Challenges for the New FDA Board

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The President has appointed a new Board of Directors for the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), headed by one of the nation’s most respected persons,  Sister Mary Laurene Browne.

If one could describe the beloved and renowned Roman Catholic Sister in two words, they would be: “Miss Integrity.”  And Heaven knows that’s exactly the kind of   person we need at this time to steer the affairs of this critically important but at risk    national asset, Liberia’s forests.    

The President managed to find also as part of the Board a consummate political animal, National Patriotic Front of  Liberia (NPFL) war   spokesman named Thomas Woewiyu.

Also appointed to the FDA Board are two other highly respected members of society, Jonathan Yiah of the  Sustainable Development Institute  (SDI) and John Davies, president and C.E.O. of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI).

To what intent does the President add to the new FDA Board Tom Woewiyu (whose surname means in Bassa a small worm)? As NPFL war spokesperson,  Woewiyu was very much a part of Charles Taylor’s government when the greedy and vicious warlord-turned-president, dished out to the notorious Malaysian company, Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), millions of acres  of Liberian forests. The rapist company wasted no time in ravishing huge chunks of our forests.  It was partly this that prompted the United Nations to impose global sanctions against Liberian timber.  The speculation was that OTC used the proceeds from their pillage and plunder of Liberian forests to help Taylor buy more arms to fuel his wars in West Africa.

If today Mr. Woewiyu  were called to explain the Charles Taylor-NPFL-OTC deal, one can be sure that he would give the same smooth, suave, convincing but totally undependable and unreliable answers he gave daily on the conduct of the war to British Broadcasting Corporation—BBC’s  Robin White.

The new FDA Board’s first task, therefore, is to examine itself.  They must ask, Who are we? Do we know one another well enough to work peacefully and effectively together?  Will the joint decisions we make stand the test of integrity? Or do we risk undermining ourselves by waddling in waters we know not?   

The Board’s second challenge, once it gets past the first, if at all it can, is going over the issues that caused their creation in the first place.  Remember that about 16 months  ago the same President Sirleaf disbanded the entire FDA Board, headed then by the President’s own Agriculture Minister, Dr. Florence Chenoweth?  Why the  sudden, dramatic overturn of that entire Board?  Because the Board had itself totally   abdicated its fiduciary responsibilities and  allowed unscrupulous individuals and companies to rape, with panic-stricken rapidity, the forests throughout the country under the notorious Private Use Permits (PUPs).  The Daily Observer and other media broke the story, first revealed by the environmental watchdog Global Witness and other agencies.  The stench of the scandal became so offensive, so overwhelming that the President was forced to act, and act immediately.  The FDA Managing Director, one Moses Wogbeh, seeming totally oblivious to the purpose of his job, sat supinely, with conspicuous ineptitude (clumsiness, ineffectiveness), and let it all happen,   making it unmistakably clear that he had to know everything that  was going on.  This mismanagement   “horriblis” made it   clear that neither the FDA Board nor management cared a hoot about their patriotic duty to their country.

The question that is today bound to arise on everyone’s mind is,  Can this revisit to the poisoned past, punctuated by Woewiyu’s appointment, enhance the great work that people like Harrison Karnwea and a few others have been doing to restore credibility to the FDA?

Mr. Karnwea is a very patriotic, efficient man.  He believes that after many months of earnest, hard work,   forest management is today where it ought to be.  And with his own plans to move on, the new Board will soon have to help the President find new Managing Director.  That in itself will be a herculean task.  Can the Board find someone who knows the forestry business? Who is an honest, efficient manager?  Who is patriotic? Who believes in and accepts the cardinal principle that today’s natural resources must be managed so prudently that tomorrow’s generations will benefit from it?

It all remains to be seen.

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