Monrovia – Multiple documents in the possession of FrontPage Africa have revealed the clandestine transfer of shares and depleting of a reserved forest belonging to citizens of Tartweh and Drapoh communities in lower Tartweh Chiefdom, Kpanyan Statutory District by a company linked to Sinoe County district # 1 Representative Crayton Duncan.
Representative Duncan is also the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
By: Obediah Johnson
It can be recalled that on July 14, 2014, citizens of Tartweh and Drapoh wrote the former Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Harrison Karnwea, requesting a Community Forest Management Agreement (CFMA) to reserve and manage their forest for their benefits in the future.
The forest named Nelian Forest was previously reserved for citizens of Tartweh and Drapoh communities through a CFMA issued by authorities of the FDA which was issued on November 23, 2017.
The agreement was issued under the signatures of the former Managing Director of the FDA, Darlington Tuagben, and the Board of Directors of the agency.
The two communities were represented by one Sorbor S. Wesseh, Sr as Chief Officer for the Community Forest Management Body of Tartweh and Drapoh.
In the agreement, the FDA verified that Tartweh/Drapoh has satisfied all technical and legal requirements to be granted authorized community forest status. It maintained that the legal authority granted to the people of Tartweh/Drapoh to manage their own forest was in keeping with Section 4.2 (c) of the Community Rights Law of 2009 with respect to Forest Lands.
Among other things Section 4.2 (c) of the Community Rights Law of 2009 gives citizens the right to manage and utilize their community forest resources.
The agreement gives citizens of the two communities, through their Community Forest Management body the right to “own, use and sustainably manage its forest resources, and to promote biodiversity for the direct benefit of the community, ecosystems, the nation, and the environment, as enshrined in the CRL and its amended regulation.
It also gives them the legal right to pursue activities that will contribute to the improvement of their livelihoods, through the management and use of forest resources, which may include informed conservation practices and sustainable harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for commercial purposes.
Citizens selected Atlantic Resources
Following the issuance of the permit, the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) of Tartweh/Darpoh, through its Chairman Sorbor Wesseh, commenced negotiations with multiple investors for the commercialization of the forest to benefit the citizenry.
Those engaged were Renaissance, Karbadeh, Sin Afric and Atlantic Resources.
In 2019, residents of the company met and selected Atlantic Resources to manage the forest which was previously reserved.
Based upon the selection, the Forestry Development Authority set aside April 27, 2019, for the signing of a social agreement between the locals and Atlantic Resources for the management of the Nelian Forest.
Chaos erupts at signing ceremony
The signing ceremony was scheduled to take place in Palatroken, Sinoe County.
“We all arrived and time to go to Palatroken, a team, including chiefs, elders and youths, was organized under the sponsorship of Representative Crayton Duncan to disrupt the signing ceremony because he had an intend to organize his own logging company to take ownership of the forest,” Mr. Sampson B. Borteh, Sr., Chairman Tartweh-Darpoh Community Concerned Citizens stated.
As a result of the disruption of the signing ceremony, chaos broke out among the citizens, leading to the injuries of several persons who were chopped with cutlasses, while other sustained wounds from gunshots and houses were also set ablaze.
Police later intervened and arrested those linked to the incident. They were detained at the police station in Greenville and later released following the intervention of the County’s Superintendent Lee Nagbe Chea.
Thereafter, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Citizens Assembly of the Tartweh one Mike S. Naklen Secretary General Samuel Jelemuel, Chief of Office Staff to Representative Duncan wrote the FDA and Superintendent Chea on May 3, 2019.
The Citizens’ Assembly is the legislative arm of the forest management body.
They regretted the incident and called on the FDA to investigate and resolve the conflict so that the operation of the Tartweh/Drapoh forest by the locals can come to fruition through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding.
Representative Duncan requested all documents
Barely few months after the chaotic incident that prevented the signing of the social agreement between citizens of Tartweh/Drapoh Community and Atlantic Resources, Representative Crayton Duncan, as Chair of the Sinoe Legislative caucus, wrote a communication to the Chief Officer of the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB), Mr. Sorbor Wesseh on August 27, 2019 expressing objection to the decision taken by the citizens not to name any member of the county’s legislative caucus on the management team for the forest.
He claimed that the CFMB action was in violation of Chapter 4, Section 4.1 (b) of the Act which established the Community Rights Law of 2009 with respect to Forest Lands under the captioned: Community Forest Management.
Representative Duncan quoted the law as saying that: “The Community Assembly shall include members of the Legislature from the county where the communities are located and the Community Assembly shall select its officers, none of whom shall be a sitting government official.’
