In demand for payment of 30% share of land rental fee
Representatives of communities affected by commercial logging in Liberia have planned a peaceful sit-in action within the course of this week at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in demand for the payment of communities’ 30% share of land rental fees collected by the government of Liberia.
This sit-in action is organized by the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC).
The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) represents the interest of 23 Community Forestry Development Committees (CFDCs) within seven Forest Management Contract (FMC) Areas in nine Counties (Lofa, Gbarpolu, Rivercess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru and Maryland) and nine Timber Sale Contract (TSC) Areas in three counties (Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount and Gbarpolu).
“We are calling on the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to ensure that communities affected by logging operations in Liberia get their just benefits, especially the 30% shares of land rental fees paid by logging companies to the Government of Liberia, a release from the NUCFDC said.
As required by the National Forest Reform Law of Liberia 2006, the Government of Liberia through the FDA in collaboration with the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is mandated to collect land rental fees from the Logging companies and transfer 30% of all land rental fees to the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board for the benefit of the communities affected by logging concessions.
The release notes that logging concessions were allocated through competitive bidding but, when the government eliminated the bid premium in 2013, the result was foregone revenue in excess of $277 million over 20 years (Sustainable Development Institute 2014, Briefing Paper 5).
A total of US$83 million would have gone to communities. The government apparently has failed to collect at least half of the area-based land rental fees due from logging companies. While $27.7 million in area-based fees has reportedly been collected by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) by mid-2019 from logging companies, the arrears may be more than US$37.6 million. If all land rental fees had been collected (US$65.6 million), by law, 30% (or more than US$19.6 million) should have gone to communities. But even of the US$27.7 million reportedly collected, by law, US$8.3 million (30%) should have been transferred to the NBST to be disbursed to communities. However, only US$2.6 million has been transferred to date. The government is more than $5.5 million in arrears to the communities, and thus, communities (Forest-Trend Benefit Sharing Report 2020).
“We see this action as timely and appropriate as currently there is an ongoing budget discussion leading to the approval of the 2021 Special National Budget and potential discussion for 2022 National Budget,” release added.
On that note, the group said it will peacefully sit at the country’s money matter house (MFDP), and call on the Government to ensuring that at least two million United States dollars (US$2,000,000) is placed in the 2021 Special National Budget for Affected Communities as part of the over US$5 million the government currently owed affected communities.
It is important to mention that the Government of President Ellen Johnson provided for affected communities two million six hundred twenty-two thousand United States Dollars (US$2,622,000.00) as part of the land rental fees arrears the Government of Liberia collected from loggers since 2009. This amount paid to affected communities enables them to initiate and implement over fifty (50) community projects including construction of schools, clinics, vocational training centers, road rehabilitation, guest houses, and community halls among others.
Since the last payment in 2017 covering payment made as land rental fees from 2009 to 2015, not a single cent or dollar has been paid, especially by President George Weah-lead, government. The payment to affected communities through the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board as 30% share of benefits for the affected communities is required by the National Forest Reform Law (2006) and its code regulations. The continual failure of the Government of Liberia to the community share of the land rental fees is a total disrespect to the National Forest Reform Laws and the intent of Pro-poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity.
“It is also important to note that we have raised these issues with the FDA times without number, but FDA has told us that they are not responsible for budget appropriation or allocation. As part of efforts to ensure the community receives the 30% shares of land rental fees paid by logging companies to the Government of Liberia, we arranged a meeting with the Ministry of Finance on May 29, 2019 at the Minister’s Office. During that meeting, the Deputy Minister for Budget Madam Tanneh Brunson asked us to meet the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to discuss these issues with him, but all efforts failed to meet with the Deputy Minister of Fiscal Affairs.”
As part of efforts to get the support of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to ensure communities receive their just benefits, we (NUCFDC), alongside with the leadership of the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board and the NGO Coalition of Liberia, again 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 response from the Minister, and all efforts applied to meet authorities at the ministry have yielded no positive result due to either no answer to our calls or we are asked to wait.
In addition to drawing the attention of the executive to affected communities not receiving their just benefits, members of the affected communities said they have presented two written petitions to the Legislature in September 2019 and 2020, at the Capitol Building and met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro-Tempore of the House of Senate.
It is still regrettable that the government has yet to do anything in addressing this issue of communities receiving their share of land rental fees as required by law.
According to the group, they have also taken this matter up with the European Union-Liberia Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) stakeholder’s gatherings, including the Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) meetings, the Liberia Implementation Committee (LIC), and the National Multi-Stakeholders Monitoring Committee (NMSMC) meetings. At these meetings, many discussions were held around these issues, but nothing has changed in favor of affected communities. “We have gotten no redress to our plight, despite the involvement of major stakeholders in the forestry sector. Through the support of some of partners, we have invited the committees on Forestry, Agriculture and Fisheries in both House and Senate at two different dialogues in Buchanan and Keneja, the MFDP did not attend any of these dialogues and the legislators said only the MFDP can give answers to our quest.”
This peaceful sit-in action by the NUCFDC is intended to for the MFDP to give us answers and we will remain at the MFDP until we get the answers we want to our quest, that is we are assure that the affected communities are captured in the 2021 Special National Budget and a proper arrangement is made as to how and when we will get the balance arrears from Government of Liberia and the logging companies.