Liberia: Rural Communities Angry with Weah Gov’t


.... While communities don’t get the funds they are owed, Liberian Legislators were recently gifted over US$3 million for legislative support projects.

Communities affected by logging concessions across Liberia have accused President George Weah's government of neglect, saying their livelihood is being affected by the government's failure to settle its debt obligation of US$1.5 million.

The money is “an outstanding balance of US$2.7 million” allocated in the 2022 budget as part-payment of an overall US$6.23 million debt owed by the government in land rental to communities affected by logging concessions.

“Our people are affected every day by these companies and the only way to give us some relief is by paying us our percentage,”  the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) said at its 5th General Assembly in Gbarnga, Bong County on January 5.

“So it is also regrettable that for the US$2.7 million allotted in the 2022 budget, the government has paid US$1.2 million with an upstanding amount of US$1.5 million within the fiscal year of 2022,” the union said. 

However, the government, as per the 2022 budget expenditure report, is claiming full payment of the US$2.7 million owed to the forest community.  The government in that year allocated US$746,292 and US$2,000,000 respectively as payment for community forest sharing and forestry arrears.  

By law, 30 percent of land rental fees the government collects from logging companies belong to communities the concessionaires operated.  The fee is calculated as the product of the total size of the concession, US$2.50 for large-scale forest management contracts, and US$1.25 for small timber sale contracts (TSCs). 

But for years, the Weah government and that of his predecessor — former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — failed to do so, violating the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006, which mandates it to transfer 30 percent of land rental fees, paid by logging companies, to communities for development purposes.

In most cases, protests have to be staged before these communities get paid and this year was no different. The US$1.2 million, which the Union claimed the government had paid, came as a result of a protest action stage three months to the end of the 2022 budget cycle.

While communities don’t get the funds they are owed, Liberian Legislators were recently gifted over US$3 million for legislative support projects, while the constituents they represent continue to live in poverty even though they are the custodians of the  forests.

A report by the Volunteer Partnership Agreement (VPA) in 2021 disclosed that the government issued US$60.24 million invoiced to the seven logging companies, of which a total of US$33.8 million was paid by forestry concessions companies.

However, a remaining US$26.40 million remains unpaid.

Out of this amount collected by the Government of Liberia, the 30% share for communities amounted to US$10.15 million of which the government has paid just US$3.92 million through the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board as of October 2022; the government still is in arrear to communities a total amount of US$6.23 million.

Forestry is one of the biggest contributors to the Liberian budget, with the sector generating US$8,148,559 and US$4,023,280 of total revenue in the 2018/2019, 2020-2021 period, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).

The outstanding amount also undermines Liberia’s commitment to the European Union, which calls for the fair sharing of timber resources. It also contravenes the community pillar of the country’s forestry reform, which ended decades in which rural areas did not benefit from forest resources and had no say in forest governance.

“Unfortunately, the draft  2023 budget does not have any amount appropriated for communities against the amount the government owes to communities in land rental fees,” the union said. 

The draft 2023 budget, which is before the legislature for debate, appropriates US$746,292 only for community forest sharing and nothing for forestry arrears, for which the communities   land rental fee is paid.

“It is for this reason that we are calling on our legislators, who the draft budget is before, for debate to ensure that the community remaining arrears is appropriated in the 2023 budget.” 

According to the Union,  lawmakers must consider the interest of the community people “as they will need their votes in the upcoming elections.”

The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDCs) comprises 23 CFDC groups within 11 of the 15 Counties of Liberia.