Threatens protest if GoL fails to meet demands
A pro-forest advocacy group National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) has called on the government to place in the national budget of 2019-2020 US$2 million for the socioeconomic empowerment of forest communities.
NUCFDC National Coordinator Andrew Y.Y. Zelemen, told a news conference on August 13 that the 23 Community Forest Development Committees have resolved that the US$2 million should be transferred in their account at a designated local bank.
If the government does not respond, the forest advocacy group alongside the 230 members, officials and 23 CFDC in the 11 counties and all members of affected communities said they will organize a peaceful mass protest to halt all logging activities in the affected communities.
Zelemen intimated that such funds should be transferred in the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board following the date of the passage of the 2019 2020 national budget into law or by the end of September 2019.
The group also urged the Executive and Legislative branches of the government to transfer US$1 million to the NCBSTB before or by the end of January 2020.
The forest advocacy group said that no logging company should be granted felling certificate for 2019/2020 until that company has fully paid all arrears owed the people of Liberia or until a clear and realistic arrangement is made for the full payment of arrears and current fees, with involvement of affected forest communities.
They recalled that from 2015 to 2017, the government under former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration provided US$2,622,000 as part of the arrears the government owed the affected communities from the land rental fees it collected since 2009.
The NUCFDC also added that as a result of the payment made by the former administration, affected forest communities were able to initiate and implement over forty community projects.
Mr. Zelemen disclosed that such projects include construction of schools, clinics, vocational training centers, road rehabilitation and guest houses, as well as community halls in the 23 forest affected communities.
He further explained that since ascendancy of the George Weah administration nearly two years ago, not a single cent or dollar has been given to communities through the NCBSTB for the benefit of the forest affected communities in the country.
The forest advocacy group head also noted that records received by his organization shows that the government owed a little over US$3 million, excluding past arrears owed by logging companies and the past government.
Mr. Zelemen claimed that they have consistently and on numerous occasions raised these issues with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). However, the FDA has told them they are not responsible for budget appropriation and allocation.
The group also added that meetings were arranged with the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning top officials, who told the NGO officials it was better to meet the Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs.
Regrettably, the NUCFDC official claimed that the promise to meet with that Deputy Minister has yet to be realized, despite several efforts to get them through phone calls and text messages.
Besides, the group added that a letter was written to the Minister of Finance for a meeting to discuss these issues, but there was no response, as well as to the calls or text messages. The people were only told to wait, wait and wait.
In a related development, the group told reporters that the matter has been taken to the European Union Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) stakeholders gathering, including the Joint Implementation Committee.
When contacted yesterday for the Finance Ministry reaction, Mrs. Patience Senkpeni Kumeh, Public Affairs Director, said she was exerting efforts to track the letter written the Ministry by NUCFDC. Up to the publication of this story, several follow up calls and text messages to her went unanswered.