The National Benefit Sharing Trust Board (NBSTB) has called on the Government of Liberia (GoL) to remit money owed to forest affected communities in Liberia which, according to the institution, is worth more than US$3 million in land rental fees that have been accrued, through commercial logging activities.
Recently, the chairperson of the Trust Board, Nora Bowier, said the amount in question, is money that the government has failed to remit to the NBSTB over the last four years to carry out major developmental projects in counties, where concessions activities are being carried out.
The NBSTB is the body that is responsible to oversee the distribution and management of the community share of the land as a rental fee.
Madam Bowier, speaking in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer recently, during the launch of a 12-month forest governance project in Paynesville, mentioned that her institution has made frantic efforts to engage the government but to no avail.
The 12-month project seeks to build the capacity of the NBSTB to effectively monitor and evaluate projects awarded to forest-affected communities.
The project is under the framework of the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance, and Trade (FLEGT) and the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), signed by the Government of Liberia (GoL) with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Liberia, through the European Union (EU).
It aims to improve forest governance, through the provision of technical assistance to build the capacity of forest committees in order to undertake necessary projects in eligible forest- affected countries.
According to Madam Bowier, the forest policy of Liberia states that the GoL is obligated to remit 30 percent of the money generated for land rental fees paid by concessions to government to develop forest affected communities.
It is unfortunate, she said, that since 2017 to the current, her institution is yet to receive a cent for land rental fee from the government, something that it is seriously impeding development in forest-affected communities.
“Since 2017, there has been no funding from the government provided to the communities. The government is supposed to provide to the communities its share of the land rental fees paid by concession companies engaged in commercial logging activities in the country,” she explained.
“We have been approaching the government on this matter in different ways. We did engage the Finance Ministry in an effort to hold a discussion on the way forward on how to make the payment to affected communities, but this did not yield fruitful results. The Finance Ministry has not been able to make any commitment so far.
She further explained that in November 2020, the National Forest Forum was held to discuss how the government and the Board could work to jointly manage the resources from the forests to benefit communities, but top officials of the Ministry of Finance who were invited failed to attend these discussions.
“We convened the National Forest Forum to discuss how we can manage money that should come to our institution to develop forest-affected communities. However, we were so saddened to realize that the government could not give any commitment as top officials of the Ministry of Finance failed to be represented.
Madam Bowier also noted that though the government owed communities huge sums of money in just benefits from commercial logging, it is observed that concessions are also not prompt in making payments to the government.
“We are also asking the government to make sure that companies make payments in a timely manner. We are doing this by working harder with the Union of Communities Forest Development committees,” she added.
The chair of the NBSTB stressed the need for the review of the procedures in remitting funds gotten from concessions for the communities.
“To move forward, we are contemplating reviewing the procedures for payment. We intend that instead of the money going through the government, it should be directed to the account of the Trust Board,” she emphasized.
The president of the National Union of Communities Forest Development Committees (NUCFDC), Vincent T. Doe, said that his organization would do a lot to develop forest-affected communities if only government remains committed to remitting funds belonging to the communities.
The Union (NUCFDC), which is the umbrella organization of all community forest development committees, is working with the National Trust Board to ensure that forest-affected communities receive just benefits from land rental fees and other benefits derived from the forests.
“The issue that relates to the government not remitting funds, particularly the 30 percent that belongs to the communities, is something that this administration should not overlook. The government’s failure to give back to the communities that which belongs to them, in my opinion, is a serious contradiction to the country’s development agenda,” he angrily told our reporter.
“We have exerted a lot of efforts and we are somewhat confused about this matter. If we continue to apply all diplomatic efforts that do not yield success, we are then left with no alternative but to pursue court action,” he insisted.
Mr. Doe further recalled that in September of last year, they wrote a letter to the Legislature petitioning them to put money owed to the communities in the fiscal 2020-2021 national budget, but lawmakers are yet to do so.
When contacted, the Deputy Managing Director for Operations at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Joseph J. Tally, confirmed that indeed the government is owing forest communities an outstanding amount as land rental fees. However, the Deputy Managing Director did not confirm the actual amount.
“The FDA is working with the Trust Board and other forest governing bodies as well as CSOs to make sure that funds due the communities are remitted to enhance necessary developments. The communities have received other benefits, but the land rental fee is still outstanding,” he declared.