He, however, requested Mr. Wesseh to present, within three working days upon the receipt of his communication, all original documents of the Tartweh/Drapoh Community Forest to the office of the county’s Superintendent for onward transmission to him (Duncan).
The letter was issued under the signature of fallen Sinoe County district # 2 Representative Nagbe Sloh, who was the Secretary General of the caucus, on behalf of Representative Duncan.
Responding to the communication in a letter dated September 6, 2019, Mr. Wesseh informed the lawmakers that the Community Forest Rights Law “gives power to the community to the community through its Citizens Assembly (CA) as the highest decision-making body, therefore, to give out any documents especially the original documents pertaining to the Community Forest, it requires the approval of the body.
He maintained that the management body of the Tartweh-Drapoh forest immediately informs the CA and was awaiting response. But however, they agreed to submit the past meetings’ minutes to the Superintendent’s office before 20th of September 2019 due to the absence of the Secretary, Mr. Morris Q. Wiah.
Mr. Wiah was reported to be the custodian of all the documents relative to the management of the forest. He was in Monrovia attending a chiefs and elders’ reconciliatory meeting with stakeholders when the caucus requested the documents.
In addition, the leadership of the Tartweh Community in Monrovia and in Greenville on September 14, 2019, wrote Representative Duncan questioning the rationale behind his request and expressed skepticism.
The letter issued under the signature of Mr. Sampson B. Borteh, Sr. General Chairman of the Tartweh Community in Monrovia at the time, disclosed that Representative Duncan’s action runs contrary to a called meeting in August 2019 which he (Duncan) promised to call a joint meeting with the sole purpose of finding an amicable solution to the plights of the citizens.
“We are skeptical of the rationale behind your reason asking for the original documents of our community forest when you and some other members of the Sinoe Legislative caucus were in Sinoe when the chiefs obstructed the signing of the social agreement that should have been signed between the Atlantic Resources Limited and our community forest through the erection of gates at Plasiken, Upper Tartweh Chiefdon by tradition means in April 2019 but we didn’t get your reaction”, the communication maintained.
The conflict of interest
The unwavering non-compliance posture from citizens of Tartweh-Drapoh to turn over all legitimate documents to their county’s legislative caucus, prompted Representative Duncan to clandestinely establish his own logging company to operate in Sinoe.
FrontPageAfrica managed to obtain two conflicting Articles of incorporation of the company named Sino Forest International Corporation Liberia Limited.
In the first Article of incorporation issued on July 2, 2019, Representative Duncan is an incorporator who owes a 12% share in the company. The other two incorporators are: Wang Xichang (63% share) and Liu Fengqiu (25% share).
According to the Article of Incorporation, Sino Forest International Corporation Liberia Limited was established as a logging company, sawmill, factories and, to import heavy duty (logging) earth moving equipment/machinery throughout Liberia by industry and/or institution of international standard as to meeting the standard for the benefit of the objectives.
It was also established to provide basic education for manpower development through logging for the smooth operation and production of timbers (wood), to create a center for piggery and poultry activities up to standards, to engage into general agriculture and wood work activities, to acquire, establish and maintain such auxiliary wood industry with correlated companies and institutions in Liberia, to engage in the importation of heavy duty agriculture equipment and food products for animals in general, and to engage into electric power in Liberia as may be necessary, if need be, in working with the government of Liberia for such undertaking.
The company also has the authorization to engage into general construction activities of all kinds and real and personal estate activities, including sale, buying, developing, building, and maintenance and selling of units and lands as well as providing consultation on real property matters as per the laws of Liberia as the situation may demand.
Duncan removes name from document
Following the establishment of the Sino Forest International Corporation in the wake of hullabaloo over the management of the forest in the county, citizens of Tartweh and Drapoh communities raised an alarm over the surreptitious establishment of the company with Representative Duncan holding a share of 12%.
The citizens questioned the move just few months after Representative Duncan had earlier requested all relevant documents for the forest which they were reserving.
As a result of the citizens’ agitation, an amendment was made to the previous Article of Incorporation signed on July 2, 2019.
In the amended Article of Incorporation, which was signed and issued on September 27, 2019, Representative Duncan’s 12% share in the company was diverted to two individuals named: Wang III (7%) and Louis Mapleh Kpoto (5%).
As a result of the finalization of all legal documents for the company linked to Representative Duncan to operate, calculated ploys were being initiated to get rid of the Chairman of the Community Forest Management Body of Tartweh-Drapoh, Sorbor Wesseh.
Representative Duncan was accused of masterminding the removal of Wesseh by dishing out huge sum of money to the locals who were part of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Citizens Assembly, which is the highest decision-making body of the CFMB.
