An appeal by over 50 communities which have been allegedly denied payment of a 30% share of the Land Rental Fees which logging companies have paid to the Liberian Government has been taken up by the Legislature with the setting up of a Joint Committee to investigate the claim in the sum of US$4.6m.
The House of Representatives, last Tuesday set up a Joint Committee, including the Committees on Agriculture and Ways, Means, Finance and Development Planning to investigate whether the meaningful Community participation in forest governance is currently under threat, due to government’s failure to pay Land Rental Fees to forested communities since 2008, in compliance with the National Forestry Reform Law of Liberia of 2006.
The Joint Committee was mandated by Plenary to question the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Finance and Development Planning as well as the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and other related agencies and report to Plenary in two weeks.
The investigation of the Land Rental Fees was pressured by a letter from Gbarpolu County District # 1 Representative Hon. Alfred G. Koiwood regarding the non-compliance of government in relation to the payment of the Land Rental fees to affected communities.
In his letter, Hon. Koiwood, who is also the Chairman on National Security, said on April of 2014, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Union Community Forestry
Development Committees (NUCFDC) requiring the government to make payment of collected Land Rental fees (30%) to affected forested communities as of 2008 upward.
“This mutual agreement was in consonance with the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006 which states that 30% of Land Rental Fees be allocated to affected forested communities,” Hon. Koiwood wrote.
“In furtherance of our research, we have uncovered that as of 2008 up to date, the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Finance, has collected from concessions through the SGS, the sum of US$4,608,014.73.”
He added: “Of this amount, it is our understanding that US$1m has been remitted into the account of the Ministry of Internal Affairs as part payment to the affected forested communities.”
It can be recalled in April, 2015, the National Union of Community Forest Development Committees (NUCFDC) called on the Liberian Government to disburse its share of the Land Rental Fees.
The group wants the money to be disbursed to the account of the National Benefit Sharing Trust as stipulated by the National Forestry Reform Law of 2006.
The foresters warned that if the government failed to meet their demand they will not cooperate with logging companies in the affected communities where logging activities are taking place.
Addressing a news conference last Friday in Duarzohn, Margibi County, the Co-chairman of NUCFDC, Augustus Kwalah, said his group is extremely disappointed with the government. Nothing has been done after three months of engagement with the leadership of the NUCFDC resulting into a Memorandum of Understanding for the payment of the land rental fees in the amount US$I million, he said.
Mr. Kwalah also contends that the allotment of US$1 million is inadequate and runs contrary to provisions of the National Forestry Reform Law and the National Policy which specify that the FDA shall allocate and disburse fees to communities affected by logging operations.
According to Kwalah, the Forestry Reform Law also requires that 30 percent of all land rental fees is disbursed through the National Benefit Sharing Trust in coordination with the Central Bank of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to ensure that people who are affected by concessions in Liberia can benefit.
“We demand the immediate transfer of the United States Dollars one million under the Ministry of Internal Affairs budget appropriation for 2014/2015 to the National Benefit Sharing Trust while we await full payment of community share of rental fees,” Kwalah maintained.
He warned of consequences if the government fails to pay their land rental fees, but fell short of stating what those consequences would be.