External Forces, Gov’t ‘Frustrate’ Timber Industry

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In his acceptance speech as the newly elected president of the Liberia Timber Association (LTA) on Saturday, June 13, Rudolph J. Merab wasted no time to highlight the vices that “frustrate” the growth and development of commercial logging in Liberia. Many of these constraints, he said, are created by government but there are some foreign groups affecting the business of logging in Liberia.

Mr. Mareb outlined industry constraints to include the difficult prevailing environment, high taxation, legal constraints and lack of facilities and infrastructures to conduct business.

Detailing each constraint, Mr. Merab, who also serves as chairman of the BODECO Logging Company, said, “We strongly feel that certain external forces have pressured the Government to believe that commercial logging is detrimental to the country and every effort is being made to frustrate its development and progress.”

He said people have been encouraged to see the timber industry with a negative, suspicious lens, but countered that with policies and regulations, both the government and logging sector can succeed in the presence of transparency and accountability.

For taxation, the Liberia Timber Association president said that “The taxes imposed on the sector are higher than most other timber producing countries.”

He emphasized that such condition makes it difficult for their commodity not to be competitive with other countries.

Added to this, he continued, is “the additional cost that we have to make in order to meet all the new legal requirements (i.e. Chain of custody using GPS, VPA & LEITI preparedness etc.). The government needs to re-look at its tax policies and come up with a more conducive tax structure that will attract more direct investment in this sector.”

Regarding legal constraints, Mr. Merab argued that in order for improvement to come to the sector, it is incumbent upon all, (government, civil society, private sector and international community to abide by the legal framework that governs the forest sector.

“The Government and any other Institution cannot enter into any agreement outside the guidelines of the Law and expect that agreement to be legal,” Mr. Merab said.

He contended that any rule that will not be set within the confines of the law should not be encouraged or followed and should be amended without fear.

“Mistakes and missteps will take place; we should have the wisdom to mutually work for improvement. An Executive Order cannot and should not be the medium for correcting issues of law,” he noted.

The timber association president also asserted that the country lacks improved infrastructures; poor bridges, deplorable road conditions and scarce and expensive electricity which he said constitute difficulties.

“Concessions (Forest Management Contracts) are given with no maintenance of the major highways. The timber companies are expected to maintain these highways without any compensation, while at the same time paying full taxes to the Government,” he added.

Mr. Merab also indicated that at the port there is no place for Log Park, but logs are stored miles away from the facility thus increasing cost against timber companies.

“It is our hope that we will begin constructive engagement with the Government to improve the relationship with all stakeholders; to seek ways of improving how the industry is perceived as we follow the Rule of Law and allow for due process,” he said.

“It is our fervent hope that with the new corps of officers, we can engage the government and all stakeholders in constructively seeking new avenues in improving the industry for the betterment of society as a whole,” he concluded.

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