One of Liberia’s leading civil society organizations for natural resource management, Sustainable Development Institute (SDI), has raised an alarm that US$1 million forestry fund is being “misdirected by a state authority.”
According to Jonathan Yiah, SDI’s Forest Governance Campaigner, the funds intended for the Community Forest Development Committee (CFDC), a body organized to manage resources remitted to affected communities where logging is active, was “mistakenly transferred to the account of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
“US$1 million was to be transferred to the CFDC account and that has not yet been done.” Jonathan Yiah urged the Honorable Members of the House of Representatives who were present to fast track the transfer of the money to the communities. “The Ministry of Internal Affairs has hijacked the community’s money, but the funds should be managed by the CFDC,” he alleged.
Forest governance and community rights are pivotal to the success of REDD, Yiah pointed out.
Community forest groups such as the CFDC are supposed to protect the interest of the local communities and manage funds that are provided for programs like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), and as such, managing resources like the funds under question is cardinal to the existence of both the concessions and their relationships with the communities in which they operate.”
The rights advocate made the disclosure during a recent program organized by Sustainable & Thriving Enviroments for West African Regional Development (STEWARD), a USAID funded program that brought together officials of government and forestry actors to discuss policy dialogue on the forestry sector.
The dialogue also focused on environmental policy that involves conserving forests in return for financial benefits.
The money should have been transferred to the CFDC account and that has not yet been done, Yiah declared.
He further urged members of the House of Representatives from the committees on Forestry and Agriculture who were present to fast track the transfer of the money to the communities.
Representatives of Forest Communities in Rivercess and Grand Cape Mount counties pleaded with their lawmakers to use their influence and energy to advocate for their constituents to get their money that is stuck in the Central Bank.
Weedor Gaye of Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Community Forestry Department noted that her entity wrote the Minister of Internal Affairs to re-direct the money to the CFDC account, but up to now, “there is no response.”
“We hope the Ministry of Finance gets this message so the problem can be resolved soon,” she said.
Lofa County Representative Fofi Saah Baimba assured the communities of the Legislature’s desire to ensure that the money is delivered to them.
However, Deputy Minister for Finance and Development Planning Dr. James Kollie in his clarification on the matter said that the money has not been paid into any account at the moment.
“The fact is that because the money will benefit communities, the funds have been allotted under the Ministry of Internal Affairs which is responsible for local government activities. When the voucher is raised by Internal Affairs, the payment will be made to the Benefit Trust Account as prescribed by the new Forestry Law. Internal Affairs will do nothing with the money. The confusion has been under which institution of government the money should be
placed. However, we expect that FDA, the sector ministry for forestry, and Internal Affairs will work together to smooth the rough edges and get the resources to the affected communities in a timely manner,” Dr. Kollie maintained.
“Let it be made clear,” he said. “No one has placed money in any wrong account.”