Liberia: Rural Communities Want a Say in Who Becomes FDA’s Next MD

Want President Boakai prioritize competence, integrity

“Of the 11 companies reviewed, none met even the most basic legal requirements of 1) holding a forestry license, 2) a legal corporate identity qualified to operate a concession, and 3) posting a performance bond. Evidence that over 70 logging companies may be operating in Liberia. The FDA failed to confirm which were active, much less legal,” says the executive summary of a report from an investigative/ research commissioned by the Government of Liberia to evaluate compliance with the country’s industrial forest concessions. 

“None of the licenses to allow logging were allocated according to the law. In all cases, companies inappropriately became involved in getting communities the right to allow logging, creating a clear conflict of interest. Over the past 15 years, the five largest logging operations should have shared US$21 million with the communities most affected by logging, as per Liberian law. These communities have only received US$3 million (less than 15% of what they are owed). Most of the Social Agreements signed with logging companies have also gone unfulfilled,” the document added. 

Overall, the report demonstrates the failure of Liberia’s forest authorities to ensure legal compliance in the forestry sector. It also highlights how inadequate record-keeping systems make it impossible for the FDA to ensure logging companies are compliant with forestry laws.

The report laid bare the dire straits that the forestry sector is in, as it has been poorly run in recent years, especially the past six years, and it is rural communities that suffer the most as their entire livelihood surrounds and is dependent on the forests.

“Proceeds that are supposed to go to the people in the rural areas, the real owners of the forest, barely reach them because of corruption, bad governance, and lack of respect for our people. It is time that this changed,” a stakeholder said at a forestry roundtable last year.

And with the new government gradually taking shape, the rural population wants to be heard louder. They want to have a say in every decision relative to the forestry sector.

Against this backdrop, the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committees (NUCFDCs) and the National Union of Community Forest Management Body (NUCFMB), two large organizations that represent the communities in Liberia’s forests, along with the Independent Forest Monitoring Mechanism (IFMCM), have called on President Joseph Nyuma Boakai to be consultative as he goes about nominating his next FDA Managing Director.  

Andrew Y. Y. Zelemen, and Bonathan G. Walaka, head of the secretariat/National Facilitator of the NUCFDCs and the  NUCFMB, at a press conference over the weekend, expressed worries as to who the President will entrust with the FDA, the country’s forestry industry.

“At this present state of Liberia’s forestry industry, it needs someone with the necessary skills, contact, and connections both locally and internationally to turn the forestry sector around, for sustainable forest management that goes beyond mere logging,” Zelemen, who read the statement, said. “The sector is at a critical juncture, as numerous initiatives have failed to meet expectations over the past six to ten years.”

The communities’ representatives noted, “We are worried about who will be the next MD because the Liberian forest sector needs someone ready and prepared to pursue the path that will address these major forest infractions, restore the lost image of the sector, and bring in more revenue.”

They want the next MD to be someone with a strong background in sustainable forest management that goes beyond mare logging. 

“This person should also bring a variety of experiences and expertise to the table, primarily promoting the green economy and the green revolution, which are focused on mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change,” Zelemen said. “The largest portion of West Africa’s remaining forest is found in Liberia, and as a green country and carbon sink, Liberia contributes significantly to carbon sequestration.”

The communities believe that when the right person is appointed, he or she will help Liberia attract more international funding to support national development initiatives and community livelihoods, thereby maintaining its green status.

“These are only possible if we have a seasoned and well-experienced MD who possesses all the skills required to establish the relationships and contacts with key figures in national and international organizations and the international community.”

Another issue they raised is that the next MD should be someone who has never been involved in logging activities in the country because that person will be conflicted as all of the past activities in the sector have been marred by illegality, fraud, and corruption. 

“We, the communities, feel that any name that is proposed for an appointment at the FDA must not be a person associated with the logging industry baggage. The community doesn’t think the FDA can effectively promote the goal of reviving Liberia’s forestry industry with people who worked as managers of logging companies or leaders in the private sector and didn’t comply with the minimum requirements of the forestry laws. Over the years in forestry, all that is known about the loggers is that they completely disobeyed the law,” the communities’ representatives said.   

“The Managing Director shall be professionally qualified in Forestry,” states the second sentence of Section 7 of the Act Creating the FDA.

“Our forest communities from Lofa to Gbarpolu, Cape Mount, Nimba, and the other forest counties, we have prayed, fasted, fought, and cast a resounding vote in favor of this change. We cannot allow this desire to go unfulfilled by remaining silent and waiting to see what is best for us,” they said. “We are aware that our Papay, Mr. President H. E. Dr. Joseph N. Boakai, is attentive to our concerns, and he consistently acts morally and ethically. In the past, when you were a Vice President, you were the one who arranged for us to receive the first-ever community share of land rental fees — US$1 million. Now that you are the President, we trust your wisdom and your well-thought-out plan to “Think, Love, and Build Liberia.”

Meanwhile, one issue raised by the communities is that of the seven major forestry concessions in the nation (Forest Management Contracts, or FMC), almost none are currently engaged in active logging. Second, there are significant shortcomings in the sector’s law enforcement, oversight, accountability, transparency, and effective and efficient redress mechanisms.

“There are reports of non-compliance in all Community Forest Management Agreements (CFMA) authorized by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and under commercial contracts,” he said.

Another notable situation is the past government’s failure to pay the community 30% share of land rental fees collected from logging companies by the Government of Liberia. Currently, the Government of Liberia owes forest communities US$6,230,000.00 for 2009–2021. It is reported that there are no records available to communities from 2021 up to the present to determine what the government owed the communities affected by commercial logging in government-awarded forestry concessions areas within 11 of the 15 counties.