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|‘Come Clean’: Global Witness Presses Liberia on Timber as Wesseh Offload Shares||| Print ||
|Written by Wade C.L. Williams, email@example.com|
|Monday, 24 December 2012 05:00|
Monrovia - Moments following the denial by Medina Wesseh, former Director General of the Cabinet that she no longer has shares attributed to her in a recently-released United Nations Panel of Experts report, Jonathan Gant, a policy advisor with Global Witness has declared that it is important for the Liberian government to be sincere in demonstrating which government official, or officials, has ownership in logging companies that are illegally shipping timber, despite President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s order to halt timber export.
Gant, in a VOA Daybreak Africa interview last Friday, said the companies are not operating by themselves and the Liberian government itself may be ignoring Sirleaf’s order.
“Certainly, in order to export, the companies need to sign certain papers. They need to have an export permit, which is issued by the Liberian government’s Forestry Development Authority, and the Forestry Development has signed export permits, despite the president’s moratorium stating that there should be no exports. And, it is reported that the Ministry of Justice has also stated that exports are allowed despite the president’s order,” he said.
Last week, FrontPageAfrica reported that the UN Panel of Experts found that Medina Wesseh, formerly director of Sirleaf’s cabinet and also chair of the president’s re-election campaign in 2011, owned shares in Forest Ventures, one of the companies allegedly involved in illegal logging.
Wesseh ‘considering course of action
According to the UN report, Wesseh owns 33.33 percent in Forest Venture Incorporation and another 24% shares in Consolidated Marines Transport. Wesseh told Truth FM that she no longer had the shares in question but only addressed her interests in Consolidated Marines Transport in her statement offering clarity.
‘No Way in Hell’: FPA Publisher Dismisses Retraction call
Appearing on the Truth Breakfast show Friday, FrontPageAfrica publisher Rodney Sieh defended the publication and dismissed Wesseh’s call for a retraction, declaring that under no condition would he apologize unless an international probe is conducted and the process under which Ms. Wesseh off-loaded her shares is audited and investigated by a credible international firm. “No way in Hell”, the editor insisted.
Wesseh countered that the report states that indeed it remains unclear as to the legality or illegality of the actions that are being considered.
“What it points out to is that the government, following the FDA act of 2006, was expected to put in place mechanisms that would strengthen the issuance of permits to allow local communities to benefit from the forest and gain access to much needed resources for development."
"What the report has highlighted is that these mechanisms have not been in place and as such there has been abuse of and some lapses in the system and so I think if we look at the preliminary report of the GAC which again have been quoted by the papers (I am not in the position to verify whether that’s in fact the final position of the GAC), they have called for reprimand.”
Ms. Wesseh said she would have to seek legal advice on the next course of action. I started off my work as a journalist; I went to school and studied Mass Communications; Mass Communications involves journalism, public relations, marketing and advertizing; broadcast and print journalism."
"I think that journalism has limits; it has bounds; truth is an absolute defense; when you can prove that; other than that you still can be held responsible for libel, sedition, defamation."
"I just mentioned to you that besides a headline that has no connection to a story, Is it a crime to own shares as a Liberian in a company; 24% in consolidated Marines that’s the company that I own shares in and that’s what I said that we have a ship that is run aground off the coast of Harper and Sinoe that we are looking for the insurance to pay some money. How that is related to the forestry sector I do not know.”
Not pointing finger
Last Friday, Gant said, while Global Witness was not pointing the finger at any one official, the UN Panel of Experts report raises a fundamental question: who really owns these companies and why does the government seem bent on exporting timber in violation of Sirleaf’s order.
It’s not evidence that we were able to dig up ourselves, and it shows that for all the transparency that the Liberian government is trying to demonstrate to the world, there are some major flaws in who it is that owns the companies operating in Liberia,” Gant said.
"At the same time, however, one shouldn’t let the companies off the hook, even when they are not linked to the Liberian government,” Gant said.
Global Witness said Private Use Permits currently cover 40 percent of Liberia’s rainforests, and that the largest holder of these permits is Atlantic Resources.
Gant’s comments came just hours after GW released a damning report noting that the logging company Atlantic Resources has shipped millions of dollars worth of illegal timber from Liberia in breach of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s August order to halt timber exports.
The GW report described the shipment as the most significant illegal log exports since the timber-fuelled civil wars of the Charles Taylor era, and threaten to undermine the progress the President has made in bringing order to the forest sector.
Two ships have recently left Liberia with cargoes that include logs cut under secretive contracts called Private Use Permits, the use of which has exploded in recent years to cover a quarter of the country’s total landmass.
In August 2012 President Johnson Sirleaf ordered a halt to logging and exports under nearly all Private Use Permits pending an investigation. The Liberian Supreme Court initially stayed the President’s order until it could review a complaint filed by the logging industry, but in October 2012 the Court upheld the ban on logging and exports.
However, Global Witness has found that over the past seven weeks, timber has left Liberia in violation of this order.
The timber was cut by Atlantic Resources, a company that is linked to notorious Malaysian logging giant Samling and owes the Liberian government millions in unpaid taxes.
“In a country where only a few years ago timber exports helped financed a brutal war, these shipments of illegal logs from Liberia represent a deeply troubling breakdown in the rule of law,” said Jonathan Gant of Global Witness.
“Years of work by the Government and international donors to ensure the Liberian people get sustainable benefits from their forests is being undermined.”
Last week, the United Nations Panel of Experts has exhibited evidence of fraud in the issuance of Private use permit by the Forestry Development Authority in Liberia.
The Panel’s analysis of the private use permit contracts, underlying deeds, memorandums of understanding and social agreements obtained during the course of the investigation, unearthed four central issues that characterize problems in the overall process of issuing PUPs.
These it said include the misapplication of the Community Rights Law; forged and non-existent land deeds; company officials’ signing on behalf of communities; and procedural errors.
The Panel found that the Minister of Agriculture and other officials of the government have been signing Private Use Permits on behalf of communities. Zleh Town obtained a private use permit signed by Chenoweth FDA’s suspended Managing Director Moses Wongbeh, and James G. Karto signing for Gbao Administrative District on June 3, 2011.“
In the “Agreement for the Management and Utilization of Forest”, attached as an addendum to the contract, James G. Karto is listed as “Member, Board of Directors, FRANKBROOK (LIBERIA) INC”, the company contracted to log the area pertaining to the private use permit,” states the Panel.
In an apparent conflict of interest, Karto informed the Panel that he is currently Vice-President for Operations of Frank Brook, Liberia and also works for the Ministry of Agriculture as Chief Inspector at Roberts International Airport.
“These community leaders told the Panel that James G. Karto worked for Frank Brook Logging Company and did not represent the people of Gbao, nor did he have their permission to sign on behalf of the community,” states the Panel.
The Panel’s report released to the UN Security Council on December 4, 2012 is case studies on irregularities, allegations of forgery and errors of process: private use permit issued to several communities around the country.
These communities include the Bolloh, Dorbor and Fenetoe people, Grand Kru county; Dugbeh River district, Sinoe county; Tartweh-Dropoh district, Sinoe county and Cavalla district, Grand Gedeh county.
The Panel of Experts reports and the GW findings come on the heels of a General Auditing Commission (GAC) report, as a result of an audit of the FDA’s issuance of PUPs for the period January 2006 to April 2012 many are now looking to see whether the government will take any concrete measures as it relates to reprimanding officials implicated.
The GAC’s report to the Legislature and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recommends the dismissal of the managing Director of the FDA, Wogbeh and the to Reprimand the Minister of Agriculture Chenoweth who happens to be Chairman of the Board of Directors of the FDA.
|Last Updated on Monday, 24 December 2012 08:41|