferred anonymity, have complained about deplorable living conditions.

Residents frustrated

Josiah W. Mulbah Town Chief of Balagulazu Town, one of the affected communities expressed dismay over the company’s failure to construct its own clinic in the area.

According Mulbah the Clan of 12 towns depends on the only clinic in Balagulazu and that the company is also relying on the same clinic, which has limited medication.

“These days, the clinic cannot afford simple drugs for our children. Elderly people are prescribed drugs which are often bought at a nearby drugs store because of the population,” Chief Mulbah noted.

“The company has not built our schools, they were supposed to build two junior high schools and one high school, and the high school should be in Wuomai which is our clan headquarters.”

According to him, the company in the agreement, stated that within two years, it would have constructed a bridge over via river, something he said is yet to done.

He said the company’s failure to address its social responsibility is as a result of poor leadership exhibited by Bluyeama Clan Forest Management Body.

“To be frank, the management body is not working; they are not united because the person who was selected to head, does not know his function as an executive chairperson,

so he lacks the ability to prevail on the company to do what was agreed upon,” he added.

He graded the implementation of the social agreement by Sing Africa as 30% describing the first five years of operation as dreadful.

Zogbo Weedor Zazay a female resident of Wolorwomon Town, another affected community in an angry tone said she was not happy with the operation of Sing Africa, because the company has failed to live up to the agreement signed almost five years ago.

Worlorwomon continued to experience an old-age problem of bad road, lack of healthcare services and unsafe drinking water.

Up to date, residents of the town are still fetching drinking water from a creek.

She said: “We walk five hours to Balagulazu to attend to health care she noted.”

“Where is the clinic they promised, the schools they said they were going to build, where are they? The company betrayed us.”

Another resident of Goyazu town, the host of a large portion of the Bluyeama community Forest Charles M. Weefar said it was saddened for the company to ignore the construction of major bridges as well as construction of a quality road.

According to Mr. Weefar the agreement signed between the people of Bluyeama and Sing Africa states that all creeks or strings should be cover with Alkane or Dawoma (Strong Woods).

Look the road they are fixing substandard, they are not constructing quality bridge one or years from now everything will spoil he asserted.

For his part, a member of the subsection of the management body, called Community Assembly, Bai Weefar expressed regrets over their performance as a body between the town and the company.

“We are not doing anything as a body. No meeting, because our big, big people who supposed to give us report to enable us report to the community are not doing so, therefore, if our time is complete, the people of Bluyeama will decide whether we will stay there or they will move us from there,” Weefer stated.

Madam Weefar alleged that Sing Africa road construction team is using palm logs as bridges over creeks, contrary to using Alkane/Dawoma (Special Wood) as was stated in the agreement.

For Madam Weefar, the first five years of the 15 years contract was nothing but a waste and she is calling on lawmakers of Lofa county, legal scholars and other government agencies involve with forest matters to quickly review of the agreement.

When contacted, the

Chief Executive Officer of the Blueyeama Community Forest Management Body Alex Songu, also expressed similar disappointment, that the company has ‘performed poorly’ in its first five years of operation, but reacted to allegation of poor leadership.

‘’Well, to be bold with you, the company is working by the agreement.  In my view, the company has performed poor with respect to the agreement but was keen,” Mr. Songu averred.

 He stressed that the such an ‘underperformance’ was not just limited to Sing Africa Plantation Liberia Incorporated, but other companies across Liberia.

“As a member of the 43 Community Forest Management Body that are members of the National Union of Community Forestry, we meet every month and this complain is everywhere, so if you ask me about their performance I will tell you we are not experiencing what we expected from them, so it is very, very poor,” Songu noted.

He however blamed the coronavirus pandemic for current status of the Management Body.

Mr. Songu in the same way disclosed that there is a scheduled meeting to inform community members about the expiration of SANG AFRICA first five years operation which will highlight the performance of the company to make informed decision as to whether there is a reason to give the Company another contractual period, or terminate the agreement base on dissatisfactory evidence.

Songu blasted community members whom he said normally don’t attend meetings and are not interested in knowing the performance of the company but are instead focus on money and forget about how their resources are being taken away.

Chairman Songu whose tenure expires in 2022 says if he is given another opportunity to serve his people for the amendment of the 15 years contract he will firstly ensure that company pay 100,000 USD for two years cubic and land rental fees owed affected communities, follow by the attachment of time table in the implementation plan of the concession which was not considered in the previous agreement.

Speaking on the situation, Lofa County District Number Five Representative Cllr. Beyan Howard blamed the failure of the company to “residents failure to do the requisite consultations before signing the agreement.”

Representative Howard noted that the people of Bluyeama did not involve lawmakers of the county, requisite legal scholars from the district who understand legal jargons to aid them in signing the concession agreement.

He lauded the citizens of Bluyeama for timely extending invitation to him on the matter, ahead of the schedule amendment expected to take place.

When contacted, Sing Africa Director of Communications and former Bluyeama Clan Chief Christian Bannah said he could not speak on the matter as he was not feeling well and could not comment on matters relating to the company regarding the last six months.

However, the CAMP Manager Peterson Moyo was quick to also shift blame of the company’s failure to address its social development responsibility to the Covid-19 outbreak, which according to him, affected exportation of processed woods.

“To be frank the company has not been able to pay her workers for months now, it owes three four to five months, sometimes they promised and can’t pay Moyo noted.

He explained that the company has promised to settle its obligation to employees, by the 31st of January.

Meanwhile, citizens of Bluyeama Clan said they are expected this January, to meet in Wuomai Town, the clan headquarters in Lofa County, to review the performance of the company and contract.

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