MONROVIA â Members of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committees of the Liberian House of Representatives and Senate have declared their support for a bill to reform Liberia’s national forest resources management law. The proposal seeks to amend Section 14.2 (E) of the National Forestry Reform Act of 2006 (amending Title 23), the Liberian Code of Laws relating to the allocation and distribution of land rental fees.
As it stands, the National Forest Reform Act and its implementing regulations stipulate that communities affected by logging operations receive 30% of land rental fees paid to the Liberian government by companies. who operate in their customary forest on the basis of an issued forest resource permit. by the FDA/Gol.
Stakeholders in the forestry sector believe that this law does not benefit affected communities and therefore want the payment of community shares of land rental fees to an account managed by the National Benefits Sharing Trust Board, and county shares of land rental fees. leasing of land from an escrow account established by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, the Central Bank of Liberia and the Ministry of Interior and payment of stumpage fees and forest products to support the cost of the network of protected areas to a bank account managed by the FDA.
The lawmakers’ statement of support was made recently during an ‘explanatory session’ on the bill to amend the law at the Boulevard Palace in Sinkor.
With support from the UK government through UK Aid, the rally was organized by Heritage Partners and Associates (HPA), a local law firm providing technical support to the process.
Remarks at the opening of the forum, Margibi County Senator and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Committee, Jim Tornolah, said the meeting was important because it would give lawmakers the opportunity to have a deeper understanding so that they can make informed interventions once the issue is debated on Capitol Hill. According to Senator Margibi, it was unthinkable that the government would owe the forestry community four million US dollars, adding that the money could have a serious impact on people’s lives, but advised that there be a breakdown of the l money owed by county.
Nimba County District No. 2 Representative Prince OS Tokpa also spoke at the event. Representative Tokpa said the proposal was welcome, saying that for more than four years communities have been unable to collect their land rental fees from the national government. “You can’t say the money is for the community and you can’t receive it.”
He said they, the lawmakers, are under pressure from their respective counties, as they are often accused of colluding with the government and logging license holders to âeatâ their money.
âWe are stressed. We’re going to push this to the legislature to see the amendment passed. Our people can say that we eat their money. They accused us of colluding with people by eating their moneyâ.
For his part, River Cess County Senator Wellington Geevon-Smith said his county had not received its share of land rental fees paid to the national government for the past six years, expressing support. to the amendment.
“For six years, River Cess has not received a penny from the county’s forest resources.” We really appreciate this initiative. This thing is strangling us. For us, whose country has been considered the least developed, it is the government that bullies us by keeping what is supposed to help usâ.
Commenting on the issue, Montserrado County District No. 1 Representative Lawrence Morris called on his colleagues and civil society to include the charcoal industry in the nation’s forest management law. According to him, the sector is a source of revenue, as such including them would generate more revenue for the government.
It is reported that for more than ten years, some of the companies operating under the existing Forest Resources License have been paying land rental fees to the Government of Liberia through the Consolidated Revenue Account, but the Government of Liberia delayed in paying most of the land rental fees to affected communities.
According to stakeholders, the Liberian government is indebted to forest communities for more than US$4,000,000.00 (four million US dollars), which is causing serious concern among all stakeholders, as well as the legislature.
It is said that almost all sectors of government that participated in a stakeholder dialogue on the delay in payment of communities’ shares of land rental fees recommended that the law and its implementing regulations that provide for direct payments in the consolidated revenue account are changed, if the late payment issue is to be successfully managed.
As a result, measures have been put in place by the legislature to commence partial payment of outstanding GoL debt to forest communities, but the measures may not address concerns about reasonable payment of community shares of fees land rental paid to GoL by companies in the future.
It is believed that the receipt and use of the 30% of the total rental fee for land allocated and owned by affected communities will be done efficiently and have more impact when paid by forest license holders directly to the communities through the established National Community Benefit Sharing Trust Board. and operate within existing regulations.
If amended, it will strengthen Liberia’s compliance with the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), the Government of Liberia is committed to implementing its own forest and logging laws; in addition, the VPA definition of legal timber requires that communities affected by logging operations benefit from revenues received from logging activities. The country can easily implement we change laws and regulations regarding payments of shares to forest affected communities and land rental fees. I would also ensure that communities receive their benefits directly and in a timely manner.