Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) has petitioned the Legislature to ensure the government pay the arrears owed communities from land rental fees it has been collecting from logging companies on behalf of affected communities.
The group petitioned the Legislature to include US$2 million of the arrear the government owed the affected communities in the 2019/2020 budget.
The budget is currently undergoing scrutiny by the Joint Committee of the Legislature and is expected to be approved this month.
The NUCFDC, in a petition statement delivered by its Chairman, Vincent T. Doe to lawmakers at the Capitol on Monday, September 2, stated that since the enactment of the National Forest Reform Law of 2006, which called for direct payment of 30 percent share of land rental fees to affected communities, the government has only paid US$2 million between 2015 and 2017.
According to the group, the money was used to initiate and implement over 40 community projects including construction schools, clinics, vocational training centers, road rehabilitation, guest houses, and community halls, among others.
The group wants the government to resume the payment of the arrears by capturing them in the debated 2019/2020 national budget.
“We see this petition as timely and appropriate as currently there is an ongoing budget hearing that will lead to approval of the 2019/2020 national budget. On that note, Honorable members of the Legislature, we are calling on you to please ensure that at least US$2 million is placed in the 2019/2020 national budget for affected communities,” the group asserted.
In the statement, the group revealed that since the inception of the Weah-led administration, “not a single cent or dollars has been given to these communities through the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board for the benefit of the affected communities as required by the National Forest Reforms Law of Liberia and its code regulations.”
Following the Liberian civil war, the forest sector, which was used to fuel the conflict has undergone several reforms aimed at its proper management.
One of the reform policies is the 2006 National Forest Reforms Law of Liberia which ultimate aim is 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 of all Liberians and contribute to poverty alleviation in the nation.
To achieve this goal, the law among other things calls for the commercial forestry, community forestry and forest conservation activities to be integrated and balanced to optimize the economic, social and environmental benefits from the forest resource.
However, since the enactment of the law, communities have complained over the years of not benefitting duly due to either forest concessions reneging to live up to their social corporate responsibilities or government’s refusal to disburse revenues collected for affected communities from logging companies.
The NUCFDC has indicated that records received from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) shows that the government of Liberia owes the communities a little over US$3 million including past arrears owed by logging companies and the government.
The group noted that it has engaged both the FDA and the government through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) for the payment of the money but nothing has materialized.
The group noted that authorities of the FDA told its members that the FDA is not responsible for budget appropriation and Minister Samuel Tweah and officials of the MFDP have refused to listen to their plights.
“Honorable Legislature, it is regrettable to inform you that the promise to meet with the Deputy Minister of Fiscal Affairs was not and has not been realized despite several efforts to get them comply through text messages and calls,” the group claimed.
The group continues: “Holding everything constant, we (NUCFDC), alongside the leadership of the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board and the NGO Coalition of Liberia wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning requesting for a meeting with him to discuss these issues. Like previous attempts made, there has been no respond and all effort applied to meet the authority of the ministry have yielded to no positive result due to either no answer to our calls or we asked to wait.”
Receiving the petition, the co-chairman of the House Internal Affairs Committee, Rep. Nathaniel Barway, Sr. (Grand Kru County District #1) thanked the group for drawing the Legislature’s attention to their plights and promised to present it to the Chairman of the Committee on Claims and Petitions for further actions.
“This petition supposed to be presented to the proper committee, Claims and Petition, and I think, our people have the right over their community forests, because they are the aboriginals of all soils, and control the forests. Therefore, they supposed to benefit 30%, and if they don’t receive that amount; it is a concern to all of us, and it’s time to get the House of Representatives concern,” he said.
The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee represents 23 community Forestry Development Committeess (CFDC) within seven Forest Management Contract Areas found within nine counties. They include Lofa, Gbarpolu, Rivercess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland Counties.
The also represents CFDC within nine Timber Sale Contracts (TSC) areas in three counties including Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu.