Liberia: Stakeholders Want Forest Reforms Law Amended for Effective Management, Benefit Sharing
Farmington, Margibi County – Stakeholders including lawmakers and environmental experts have made a commitment to initiate activities aimed at promoting effective management of Liberia’s forest to enhance its economic, social and environmental benefits.
They committed to working collectively to meet their international obligations towards mitigating the crippling effect of climate change on the environment.
The consensus was reached at a two-day dialogue on the Green House Gases (GHGs) inventory, and environmental knowledge management system implementation held at Farmington, Margibi County.
The dialogue was organized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Liberia Forest Sector Project (LFSP) and Cross-Cutting Capacity Development (CCCD) project with support from partners.
The Executive Director of EPA Nathaniel Blama called for an urgent concerted effort in making Liberia meets its obligations to the international climate change protocols including the Rio Conventions and the Paris Climate Change Conventions to get the needed benefits in return.
Meanwhile, one of the activities stressed during the dialogue was the need to amend the ‘National Forestry Reform Law of 2006’ to reflect present day realities.
The National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 was one of the core legislations enacted to conserve and sustainably manage all forest areas so that they will continue to produce a complete range of goods and services for the benefit Liberians and contribute to the reduction of poverty.
However, more than a decade after its enactment, there have been calls from experts and policymakers to reform the law to ensure it reflects the current realities.
That call was accentuated over the weekend at the dialogue in Farmington when members of the Legislature including Senators Dallas Gweh and Dr. Peter Coleman of Rivercess and Grand Kru Counties respectively raised concerns over the failure of the government to give the communities in forest areas their just benefit as required by the law.
The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Harrison Karnwea stated that one of the best ways to address the situation is to amend portion of the law that solely gives the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) the power to collect the land rental fees and other taxes on behalf of the community.
He called on the management of FDA to work in collaboration with the Legislature through its relevant committees to amend the law to make logging companies pay directly to the communities and counties’ bank accounts.
“Amend the law and make sure the communities’ 30 percent is paid by the logging company into the communities’ accounts, make sure that the county 30 percent is paid directly into the county’s account,” Mr. Karnwea said.
“That is the way community taxes are paid. The land rental for community forest is 55 percent is paid directly to the community and the government 45 percent is paid directly to the government.”
Mr. Karnwea, who served as the Managing Director of the FDA in the erstwhile Ellen Johnson-led administration, stated that the benefit sharing aspect under the current law is being grossly violated by the government. He revealed that ‘government collects the fees on behalf of the communities; it does not deliver the money.
He said by constantly violating the law, the government also falls short of some of its international commitments including the Voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU) and timber producing countries outside of the EU.
The purpose of the VPA is to ensure that timber and timber products exported to the EU come from legal sources.
The agreement also helps countries that exports timber to stop illegal logging by improving regulations and governance of the forest sector.
“My suggestion to you C. Mike Doryen (FDA Managing Director) is get your lawyer to draft the amendment to those portions of the law to give you the 10 percent from the stumpage fees for conservation and make sure that the logging companies pay their 30 percent of their administrative and land related fees directly to the communities and counties,” said Mr. Karnwea while speaking as a panelist on the role of the Legislature in mainstreaming the REDD+.
“Since I was Minister from 2010 to 2012, give me 753,000 that we divided among the 15 counties at the rate of 50,000, no amount has been paid to any county. Consequently, we are in arrear with the counties and it is a violation of the Forestry reform law.”
Meanwhile, the FDA managing Director, C. Mike Doryen welcomed the changes in the law to ensure equal benefit sharing but also stressed the need taping on the country’s eco-tourism potential to raise revenue and conserve the environment.
The dialogue was characterized by presentation by experts in the environmental sector providing information to high level government officials on the environmental management, climate change REDD+ progress, current interventions and challenges in Liberia.
It was also intended to inform government officials on Liberia’s obligation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the role of government institution in achieving the goal.