Liberia: Courts Crack Down On Officials Trying To Stop Illegal Timber Exports, As Impunity In Forest Sector Grows
MONROVIA – A group of international NGOs with a longstanding interest in Liberia have expressed concern over the arrest of staff of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) who have been working to prevent the illegal exportation of logs from Liberia.
By Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
The staff, according to the INGOs, were carrying out their jobs, verifying that timber exported from the country is legally sourced. This means it meets the requirements laid down in Liberia’s legal framework, ensuring that revenues are paid, and benefits shared with local communities.
Those ordered arrested by the Supreme Court include FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen, FDA Deputy Manager for Operations Joseph Tally, FDA Board Chair Harrison Karnwea, Technical Manager of FDA’s Legality Verification Department Getrude Korvahyan Nyaley, Head of FDA’s Deputy Managing Director for Administration and Finance Benjamin T. Plewon, and FDA lawyer Cllr. Yanquoi Dolo, for contempt of court.
The INGOs insinuated that it appears the court seems intent on directing the FDA staff to carry out illegal activities.
Under Liberia’s Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) trade deal with the EU, Liberia is only allowed to export legally sourced timber. That is timber registered in and verified through Liberia’s timber export scheme (LiberTrace).
Illegal logging is, however, rife.
One of the largest recent cases includes the illegal logging of the valuable tree species Ekki in Grand Bassa County, six kilometers outside concession TSC-A2. In this case, at least 14,000 m3 of timber, worth an estimated US$ 3.9 million, was illegally logged by Renaissance Group Incorporated (RGI) and Freedom Group Liberia (FGL). The Ministry of Justice has investigated the case. This case is summarized in this NGO briefing.
About 9,000 m3 of timber had been exported already in 2019. RGI now wants to export the remaining logs and some new timber, cut from around that time or since. Despite the clear illegality of these logs, somehow, RGI managed to get the Court to instruct the FDA to authorise exporting these logs, followed by an order of the Supreme Court.
Community members in the area, who signed agreements with the company, state that RGI has failed to honour the commitments they made to them. They would like RGI to meet its commitments in full before the pending shipment of the logs.
The INGOs noted that they are encouraged by the FDA taking action to stop illegally sourced timber from being exported, and strongly support its staff’s actions.
“We are extremely disturbed that the Liberian courts, instigated by logging company Renaissance, seems intent to punish FDA staff for doing their duty,” they noted.
They also called upon the international community to demand that Pres. Weah shows the world that Liberia is serious in addressing illegal logging, protecting Liberia’s forests, and ensuring communities benefit from legal logging.
The INGOs: “We call upon the Government of Liberia to follow the law, publish the official investigation report by the Ministry of Justice into the Renaissance case, and use the evidence provided in this report, to guide their decisions.
“We call on China, the US and EU Member States to check that all imports from Liberia are legally sourced, noting the high risk of illegal logging, and to ensure imports are compliant with the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) and the US Lacey Act.
“We call on the Government of Norway and other donors and private companies to not start any carbon financing programmes or projects until the Liberian Government can provide full transparency as required by law and can prove Liberia’s forests are well governed and logging is taking place with full community consent.
“The international community will judge the seriousness of Liberia’s stated aim of maintaining forest cover, eliminating illegal timber, and making use of the LiberTrace traceability system on how this case develops.”
The statement was signed by the following INGOs: Biofuelwatch UK/US – Almuth Ernsting; Blue Dalian, China – Sun Li; Both Ends, the Netherlands – Paul Wolvekamp
Client Earth, UK – Caroline Haywood; Dogwood Alliance, US – Scot Quaranda
Earthsight, UK – Sam Lawson; Environmental Investigation Agency, UK – Faith Doherty
Environmental Investigation Agency, US – Susanne Breitkopf; Fern Brussel – Alexandra Benjamin; Friends of the Earth Finland – Noora Ojala; Friends of the Earth Netherlands – Danielle van Oijen; Leefmilieu, the Netherlands – Maarten Visschers; Scholar Tree Alliance, China – Zeng Shengwei and Snow Alliance, China – Mao Jing.