Sometimes early last year, the Government of Liberia (GOL) took cognizant of the wind of criticisms that was blowing from a New York based international anti-corruption watchdog, Global Witness and the local media concerning allegations of corruption in the issuance of the Private Users Permit (PUP) for logging companies to extract timber in the forestry sector for the export market.
It can be recalled that on the eve of Christmas day, December 24, 2012 the chairman of a 6-member investigation committee that was set up by government to investigate irregularities in the issuance of 63 PUPs to companies to do logging business in the country, Counselor James Dorbor Jallah presented a voluminous 200-page report of its findings to Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at her office.
At the time the President promised to share the report with stakeholders including the legal counsel to the President, the Ministry of Justice, Counselor Seward Cooper and others. The content of the report was the subject of the first Ministry of Information regular press briefing addressed by Acting Justice Minister Counselor Benedict Sannoh. Counselor Sannoh highlighted that the Public Procurement Act provided the legal framework for the management of the forestry sector, adding that few years ago government adopted a forestry management strategy for the management of the forestry sector.
He said in flagrant disregard of procedures governing the forestry sector the Forestry Development Authority whose Board is chaired by the Minister of Agriculture allotted several PUP to companies most of which lacked genuine land deeds, a failure to honor corporate responsibilities among others.
What is interesting about the report is that recommendations given by the committee as well as that presented by the President blamed the FDA and its board of directors for gross negligence and concern for the nation in the issuance of the PUP even when moratoriums were being imposed. The President therefore urged not only a suspension of the FDA boss the dissolution of the board and the justice ministry has been mandated to institute criminal investigations.
We are therefore urging government to ensure that the measures promised in harshly prosecuting government officials involved in malpractices in the issuance of the PUP be rigidly enforced without compromise and leniency.
We also agree with government's recommendations that there should be an extension in the evaluation of deeds to community lands and a probe into the fulfillment of corporate responsibilities and companies that defaulted should be seriously reprimanded to serve as a deterrent.