Africa-Press – Liberia. A Liberia Forest Media Watch (LFMW) investigation has revealed that Horizon Logging Company Limited exported a whopping 10,355 cubic meters of logs via the Greenville Port between August and November 2022, despite not being eligible to do so as a result of being indebted to local communities.
The total value of the shipments, as per export records obtained by LFMW, show that the logs are worth more than US$2.7 million.
Detailed examination of the volume and species listed on each export permit, when set against ITTO international FoB prices, indicates that some 6,000 cubic meters, or more than half the total volume exported, was just one species, ekki, which is on the IUCN’s Red List of vulnerable species. All of Horizon’s shipments went to Bangladesh.
The company made these huge shipments despite failing to live up to its commitment to local community.
On 4th May 2021, Horizon Logging Company Limited signed a Commercial Use Contract (CUC) with residents of Konobo Community Forest, Grand Gedeh County, to harvest logs. The agreement covers 40,000 hectares of forest land, affecting about 22 adjacent towns and villages with customary entitlement to the forest land, according to the CUC. Although the CUC states 40,000 hectares, the official record from the FDA put the number of hectares to 49,625. The Konobo Community Forest is in electoral District #2, represented at the national legislature by Dr. George E. Boley.
Horizon has, as per the contract it signed with the community, failed to build 22 latrines, a modern vocational training center, 22 hand pumps, a modern healthcare center, build roads, pay a percentage of its profits, the cost of forest guards, land rental and cubic meters fees, and provide educational assistance (scholarship) to community members. The company has operated for three years in the area.
The company however made an undisclosed amount for land rental for year one (2021) and paid US$5,000 for resource capacity building. The rest of the agreement has not been implemented as per the timeline agreed in the CUC and the company has exported the first logs it harvested.
In addition to the issues with the community, Horizon’s exports were done in disregard to the CUC, Community Rights Law (CRL) and the National Forestry Reforms Law of Liberia (NFRL. The CRL does not permit the undue involvement of influential government officials into community forest matters. In the case of the Konobo Community Forest, the Statutory District Superintendent and Development Superintendent, Roland B. Kai and Moses Cherue, are signatories to the CUC. Yet the CUC, backed by the CRL, requires that only the five members of the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) and the Chairperson of the Executive Committee are to sign the CUC.
Also Chapter 14 Section 14.2 of the NFRL says company or business entity/individual shall pay land rental fees, including administrative fees. Furthermore, the CUC states the company agreed to pay US$2,400 per quarter to cover the cost of community forest guards, yet Horizon Logging Company failed to pay the community the full amount of land rental or forest guards fees due at the time it exported the first logs.
Community members are also concerned about the company’s failure to pay cubic meter fees, due on a quarterly basis, or to comply with some other aspects of the CUC in the wake of the export of 10,355 cubic meters of logs, worth over US$2.7 million. Some residents of Boundary Town, which hosts Horizon Logging Company, say they are not happy about the operations of the company. LFMW has not seen any evidence that the company has provided monthly evidence of the volume of timber harvested, which the community requires to be assured that it receives the correct cubic meter fees.
A LFMW assessment of the situation of noncompliance confirmed that the company did not do most of the things it said it would do before exporting any logs. Residents, including the company’s workers, are said to be doing open defecation due to lack of latrines. The company does not also have a permanent camp or headquarters to operate from. The company also owed its employees four months’ salary arrears.
The company failed to build the 10 kilometers road it said it would use to connect Ziah town to Sayuoh town by August 31, 2022. Horizon did not also build the Ziah town to Druwar town road as promised in the CUC. At the same time, the company failed to build all major bridges linking Ziah town to Druwar town with concrete as promised. A further review of the terms and condition of the logging contract found that Horizon has not commenced the construction of the 22 bedroom healthcare center it promised to start by January 2023. Up to the time of our investigation, we found no evidence that Horizon had begun the construction of the 22 hand pumps and 22 latrines it promised to build, starting in January 2022.
Speaking on the 27th April 2023 edition of Forest Hour, the Chief Officer of the CFMB, Alex Czar Quaye Sr, denied reports of noncompliance by Horizon Logging Company. He said the company has constructed one latrine and one hand pump in Boundary Town. He further noted that the company paid US$27,000 in land rental fees for the first year of its operation. “Let me name all the benefits: land rental fees, resource capacity building which is 5,000USD for the time spent. For 2021, we also received 5,000 and we have not received the second payment yet because according to the company, they are facing some problems,” said Alex. However, for a forest of 49,625ha, the annual land rental due community should be US$34,117, not US$27,000. So it appears that Horizon still owed the community a balance of US$7,117 in land rental for the first year as well as other payments and construction.
Alex attributed delays in compliance to long standing legal tussles between aggrieved community members and his leadership and by extension the company. Additionally, Alex said the company is facing challenges in exporting round logs on the excuse that buyers in Europe prefer buying logs in containers than round logs, which the company has been exporting. The export permits obtained by LFMW, however, indicate the timber is destined for Bangladesh, not Europe.
Alex told the public via Forest Hour that the nearby Port, Greenville, is not currently exporting logs in containers, noting that the Port of Buchanan is the only available option to the company. But transporting logs from Grand Gedeh to the Port of Buchanan is nearly impossible due to the bad road network. According to him, the company is contemplating transporting the logs via the Liberian border in Maryland County to neighboring Ivory Coast, where, according to him, export to Europe is much easier.
Photo: Some Logs already loaded on the ship (Photo by Ezekiel Geeplay)
In an interview with LFMW, Paramount Chief Joseph Tarlue criticized Horizon for failing to deliver on promises made, adding, “Residents of Boundary Town are suffering from the wrong decision they made a year ago”. He accused the company of only being interested in extracting logs from their forest without benefits to the community. “Since the company came, we all were happy thinking things were going to improve through their investment, but see how our town looks like today, the state of our town is moving from bad to worse”, Paramount Chief Joseph Tarlue, lamented during a mass citizens meeting held in Barwu Town on 12th March 2023.
At the meeting attended by LFMW’s Grand Gedeh Reporter, the majority of the delegates reaffirmed their stance against the harvesting and shipment of their natural resources without tangible benefits to the community. Some delegates craved for the division of the community forest into two to accommodate other companies amidst disagreement among community members. The CFMB is also accused of not making public the CUC for nearly six months after it was signed by all parties.
The Human Resource Manager of Horizon Logging Company, King Barway, refuted allegations of noncompliance, noting that the company paid land rental and cubic meter fees for 2021/2022 in full, although he provided no evidence of this to LFMW or the public. Barway disclosed that the company has built latrines and hand pumps, and paid scholarship fees. He concurred with the CFMB Chief Officer about the lack of capacity to ship logs in containers at the Greenville, Harper and Buchanan Ports, stating that only the Freeport of Monrovia allows shipment of logs in containers. The HR Manager confirmed that his company had owed staff four months’ salary arrears but one month has now been paid. Forest illegalities remain a major challenge in Liberia despite some progressive reforms. A 2019 World Bank concession review said none of the four community forest contracts (nor the five Forest Management Concessions (FMCs) that it studied were legally compliant. In 2022, the Government of Liberia reported to the EU that logging companies operating in community forests were in arrears by over US$1.2 million.
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