MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ A group advocating for the rights of communities affected by logging companies wants the legislature to ensure that the government pays communities their legal fair share of land rental fees collected from logging companies.
The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee presented a petition to the legislature on September 6 drawing attention to what it says is a failure of the government to pay the required 30 percent of land rental fees collected to affected communities.
The group said since the enactment of the National Forest Reform Law of 2006, the government has only paid US$2 million between 2015 and 2017. That amount paid has been useful to communities, as it was used to implement over 40 community projects, including the construction of schools, clinics, vocational training centers, guest houses, community centers, and the rehabilitation of roads.
The group wants the government to begin paying arrears now. As the national budget is currently undergoing scrutiny by a joint committee, the advocates believe this is the best time to ensure that their voices are heard.
â€œSince the inception of this administration, not a single cent or dollar has been given to our communities through the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board for the benefit of affected communities,â€ said Vincent Doe, the chair of the group.
He cautioned that the forestry sector, which was mismanaged during the Liberian civil war, could again be used to fuelÂ conflicts, even after the sector has undergone several reforms aimed at improving management.
Doe noted that new laws aimed at conservingÂ and sustainably managing forests were among the key reforms to the sector, which can help alleviate poverty.
Doe noted thatÂ since the enactment of the law, communities have complained over the years that they have not benefitted, either due to forest concessions reneging to live up to their social corporate responsibilities or because the government has refused to disburse revenues collected for affected communities from logging companies.
The chairman said records received from the Forestry Development Authority shows that the government owes the communities a little over US$3 million. He said the group had engaged both the FDA and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, but now there has been no progress.
â€œIt is regrettable to also inform you, honorable members of this legislature, that the promise to meet with the deputy [finance] minister for fiscal affairs has not been realized despite several efforts to get them to comply through text messages and calls,â€ Doe said.
â€œHolding everything constant, we, alongside the leadership of the National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board and the NGO Coalition of Liberia, wrote a letter to the minister of finance and development planning requesting for a meeting with him to discuss these issues. Like previous attempts made, there has been no response and all efforts applied to meet the authority of the ministry have yielded to no positive result due to either no answer to our calls or we asked to wait.â€
The co-chairman on the Houseâ€™s Committee on Internal Affairs, Rep. Nathaniel Barway of Grand Kruâ€™s first district, thanked the group for drawing the attention of the legislature to their plights. He promised to present their petitionÂ to the chairman of the Committee on Claims and Petitions.
â€œOur people have the right over their community forests,â€ Barway said. â€œThey are the aboriginals of all soils and control the forests. Therefore, they were supposed to benefit 30 percent. And if they donâ€™t receive that amount, it is a concern to all of us. Itâ€™s time to get the House of Representatives to act.â€
The National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee has a membershipÂ containing the 23 Community Forestry Development Committees within seven Forest Management Contract Areas in nine counties. Member counties include River Cess, Grand Kru, Lofa, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, Nimba, Gbarpolu, and Sinoe. The national union also represents committees within nine timber sale contract areas in three counties, including Grand Bassa, Grand Cape Mount, and Gbarpolu.
Featured photo by Ida Reeves