Shortly after his removal, a new team of the CFMB, headed by one Myers Padma was inducted.
Mark Niklen was also replaced as chair of the EC with Hiliary Quatoe.
Months later, the new CMB Chair Myers Padma was again removed for his reported refusal to allow Sino Forest, which has a link to Representative Duncan, to operate the Nelian forest of the Tartweh and Dropoh people community.
He was replaced by one Kwankon Saytue, who is currently the acting chair of the CFMB.
Following the illegal removal of the heads of the CFMB and the EC of the Tartweh and Drapoh Forest in Sinoe, the Citizens Assembly and others filed multiple complaints to authorities at the FDA.
In a letter dated January 22, 2021, and addressed to the Managing Director of the agency, C. Mike Doryen, under the signatures of several leaders of the CA, elders of the Tartweh and Drapoh communities, the aggrieved citizens complained that a fact-finding team of the FDA led by one Mrs. Getrude Weedor constituted a new leadership of the CFMB/EC and CA without and regard to the Tartweh/Drapoh Community Forest Constitution.
They complained that during the two-day meeting, the FDA delegation from Monrovia was accompanied by heavily armed security personnel, something which intimidated citizens from expressing their dissatisfaction over the entire process.
According to them, the move was a gross violation of Chapter 3 section 7 of the 2009 Community Forest Regulations which states that: “FDA should supervise the forest elections and also validate said elections if it is free, fair and transparent in the presence of at least two CSO representatives.”
Unlike, they emphasized that the team, chose and brought heavily armed men, dissolved the leaderships of the forest management, and immediately conducted elections thereafter.
FDA downplayed complaints
Since the genesis of the saga, the aggrieved residents of Tartweh/Drapoh Community Forest have been filing salvo of complaints to authorities of the Forestry Development Authority.
Separate communicated dated October 11, 2019, and December 12, 2019, November 10, 202, copies which are in the possession of FrontPage Africa were addressed to the Managing Director of the FDA, C. Mike Doryen, outlining several issues, ranging from the hijacking of their forest, the illegally removal off their citizens who were elected to steer the affairs of the forest management, and the awarding of what they termed as “bogus agreement” to Representative Duncan’s company to operate their forest.
They also complained of intimidation, harassment, assaults and manhandling of their citizens who are not in favor of the depleting of their forest by Sino Forest International.
In the latest communicated dated July 13, 2022, and addressed to Mr. Doryen, the management team of the Numopoh complained that Sino Forest International allegedly trespassed its boundary line with Tartweh and Drapoh Community Forest into the Numopoh Community.
The communication was issued under the signatures of Charles W. Togba and Sam K. Kandie of the Numopoh Community Forest Management Body.
The locals accused the company of engaging into “blocks cutting and tree marking for harvest” in their community.
From our investigation and pieces of evidence in our possession, the citizens complained, that Sino Forest International took GPS coordinate from Tartweh/Drapoh for their production road building unknown to their forest management body.
“Therefore, we are asking your good office to immediately put stop to Sino Forest operation/activities in our forest until these issues raised above be addressed by your office.”
Unfortunately, the concerns and issues raised by the citizens are yet to be addressed by the FDA.
Seeking International Partners’ Intervention
Due to the failure of authorities of the FDA to intervene and find amicable solutions to their plights, the aggrieved citizens under the banner Tartweh/Drapoh Concerned Citizens have filed separate petitions to the International Community, through their respective embassies and offices in Monrovia.
They filed a formal complaint to the United States government, European Union, the Government of Norway, among others.
They claimed that the life of their Chairman Sampson B. Borteh, Sr., is being threatened by “high profile personalities in government” due to his uncompromising stance to ensure that the right things are done for the benefit of the citizens.
“Sir, we would appreciate were you to intervene as the company, Sino Forest, which was reportedly convicted in the Canadian Superior Court for frauds, March 15, 2018, four years ago, is illegally operating in our forest backed by FDA and a sitting lawmaker, Crayton Duncan of Sinoe County, and massively felling trees and destroying the forest. We also appeal to you that your intervention will investigate the relationship between the reported convicted Sino Forest and the Sino Forest of which Hon. Duncan served as Chief Executive Officer,” a communication addressed to the United States Ambassador to Liberia Michael A. McCarthy stated.
Representative Duncan speaks
Speaking to FrontPageAfrica via telephone on Wednesday, November 30, Representative Duncan admitted to bringing Sino Forest to Liberia to operate in Sinoe County when he made a trip with President George Manneh Weah to China three years ago
He admitted that his name was placed on the article of incorporation of Sino Forest as a 12% shareholder previously.
