Barley two weeks after the Liberian Government’s ‘Letter of Intent’ agreement with the Norwegian Government, the Liberia Timber Association (LTA) has threatened legal action to reject the agreement before ratification by the National Legislature.
The Liberian Government about two weeks ago signed a ‘Letter of Intent’ with the Kingdom of Norway whereby GOL consented to undertake measures to preserve Liberia’s remaining forests in return for a compensation of US$150 million from Norway.
Addressing a press conference Monday in Monrovia, the president of the LTA, Rudolf Merab was critical of the agreement, saying it was regrettable that neither the LTA, its members nor other stakeholders were contacted or involved in any aspect of the negotiations and decisions leading to the signing of the ‘Letter of Intent’.
Mr. Merab, a Liberian businessman, said the measures purported to preserve and conserve the forests of Liberia would be highly detrimental to development in the forest communities, and to the interests of investors, businessmen and thousands of Liberians who are currently employed by the forestry industry.
Mr. Merab said extensive public debate and broad participation of logging companies and civil society organizations in the country were indispensable to reaching such an agreement.
In his carefully worded statement, Merab implied that the measures agreed to in exchange for US$150 million to the GOL were due to intense pressure from foreign governments and international civil society designed to shut down the logging industry in Liberia.
He further indicated that the measures, which started with the 2006 Forestry Reform Law, included the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), the European Union Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) and others that have been sealed and climaxed with the signing of the ‘Letter of Intent.’
The agreement was also intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and developing Liberia’s agriculture sector, the LTA president intimated.
He described the ‘Letter of Intent’ as an offense and a flagrant disregard of the rule of law by the Liberian Government.
“We can recall that the issue of Reduced Emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) was discussed by all stakeholders, Government of Liberia, private sector and civil society and a conclusion was reached that REDD was not workable in Liberia and we thought that the issue had been put to rest,” Mr. Merab declared.
It was, therefore, surprising, said Merab, that the issue of REDD has resurfaced this time with a unilateral agreement between the governments of Norway and Liberia outside of the rules of the 2006 National Forest Reform Law.
The LTA head also underscored the need for the Liberian Government to put the contents of the ‘Letter of Intent’ agreement in the public domain for extensive debate by all Liberians.
He declared that the LTA is “totally and wholly against the signing and implementation of the ‘Letter of Intent’ by the two governments”.
The agreement was signed outside of the rules established under the 2006 NFRL and also does not address the critical issues of companies which have signed a 25-years Forest Management Contract (FMC) with the Government of Liberia, he maintained.
The LTA further contends that the agreement seeks to use an outdated Executive Order (January 2013) to place a moratorium on several logging companies in the name of halting illegal PUPs.
Besides, the LTA declared, the implementation of the agreement in its current form is not in the interest of Liberia and its future generations.
The LTA official predicted that the agreement is likely to generate more conflicts with local communities whose livelihoods depend on forest resources and opens a door for multiple legal actions against the government of Liberia.
LTA also claims that the agreement tends to deny community-related development such as roads, schools, clinics that are traditionally undertaken by logging companies in areas where government has not been able to undertake these developments.
The LTA president said his organization recognizes the fact that rich and industrialized nations of the world are the greatest producers of greenhouse gas emission; and are throwing out inadequate funds to small and poor countries like Liberia to preserve their forests to the detriment of their own people and economic wellbeing.
President Merab also wondered why those countries don’t stop producing and using fossil fuel which is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases.
“The LTA is calling on the National Legislature not to ratify the ‘Letter of Intent’ without an open public debate and that government does not proceed with implementation of the agreement because it is not in the best interest of Liberia,” Mr. Merab declared.