By Liberia Forest Media Watchfirstname.lastname@example.org
Following peaceful protests in March this year by residents of ten communities affected by logging operations in Zorzor, Lofa County, the residents have begun jubilating again for some positive responses from the company to their demands.
Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Company operates in the forest located in Gbarpolu and Lofa Counties, and residents have been disenchanted over what they described as “delays” in the implementation of the Social Agreements or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached between it and the communities.
Four months after the protest, LFMW was on Sunday, July 18, 2021 greeted with news of the construction of a major bridge linking adjacent neighborhoods of the forest community during a tour. The Chairperson of the CFDC of the ten affected communities, Mr. David P. Gahngalapa told journalists that the company has started constructing a major bridge that was nearing completion.
The CFDC official, however, lamented the delay in payment of "cubic meter” fees, hosting of the Quarterly Meetings, payment of scholarship funds, and most of all, the land rental fees. On the land rental fees, Mr. Gahngalapa disclosed that the company has paid to the Government of Liberia, but government is yet to remit 30% of community share to the “National Benefit Sharing Trust Board".
“Since we took over as new CFDC and I as a chairperson in 2017, we have not received any land rental fees from the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board, and we can’t blame the company, but we blame the government because the company always pays the money, but the government yet to pay our 30% share, Mr. Gahngalapa said".
Despite challenges in meeting up with its social obligation on time, Alpha Logging Company has been rated as one of the companies making good attempts in implementing social agreement. The National Facilitator of the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC), Andrew Zelemen, said that the company has been providing scholarship fees of thirteen thousand United States (US$13,000.00) for each academic year since the renegotiation of the social agreement.
“The company has paid cubic meter fees that is more than one hundred thousand United States Dollars directly to the Communities through the CFDC for the logs harvested up to 2020, only the 2021 cubic fees they still owed”, Mr. Zelemen further disclosed.
He confirmed reports of the construction of bridge connecting lower Salayea District with upper Salayea where five of the ten affected communities are located. Mr. Zelemen further disclosed that the company has paid the land rental fees to the government of Liberia up to 2020 per the record he claimed to have seen. “Alpha paid the highest amount of the first 2.6 million dollars that the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board received from the Government of Liberia from 2015–2017, and Lofa received the biggest share amounting to a little over two hundred thousand United States Dollars”, said Andrew Zelemen.
The Lofa portion of the money, Zelemen said, was used to construct two guest houses (one in Beyan Town and the other one in Gorlu), two Teachers’ Residences, (one in Ganglota and one in Kpayarquelleh), school building in Fassawalasu, a Market Hall in Gbonyea, a Clinic in Kpayarquelleh, zinc provided for over three hundred vulnerable homes in four of the ten affected communities, including Kpeteyea, Kpowansanyea, Barquelleh New Town and Gbaquata.
“In my own view as communication and Public Relations Officer for the CFDC and the ten affected communities, a position I have served since 2009 but officially endorsed in 2015, the company is trying, even though not hundred percent. All we want is for the company to continue the full implementation of the Social Agreement”, Andrew Zelemen concluded.
In 2009, the government of Liberia awarded a forest management contract area A (FMC A) to Alpha Logging and Wood Processing Inc. Following the Government’s negotiation with the company, citizens of 10 communities within the contract area of Kpayarquelleh, Kpeteyea, Kpowansanyea, Baquelleh New town, Gbonyea, Gorlu, Ganglota, Beyan town, Gbaquata, and Fassawalasu entered into Social Agreement with the company.
As part of the requirements enshrined in the contract with the community, an official of the Community Forest Development Committee, Andrew Aelemen, said the company renegotiated the Social Agreement in 2016 with much clarity and timeline for implementation of social obligations as compared to the previous one, which appeared opened without a timeline.
While the new social agreement appears much better, the leadership of the community through the CFDC was disenchanted by the way the company has been lagging behind in implementing certain portion of the social agreement. To raise awareness about the delay in meeting with the required responsibilities, which resulted in a peaceful protest in demand of the fulfillment of outstanding obligations such as the construction of a bridge that connects five of the ten affected communities with upper Salayea District.
World Bank 2019 report says despite this progressive legal framework and monitoring system, communities neighboring forest concessions have lost out on an estimated 20 million USD that they should have received, which is seven times more than they have received (Forest Trends, 2020). Currently, it is estimated that arrears from the logging companies to the Government amount to 16 million USD, of which 30% is due communities.
The total contract area covers one hundred nine-teen thousand two hundred forty (119,240) hectares of Land, affecting Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties. From the Lofa side, the concession area is seventy-four thousand one hundred eighty-six (74,186) hectares, which constitutes sixty-two percent (62%), while the Gbarpolu side covers forty-five thousand fifty-four (45,054) hectares, constituting thirty-eight percent (38%).
Although the concession became legal in 2009, Alpha Logging and Wood Processing did not start harvesting logs until 2013. After months of operations up to early 2014, the company halted operation due to the outbreak of Ebola. The company, however, resumed logging activities in 2015 after the Ebola outbreak and has since continued.