According to him, the decision taken at the time was based upon ignorance of the laws.
“Who really cares who people want to give their shares to? They give it to whoever they want; people buy their shares. The thing that hurt me is that I am not able to own shares. Is it a crime being a lawmaker?”– Representative Crayton Duncan
Representative Duncan claimed that he later relinquished his share after realizing that the move made to own a share in a company amounted to conflict of interest.
When quizzed what’s the relationship between him and those he relinquished his 12% share to, Representative Duncan stated: “what does that matter? It can be anybody in the world. Who really cares who people want to give their shares to? They give it to whoever they want; people buy their shares. The thing that hurt me is that I am not able to own shares. Is it a crime being a lawmaker?”
“Initially when I didn’t know-I’m a lawmaker, but I don’t know all the laws in this country-when I realized that (my name was placed on the article of incorporation of Sino Forest) I decided to relinquish it. You say you have the document; the first one shows it and the second one also shows that I relinquished it. How am I going to be part of something that I’m not a part of? My conscious is clear.”
Representative Duncan pointed out that the county’s legislative caucus decided to intervene into the management of the forest following complaints raised by citizens barely after chaos erupted during a signing ceremony held in the county.
He noted that the response of the former Chairman of the Community Forest Management Body of Tartweh/Drapoh Sorbor Wesseh that he was not answerable to the caucus, prompted lawmakers to stand up and prevent an individual from making vast majority of the citizens to “cry.”
“He (Sorbor George) respects nobody because he’s supporting one person over the other. The people have had their election and removed him and there was no manipulation. What do I have to do with this?”
Representative Duncan disclosed that his office staff, who was elected as the new Chair of the CFMB, was previously part of the management team of the forest for several years.
On Atlantic Resource
He claimed that Atlantic Resource, which the citizens claimed to have signed an agreement with for the management of their forest, “was never there and the company had a problem with the Government of Liberia.”
Representative Duncan denied accusation that he masterminded the removal of previous leaderships of the Tartweh/Drapoh forest management to impose Sino Forest International on them.
“I am not a citizen of Tartweh, how can I remove somebody? You got somebody who was crooking the Tartweh people. In the end, the Tartweh people realized that this man was extorting money from other people under the name of Tartweh and they themselves got angry and removed him.”
Representative Duncan observed that the accusations being levied against him by the locals have a political undertone.
He is contesting in the pending senatorial election against incumbent Senator Milton Teahjay in 2023.
“Whatever they do, I will wipe their Milton Teahjay. The Sorbor Wesseh man is a supporter of Milton Teahjay. They can fight from now to judgment day, I’m on the safe side and the side of the people. My people know what I’m doing for them, and my heart is clear.”
Representative Duncan, however, denied having any link with Sino Forest International, noting that, “because of the same Liberian people sharp mouth, the people have taken me from their company thing.”
“What’s the issue of link? Is that all your looking for; you people are not looking for the benefits? Your go ahead and publish the bad side.”
He stressed that Liberians would continue to suffer because, they do not allow one another to move forward because of envy and jealousy.
He further urged citizens to look at the positives and bigger picture, instead of finding petty things to castigate their kinsmen.
Fronting for companies
Though it remains unclear whether Representative Duncan remains a shareholder in Sino Forest, the fronting for local or foreign companies, or the holding of shares remain common among many lawmakers and other public officials in Liberia.
These elected or appointed public officials used their proximity or connections to higher-ups in government and at the local level to thwart or cajole citizens to favor companies for their own selfish interest.
In most instances, legal documents for these companies are fast tracked, finalized, and sealed to clandestinely operate or extract minerals in their respective areas of operations.
Though several million dollars’ worth of minerals, including gold, diamond, log, among others are being extracted from these areas, the living conditions of the citizens residing there are appalling.
They continue to lack access to basic social services and healthcare delivery system even though they are witnessing the broad day large scale looting and extraction of their country’s natural resources.
Duty free privileges are most often marketed by some Senators, Representatives and other officials to local and foreign companies operating in Liberia, depriving government from raising needed revenues to carry on developmental initiatives for the benefits of the citizens.
The admittance by Representative Duncan that he previously owned a 12% share in Sino Forest International while serving as a sitting lawmaker, but later relinquished thereafter, amounts to conflict of interest which runs contrary to the 1986 Liberian constitution.
The locals are calling for an investigation into circumstances which led to the handpicking of Sino Forest to operate the Tartweh/Drapoh forest in Sinoe without their involvement.
They further called for a probe to ascertain whether Representative Duncan still has a share or connection with the company.
They want proceeds being generated from the management of the forest to benefit them and their unborn generations.