Too often the Daily Observer has asked the question whether President Weah is being ill advised by his coterie of advisors (some of who are reported to have very shady characters) or whether he is being well advised but is not paying heed. This question plays out with increasing frequency amid reports of actions taken by President Weah that either contravene the law or standing rules governing institutions.
Only recently, he unilaterally dismissed the President of the University of Liberia and appointed her replacement without the slightest reference to the Board of Trustees and in complete disregard of the University Charter. Prior to that, he unilaterally dismissed the Head of Secretariat of the Liberia Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (LEITI). Under threat of sanctions including Liberia’s expulsion from the International parent body, he rescinded the decision and had Karmo reinstated as head of secretariat of LEITI.
In the latest instance, President Weah is being accused of trampling on the law by usurping functions that should be exercised by functionaries of the relevant agencies overseeing the forestry sector. In a press conference held on October 25, 2019 the NHO Coalition of Liberia accused the President of interference in local forest management which they claim is creating tension and of left unresolved in a fair and transparent way could lead to conflict.
At the heart of the matter is the desire and quest by officials of this government to personally profit from the exploitation of the nation’s forests taking away from local communities what is rightly theirs. It is such uncontrolled greed that is killing and driving the country to the ground by willfully destroying its heritage. It must not be forgotten that Liberia has the largest remaining block (43 percent)of the Upper Guinean rainforest which is a biodiversity hotspot. This forest area also covers part of Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.
As a way of encouraging the Government of Liberia to conserve its remaining forest as part of the fight against global warming, the Government of Norway and the Government of Liberia at the cusp of the UN Climate Summit in 2014 entered into a partnership agreement under which Norway agreed to provide the government of Liberia an amount of US$ 150 million in return for assurances to conserve its forests.
Despite appending its signature to the agreement, under the watch of the Sirleaf led government the agreement was violated through the granting of Private Use Permits (PUP), a subterfuge under which illegal exploitation of the forests would continue even today howbeit under different guises.
Under current arrangements, local communities should have the power to decide on how their forests are to be used. Local communities, long neglected and deprived of development enter into arrangements through which they hope they can attract development to their communities.
The hard truth is these communities are being short-changed because those so-called investors harvest the logs usually on a non-selective basis and they do not make provisions for re-forestation of the area and with the loss of the forest is the loss of native plants and animals. Moreover, it is the officials including legislators who benefit but at great cost to the communities. Since this kind of activity is non sustainable, local communities are often left destitute and further mired in poverty.
This is why the 2014 partnership agreement with Norway was welcome news to the public, but hopes that the nation would have benefited from the agreement were dashed.
The trust of the people was betrayed and their interests compromised by predator politicians from the highest levels of government as the agreement was flouted with impunity. The agreement called for the Government of Liberia to undertake the following:
- Place a moratorium on new logging contracts and review logging concessions that are illegal or not performing.
- Increase support for communities wishing to manage their forests, including practical training and research into new sustainable forest economies.
- Conserve 30 percent or more of Liberia’s forests as protected areas.
- Respect the rights of rural landowners, including those who own their land under customary law, and ensure that decisions are made only with their free, prior and informed consent.
At this stage, it remains unclear to what extent the provisions of the agreement have been respected or disregarded. However, judging from concerns expressed by the NGO Coalition, it appears the entire agreement stands in jeopardy. This is because it appears local communities are becoming increasingly unable to exercise their rights against the onslaught of predator politicians and shady investors.
Such does not portend well for the future stability and peace of this nation because, from experience here and elsewhere, when people find themselves losing faith in their government to protect their interests, they will readily gravitate to those they perceive to be in solidarity with their expressed concerns even if they are involved in anti government activities.
This newspaper is not unaware of the enormous measure of self-discipline required of a leader who inherits the trappings and power of an Imperial Presidency to keep his/her fingers out of the national “cookie jar” and refrain from meddling in natters that fall within the purview of junior officials.
Getting involved in matters that should be handled by the relevant competent authorities should not be the way to go. Those who advise the President should and ought to be telling him. But they appear either not inclined to do so for fear of falling out of the good favors of the President or his inner circle or they are doing so but he is not paying heed to their advice.
The hard truth is President Weah’s advisors are without doubt fully aware of the tide of rising public discontent and by dint of experience spanning decades, they know what the ultimate implications are of his arbitrary actions that tend to sidestep the law but; they feign indifference in order to preserve or protect whatever privileges they now enjoy. But they do so at President Weah’s detriment. Sadly, he appears unaware! President needs to wake up!