Forest Communities under the banner, National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee (NUCFDC) on Wednesday November 24, 2021 staged a protest in demand of full accounts of how much logging companies have paid, how much they owed and how much due communities in land rental fees. The peaceful protest took place before the Military of Finance and Development Planning.
National Facilitator, Andrew Zelemen says NUCFDC with its 23 CFDC are determined to sustain the protest until government provides official records detailing payment and disbursement plans for land rental fees collected since 2007-2021, noting, the only data available is the one captured in the independent consultant (Forest Trends) report published in July 2020. https://www.forest-trends.org/publications/community-benefits-sharing-in-the-forestry-sector-liberias-legislative-framework-track-record-on-sharing-land-rental-fees-from-commercial-forestry-2007-2019/. In its analysis, Forest Trends said, of predictable revenue in excess of $277 million over 20 years, $83 million would have gone to communities. The report accused government of failing to collect at least half of the base land rental fees due from logging companies. While $27.7 million in area-based fees has reportedly been collected by the LRA by mid-2019 from logging companies, the arrears may be more than $37.6 million, the report further disclosed.
“If all land rental fees had been collected ($65.6 million), by law, 30% (or more than $19.6 million) should have gone to communities. But even of the $27.7 million reportedly collected, by law, $8.3 million (30%) should have been transferred to the NBST to be disbursed to communities. However, only $2.6 million has been transferred to date; the government is more than $5.5 million in arrears to the NBST, and thus, communities. After more than a decade of logging, and if the full $65.6 million in area fees had been collected, communities could have realistically expected to receive at least a total of almost $20 million – or seven times more than they have received”, said Forest Trends report.
But representatives of forest communities have said that the Forest Trends report is outdated, and want updated records from the Government of Liberia detailing the full amount being collected and paid and how much is in arrears. Mr. Zelemen says with such available records, forest communities will have full knowledge of what is owed them, thus put them in a better position to demand their shares of land rental fees.
The Director of Reconciliation in the office of the Comptroller General of the Republic of Liberia, Prince Lighe told community representatives that the government is working out modality to address communities’ concerns and ensure payment of their arrears. “We will work on all efforts in making sure that your plights are addressed”, Mr. Lighe said. He promised to meet with protesters on Friday, November 26, 2021. Meanwhile, NUCFDC’s Head of Secretariat, Andrew Zelemen has said that communities will not rest until the government can address their concerns.
In May, 2021, forest communities began a nationwide peaceful protest following 2 years of fruitless negotiations in demand of over US$2M arrears due them from various concession agreements. The nationwide protest started in Zozor, Lofa County, and was later extended to Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh and Maryland Counties. https://gnnliberia.com/2021/05/22/forest-communities-begin-nationwide-protest-following-2-years-of-fruitless-negotiations-for-their-benefits/.
In August 2021, communities staged another sit-in action in demand of their arrears. https://thedaylight.org/2021/08/02/logging-communities-to-protest-over-us5-5m-government-owes-them/. In apparent reaction to the sit-in action, the Government of Liberia paid US$200,000 as part payment of the community’s share of US$27.7 million collected from logging concessions over the years. The payment represents US$5.5 million owed communities in land rental fees since 2015/2016 fiscal year. “The check was issued on Monday, October 18, 2021.
While communities don’t get the funds they are owed, Liberian Legislators have received over USD 3 million for legislative support projects, while the constituents they represent continue to live in poverty even though they are the custodians of the forests. https://newspublictrust.com/local-communities-being-starved-of-forest-royalties-as-their-lawmakers-get-us30k-each/.