— Government, Traditional Leaders set next week for crisis resolution
Residents of Wee Statutory District (district #3B&C) in Grand Bassa County have threatened to resist the operations of the Renew Forestry Group (RFG) in their forest if the FDA is to grant the company to the right to carry out logging activities on there.
The citizens, who gathered en masse at the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Monrovia at a meeting convened by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, have indicated that they cannot allow RFG to enter their villages and operate in their forest because it is not their preferred choice and the company has nothing tangible to offer them in regards to social benefits.
RFG is a logging company which a group of citizens of the district feel that, with the backing of the C. Mike Doryen leadership at the Forestry Development Authority and its “kangaroo” Community Forest Management Body (CFMB), has clandestinely obtained authorization to conduct logging activities. The citizens have since begun to resist what they termed as the imposition of RFG on them.
“We will not allow RFG to cut a single tree down in our bush because it is not in our interest and this is what we came here to tell our leaders,” Bobby Zeogar, one of the eminent citizens, was heard saying.
He added, “We want a company that will bring development to us. We are suffering because we do not have school for our young people, clinics to cater to our health and many other things. We believe our forest have the resources to help bring these things to us. So we are not going to give it to people who are here to use us and steal from us.”
Reliable sources said hundreds of Bassa citizens from #3 B and C communities from Wee Statutory District Community, also threatened to stage varies kinds of protests against RFG, if the government continue to impose RFG to them and failed to look into their complaints.
The district has been in rigmarole over which company should operate the forest since it received its certificate from the FDA two years ago. The FDA set up the CFMB to manage the activities surrounding the forest, especially seeking after investors to enter into contract with the community. Another company, West Water, reportedly won a vetting process that was conducted under the auspices of the CFMB, but the FDA management has, according to the stakeholders, refused to grant the bid winners the rights to operate.
“West Water has since began the construction of 50km of roads in the district since it won the vetting process. The company is doing a lot for the people, but the CFMB and the FDA have refused to certificate the company for it to commence its operation,” Josephus Zeon said.
Following mounting threats of protests and casting of blame against the government for the imposition of the unwanted forestry company, on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, a negotiation finally began at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, chaired by Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf and the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, C. Mike Doryen.
Traditional Chief Zanzan Karwor, Foreign Affairs Minister Gbehzohgar Findley (former Grand Bassa County Senator and President Pro Tempore of the Senate), Sen. Jonathan L. Kaipay, and Grand Bassa County District #4 Representative Vincent S.T. Willie were among those present at the meeting.
After a meeting, Rep. Willie told reporters that the government through the FDA will give a ruling on Wednesday, May 22.
“My people have complaint and they are expecting to get what they want. You can’t give the people what they don’t want. And we are hoping that Wednesday ruling will satisfy the people,” Rep. Willie asserted.
Wee Statutory District Superintendent Joe Payegar said briefly: “The meeting was successful, they heard our complaints and decision will be made next Wednesday.”
One of the chiefs, who was at the meeting but preferred to remain anonymous, said: “Government should not insist upon us government that we do not want.”
Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf and Grand Bassa County Superintendent Janjay Baikpeh said “No comment,” as well as FDA boss C. Mike Doryen.
The Daily Observer has gathered that the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has been allegedly accused of imposing RFG to operate in the forests of Grand Bassa County, against the will of the people over the preferred rival West Water, a Chinese company.
Sources have hinted the Daily Observer that the forest, which is about 49,725 hectares, might be shared between the two companies, West Water and RFG, for them to carry on their operations, a move some believe won’t be satisfactory to many of the elders.
Many of the residents have accused the CFMB and the FDA of taking bribes from RFG, a reason for which they are imposing the company on them. “You guys have to give the people’s [RFG officials] money back, which you all took to give the our forest… because they won’t be allowed to cut our logs. We don’t want them,” one of the elders said.
“Our own brothers and sons who are on the CFMB are conniving with FDA to sell our forest to people who don’t mean well for us. This is really sad. We cannot continue to live like this as a people. We need to do better for each other as Liberians,” another noted during the meeting.
It may be recalled RFG was not part of the vetting exercise conducted by the CFMB, but reportedly secured the contract through the African Trades Entrepreneur Enterprises (ATEE), one of the three companies that were vetted.
According to the contract’s documents, there will be construction of 30 hand pumps, 30 modern pit latrines, 30 palava huts, two central clinics, two central high schools, two modern market buildings, two youth centers, one community office and scholarship opportunities within three years of operation—a list of commitments the citizens say is not enough to merit the extraction of their resources.
RFG is one of the few logging companies authorized to perform logging activities in Liberia following the moratorium and restructuring of the Liberian logging industry in 2015.
RFG is a Liberian Limited Liability Company that is Liberian majority-owned, along with minority owners from the United States.
Meanwhile, West Water has constructed over 50km of roads within the district and is at the verge of embarking on the Bassa-Gio road to give residents of the district adequate access to markets and social services, Mr. Zeon added.