A community ran out of patience with FDA over the handling of a forestry dispute. They asked President Weah’s help to resolve the issue. But NGO Coalition says President’s intervention sets a bad precedent.
Residents of District #3 B&C have refuted claims that President George Weah is interfering in the forest saga of the district’s community in violation of the laws that govern the forestry sector. The residents also said that the President is in no way usurping the function of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) as some non-governmental representatives in the area have insinuated.
According to the group, as the leader and the President of the land, it is the responsibility of the President to intervene in situations that have the propensity to create confusion.
The National NGO coalition of Liberia last week called on President Weah to desist from playing a direct role in community forestry issues.
The National Coordinator of the Coalition, Richard Hoff II, said at a press conference in Monrovia that the office of the President, through a committee, is trampling on the law by usurping the functions that should be exercised by relevant authorities which are governing or supervising the forest sector.
The Coalition accused the President of directly interfering in resolving disputes that should be handled in accordance with laws. Hoff said that the District #3 B&C community forest dispute is a classic case in point. The group fears that if this trend continues, it will adversely affect the delivery of the FDA’s statutory mandate.
The coalition’s statements seem to have rattled the elders and chiefs of the district, who have reacted angrily.
Josephus Zeon, a representative of the residents, who spoke to the Daily Observer over the weekend, said that the President did not interfere into the forest dispute as is being insinuated. Rather, he intervened as the President of the nation to ensure that the matter is amicably resolved.
“As citizens of the affected community, we want to categorically reject claims by some CSOs that President Weah has interfered into the matter, and that this is undermining the FDA’s function. This is not true,” Zeon said, noting that the President’s intervention came as a result of FDA’s delay in settling the issue since November 1, 2018.
“The accusation against the President is unfair and disrespectful. It is sad that some people do not know the difference between interference and intervention,” Mr. Zeon said.
About the committee, Zeon said, “It was FDA Managing Director, C. Mike Doryen, who mandated Bishop Gueh and Chief Zanzan Karwor to intervene after the locals raised issues with the FDA in February this year through protest action.”
When contacted, Bishop Gueh, one of the supposed committee members, said that after 11 days into the investigation as ordered by the President, he and Chief Zanzan Karwor recommended to Mr. Doryen that the former executive leadership was in serious error and, therefore, they wanted the residents to be the decision-makers.
The MD reportedly appealed to Gueh and Karwor to talk to the locals, to agree for a division of the forest for a peaceful resolution, as both companies had committed huge investments and that, perhaps they could settle on dividing the forest between them. “As peaceful citizens, they all agreed and communicated their agreement to the FDA about the division,” Gueh said.
Due to delays from the FDA, Gueh communicated with the elders and citizens that they should go home and that the matter was going to be handled within a week. But since February 22, 2019, the FDA has not concluded this matter as the residents kept complaining and finally communicated their plight to the legislative caucus of Grand Bassa County.
Mr. Zeon, however, accused Hoff of being a paid agent of top officials at the FDA, who do not have the courage to speak of the issue but want to use underground agents to ridicule the President.
He said the sponsor of the press conference, who is a “die-hard enemy of the Bassa people” at FDA, is the technical manager, Mrs. Getrude Nyaley. “I can tell you without mincing my words that she is the one behind all of this,” he said.
“I can tell you with no doubt that Hoff is being used by FDA officials. The voice you heard at that press conference is that of Getrude, and not necessarily Hoff. He is only being used. She is the one behind this longstanding dispute in our district because of a vested interest. But I can assure you that Getrude is wasting her time. She will never succeed in her endeavor against the Bassa people,” he said.
Madam Nyaley denied any involvement, noting that her work with the forest sector has purely been in defense of the laws that govern the sector. “I don’t know what these people are talking about. I played no part in any press conference,” she told the Daily Observer when contacted.
Weah’s intervention on August 21, 2019, reportedly came as a result of a series of calls by residents for the government to help resolve the crisis in the area. He never set up a committee as insinuated by Hoff, Zeon added.
He said that the committee that was set up to resolve the matter came from FDA, with CSOs’ representatives, presided over by FDA Deputy Managing Director, Joseph Tally.
Two companies are fighting for logging rights over District #3 B&C forest, which covers 49,729 hectares. However, the legitimate leadership of the community was suspended on grounds that the Community Assembly (CA) filed a resolution casting a vote of no confidence in the suspended CFMB Chairman as well as two of the assembly members for financial malpractice and violation cited in the resolution.
An ad-hoc committee was constituted and charged with the responsibility to work with the FDA, to peacefully resolve the dispute. The Committee communicated with FDA through its new CFMB, Matthew Zangar, inviting the FDA to witness the signing ceremony of a third-party agreement.
When contacted, Ms. Getrude Nyaley said she feels that the division of the forest contravenes the law.
“An interim committee cannot do business on behalf of the community. They do not have that authority under the law,” she said.
“I have absolutely no interest in that area and [have] nothing against anyone in Bassa. We just want the right things to be done,” Ms. Nyaley added.
Reports indicate that the community has requested and FDA is carrying out, or has completed, demarcation of the community forest between the existing third-party and a new and allegedly illegal third party.
But according to Madam Nyaley, she is not aware of any such thing. “I have no idea whether another third-party agreement has been signed, not to talk about the demarcation of a community forest between two companies. I don’t know if that has been done, but if it is done then it is not a good precedent,” she said.
It can be recalled that a senior elder of the community, George Nimley, lauded the President recently for his timely intervention into the crisis, saying: “We wholeheartedly embrace this decision.”
He told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview on September 4, 2019, that the President’s decision was in the best interest of the locals.