Monrovia - The question regarding the role of the Board Chairman of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in the issuance of the Private Use Permits has become a sticky issue in the ongoing trial of the former Managing Director of the FDA Moses Wogbeh and four others. The concern was raised by the defense counsels led by Cllr Albert Sims following the testimonies of two other state witnesses during who claimed to have investigated the defendants.
State Witness James Dorbor Jallah who claimed to be head of the Special Independent Investigative Board (SIIB) early during the week told the court that he headed the board that investigated the defendants and during the course of the investigation it was established that the defendants were found to allegedly be responsible for illegally issuing over 50 Private Use Permits (PUP) to several logging companies that led to the loss of over US$6m in revenue by government.
While also on the stand another state witness and a member of the SIIB Thomas Doe Nah of the Center for Transparency and Accountability (CENTAL) also confirmed investigating the defendants whom he claimed cooperated during the course of the entire investigation period.
According to the defense counsels Private Use Permits (PUP) before issuance by the FDA was approved by the Chairman of the Board of Directors and wondered why the SIIB recommended the dismissal of Wogbeh and called for his prosecution and only recommended one month suspension for the Board Chairman at the time, Mr. John Woods and Agriculture Minister Florence Chenoweth. “Why in your recommendation, you requested for Wogbeh’s dismissal and called for one month suspension for the Board Chair when the chairman is the one who approved the PUP” Sims questioned the two state witnesses.
However, both witnesses Jallah and Nah remained silent for minutes while their lawyer objected and claimed that the report was the best evidence an objection that was sustained by the Presiding Judge Peter Gbeneweleh. The case was adjourned by the Judge Gbeneweleh to continue on Thursday with the cross-examination of the state third witness in person of Thomas Doe Nah.
Also testifying on behalf of the state recently on the internal working of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) its current Managing Director Harrison Karnwea told the court that before the Private Use permits is issued by the FDA it had to be with the agreement of the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Defendant Wogbeh and the four are accused from the Special Independent Investigative Board Report of allegedly issuing over 50 Private Use Permits to several logging companies illegally the claim that they have denied.
The SIIB headed by Jallah and other members of the civil society organizations was set up by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in December 2012 to probe complaint of illegal issuance of Private Use Permits (PUP) which violated both the Forestry and Community Rights Laws of the country.