Logging Communities Suspend Protest over US$5.5M Land Rental Fees

Communities affected by logging concessions have suspended a planned week-long sit-in protest for over US$5.5 million

… following a meeting with MFDP

Communities affected by logging concessions have suspended a planned week-long sit-in protest for over US$5.5 million in land rental fees they claimed that the Liberian government owes them.  The suspension came after an agreement was reached between them and the Ministry of Finance Development Planning (MFDP).

The protesters, representing 11 concession areas across Liberia, gathered in front of the MFDP on Tuesday, August 3, demanding the government to settle arrears owed them in order to implement some development projects in their respective communities.

The peaceful sit-in protest was organized by the National Union of Communities Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), an umbrella organization of Community Forestry Development Committees (CFDC).

Speaking to reporters,  Andrew Zelemen, the head of secretariat, said they are requesting the government to ensure that US$2.2 million is apportioned into the current special budget that is being debated by members of the Legislature.

“We understand that the country is being faced with economic constraints. But at the moment and because of the need for continuous developments in communities where the concessions are in operation, we would like the government to prioritize payment of some of the arrears they owe us,” he said.

Mr. Zelemen said that since 2017, the government has yet to remit the 30 percent land rental fees that belong to communities affected by concessions.

Accordingly, the Forestry Reform Act of 2016 mandates the government to give back to the communities 30 percent of the money collected by the government through the Forestry Development Authority and the Central Bank of Liberia.

But it is reported that since the ascension of the Administration of President George Manneh Weah, communities affected by concessions are yet to get their just benefits, a situation the affected communities have considered as a violation of their rights.

The affected forest communities, after three years of attempts to engage the Ministry of Finance and the Legislature, did not prove fruitful.

The protesters gathered with placards bearing several inscriptions: “Gov’t when will you pay back our money; respect the forest reform law, logging will not continue if we do not get our money. Respect the rights of the poor.”

Responding to the Protesters’ concerns, the Comptroller and Accountant General of Liberia, Atty. Janga Kowo, asked the representatives of the affected forest communities to give his ministry a chance to look into the matter.

Mr. Kowo, who claimed that he was not aware of the situation since he took over as comptroller general, promised to brief the Finance Minister on the issue. He told reporters that the government remains committed to addressing the plight of the citizens.

“This government is cognizant of the conditions of the citizens because of the Pro Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. We will make sure that the communities get their just benefits from their forests,” Kowo told reporters.

Meanwhile, the protesters have given authorities of the Finance Ministry one week to look into their situation. According to them, if nothing is done by the Ministry to provide positive feedback, they will continue the peaceful protest before the Ministry. 

Moreover, they have said that if the government does not consider their request to apportion money in the special national budget, their next course of action will be that concessions will not operate in their respective areas until the government can meet their demand.