Liberia: FDA Postpones Community Forest Management Signing Agreement amid Boycott Threat

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MONROVIA – Several traditional elders, including paramount chiefs of the Konobo Administrative District, Grand Gedeh County have reiterated that they will not honor or allow any governance structure that may be created as a result of what they called the so-called Konobo Community Forest Elections of January 23, 2019, and the supposed February 23, 2020 Elections respectively.

Against this backdrop, the aggrieved citizens again vowed that no investor under the recommendation of such governance structure of Konobo Community Forest will be allowed to engage in the activity of extraction of their natural forest resources. 

The Secretary of the withdrawing affected communities, Mr. Domingo Bowah,  on behalf of the aggrieved citizens, told journalists in Monrovia at the weekend that they maintain their earlier position and that nothing will stop them to back off from their decision.

Bowah’s comments came on the heels of reports concerning the postponement of a proposed signing ceremony of the Community Forest Management Agreement between what he referred to as a staged managed leadership forced on their community and the Forestry Development Authority(FDA). 

 It was gathered that the long-awaited signing ceremony, which the affected towns and village had threatened to boycott because of their alleged exclusion, was reportedly postponed by authorities of the FDA due to the coronavirus. 

But Bowah attributed the reported postponement to the boycott threat by the aggrieved citizens, who according to him, include key stakeholders of the county and that their absence would have rendered the ceremony irrelevant.   

Accordingly, the long-awaited ceremony, which was officially slated for Friday, March 20, 2020, should have taken place in the Board Room of the  Headquarters of the FDA situated in Whein Town,  Mount  Barclay, Paynesville, outside Montserrado County.     

The secretary of the aggrieved citizens recalled that an Article of Incorporation was obtained several months ago, but the By-Laws and Constitution were written by two persons, namely: Alex Quaye and Seyon Barway.  However, he averred that the documents were not rectified by the people of Konobo, thus casting aspersion over the legitimacy of the documents.

It can be recalled that citizens of several affected towns and villages of Konobo Community Forest(KCF) withdrew their membership from the KCF for what they called injustices continuously meted out against them in “gross violation” of the election guidelines and regulations by the Election Supervisory Team(EST)  of the  FDA and  PADEV. 

The FDA is a state corporation established by an Act of the Legislature in 1976 with the mandate to sustainably manage and conserve all Liberia’s forest resource and related natural resources for the benefit of present and future generation, while PADEV is a professional Liberian Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that is involved in community-based Natural Resource Management and other national development activities. PADEV does this by building alliances to mitigate global environmental challenges.    

Speaker further, the Secretary of the affected communities disclosed that the election of January 23, 2010, was allegedly marred by frauds and irregularities as delegates of several affected towns and villages were excluded from participating in the said election.       

While expressing outrage over the situation, he said as a result of the alleged fraud and other malpractices in the election of January  23, 2019, a ten-count point letter of complaint of January 25, 2019, was written to the office of FDA Managing Director,  C. Marck  Doryem for which a fact-finding investigation team was constituted by the Management of FDA. 

“In view of the result of the Finding Investigation Team, a letter of August 19, 2019 written by the Deputy Managing Director, Mr. Joseph T. Tally, then acting as the Managing Director of the FDA, confirmed in the fourth and fifth paragraphs that the EST had failed to fully adhere to the legal requirements and attending rules and regulations that govern Community Forest management in Liberia. Furthermore, the letter, under the signature of Mr. Joseph J. Tally, concluded that the management of FDA had resolved to conduct re-election,” Bowah pointed out.  

He said at the end of the entire process after a heated argument which borders on the legality of the election in Wulu Town,  the FDA to their utmost surprise announced results from an unscheduled election that the opponent of one  Mr. Isaac Yarlue won the election on a white ballot in a highly contested Konobo  Community Forest where there is a problem. 

“Because of the lack of free, fair and transparent legal processes, Mr. Tarley boycotted the election, particularly where the members of EST of FDA and PADEV recognized and engaged in the practice of consulting the members of an illegal community assembly,” the aggrieved citizen further asserted.

“With the persistent align of the members of EST of FDA siding with one of the contesting parties in the two series of elections, we have no doubt that there will be any change in the mentality and extraordinary behavioral pattern of the way and manner the EST of the FDA can conduct election. Therefore, they withdrew their Towns and forests from the current Konobo Community Forest arrangement in a peaceful manner,” he added.

However, the Deputy Team Leader of PADEV, Mr. Martin A.T. Vesselee, has categorically rejected claims by the withdrawing communities linking  PADEV  to alleged fraudulent elections. 

Previous election processes were considered by some of the contenders as being  allegedly fraudulent  and based on this, the FDA asked PADEV  to go and  facility the re-election  of the Executive Committee of the  Konoboe Community Forest (CF) Assembly in line with Chapter 4 of the Community Rights  Law (CRL) of 2009 concerning forest land and  also 

Chapter 3 section 3.7 of its implementing Regulations of  2017  as amended requires an election of the leadership of the community assembly by members of the assembly only. 

He said this is the role PADEV played in the entire process.  

“We are guided by the legal framework. PADEV was never a part of the governance issue before the February 23, 2020 re-election exercises. Our engagement with the community people was at this point. PADEV has a consultancy agreement with the FDA to facilitate community forest activities in over 30 communities’ forests in 6 of the 15 Counties in Liberia.  Our involvement was squarely to facilitate re-election of Executive Committee Members.  That particular process was very transparent and open. The district leadership including chiefs and elders as well as the County Superintendent,  Mr. Kai G. Farley and a local FM Station in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh, Smile FM  were all present.  We don’t make a decision but do consensus building.  What we did was in line with a legal framework.  We were not involved in the previous governance structure.  PADEV facilitated the re-election of the Executive Committee Election through a participatory and consultative process. By using this approach, the determining factor for the decision on leadership is based on consensus and that consensus is derived through stakeholders to the process. In this case, the stakeholders to the process were members of the community assembly of Konobo CF,” the PADEV official told journalists.

“For anyone to assume that the process facilitated by PADEV was fraudulent is a miscarriage of information only intended to elevate the wish of an individual.  PAVEV wishes to further clarify that the process as facilitated by its deputy team leader, whose experience in community forestry spans over ten years, was conducted through a transparent and participatory process.  

PADEV is aware that community forestry has become a new avenue for forest resource contestation,  and as such,  it is being politicized. And because of our knowledge of this situation we don’t delve in the local politics regarding community forest,” he, among other things,  stated. 

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