A US$4,691,122.16 lawsuit has been filed against citizens of Bloquiah Clan, Gboe-Ploe Administrative District of Grand Gedeh County for allegedly nullifying a forest management agreement with the Liberia Hardwood Corporation (LHC) in favor of the Association of Logging Engineers of Liberia (ALEL).
LHC sought the approval of the 7th Judicial Circuit Court for Grand Gedeh County to award US$1,691,122.61 as special damages; US$1,500,000 for punitive damages; and US$1,500,000 as general damages, totaling US$4,691,122.16.
On April 16, Presiding Judge George S. Wiles issued an order stopping Bloquiah Clan citizens from entering into any agreement with any third party for the purpose of carrying out logging activities in the community’s concession area.
Wiles also mandated the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) not to attest to or approve any agreement entered into by the citizens.
“ALEL is restrained from entering into any agreement with the citizens and return the parties to the status that they were in prior to the issuance of the citizens’ letter of November 28, 2015 which will enable LHC to resume its logging operations as contemplated by the various agreements, pending final determination of the Petition for Declaratory Judgment,” the judge instructed.
The parties are expected to appear before Judge Wiles on May 8 for a hearing.
However, the citizens have argued that LHC defaulted under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) dated June 12, 2012, which they said authorized them to enter into any agreement with a third party, a claim LHC has denied, thus seeking the court’s intervention for a “Petition of Declaratory Judgment”
Before Wiles’ decision, LHC claimed that the FDA through the Bloquiah Community Forest Management Board executed a Community Forest Management Agreement (CFMA) that authorized the citizens to harvest merchantable tree species from 43,794 hectares of land referred to as “Bloquiah Community Forest Land.”
It was due to the agreement that LHC and the community entered into a forest management agreement on June 12, 2012.
That agreement was approved and attested to by then FDA managing director Moses D. Wogbeh, who has been convicted of misapplying over US$1million for illegal issuances of logging permits to companies.
Later, the FDA, on January 6, 2014, granted LHC a temporary Harvesting Certificate for six months that ended on June 6 that same year, according to the lawsuit.
Relying on the certificate, LHC alleged that they began operations on August 15, 2014.
Before the expiration of the June 6 deadline, the FDA again granted the company an Annual Harvesting Certificate which became effective as of August 15, 2014, upon which they commenced with the terms of the Forest Management Agreement.
Because of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in early 2014, the operation of all logging concession came to a standstill as they were forced to suspend full operations.
Before the Ebola outbreak, they claimed that they paid US$30,180, representing full land rental fees for 2014 and 2015, and US$3,800 as royalty fee in keeping with the MOU.
They also claimed to have paid the Government US$25, 634.13 and US$31,630 representing the aggregate of the government’s share of the land rental fees; US$24,634.13 as annual contract administrative fee; and US$1,000 for the period of 2014 and 2015.
In April 2015, after the state of emergency was lifted, they decided to re-mobilize their workers for the resumption of normal operations.
They claimed they were also constrained to halt further operations due to the extremely deplorable condition of the roads and the collapse of the bridge over the Cestos River in River Cess County, which made it logistically impossible for their company to access and operate the concession area.
Besides that they also said as part of their social responsibility, they contributed to the citizens’ request in keeping with the MOU and completed the road between Bo-Geevon and Zean Town.
According to LHC, the road is 10.6 kilometers constructed at the cost of US$25,000 per kilometer, totaling US$265,000. They also said they completed the segment of road between Zean Town and Pennewon consisting of 11.3 kilometers at a unit cost of US$25,000 per kilometer, for a total cost of US$282,500, among other payments.
However, the citizens claim that the company defaulted under the MOU; therefore, they completed negotiations with a third party to operate the forest.