- Published on Thursday, 27 December 2012 07:01
- Written by The News
For several weeks now Atlantic Resources has been at the center of a controversy over the alleged shipment of logs out of the country in clear violation of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's ban on logging exportation.
In August, President Johnson Sirleaf ordered a halt to logging exports pending an investigation.
The international watchdog, Global Witness recently alleged that 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.
GW said these are the most significant illegal log exports since the timber-fuelled civil wars of the Charles Taylor era.
The London-based group warned that such a practice undermined the progress the President has made in bringing order to the forest sector.
However, since the name Atlantic Resources emerged, there have been allegation that the company is a subsidiary of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), the notorious logging company that operated during the regime of President Taylor. At the time, OTC was considered by Mr. Taylor as his “Pepper bush”.
Like OTC, Atlantic Resources is a Malaysian company which has Liberian shareholders. However, information about the group being the subsidiary of the OTC is becoming increasingly credible. Certain individuals in officialdom confided in this paper that Atlantic Resources is a subsidiary of OTC.
When Mrs. Maldina Wesseh was contacted by phone for comment, her number was said to be switched off. Last week, she lambasted the editor of FrontPage Africa who ran a story linking her to the Global Witness report. She also requested the editor to retract the information, but he refused.
Recently, Global Witness alleged that two ships 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.
The 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. The court is expected to rule on the matter today.
However, Global Witness said it found that over the past seven weeks, timber has left Liberia in violation of this order. The timber, according to the company, 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.”
The Liberian government is also effectively ignoring the President's order. The Ministry of Justice has reportedly decided that companies can export Private Use Permits logs cut before the Supreme Court's October decision, even though the President's order bans these exports. The head of the government's Forestry Development Authority told Global Witness that he cannot prevent exports as a result of the Ministry of Justice's position.
Private Use Permits were designed to allow private landowners to cut trees on their property and do not contain the more stringent social and environmental protections required for certain other large logging permits in Liberia. As a result, they can be used to avoid requirements for sustainability and fair compensation to the government and local communities. The permits now cover 40 percent of Liberia's rainforests, and by far the largest holder of these permits is Atlantic Resources.
GW: “Atlantic Resources appears to be deliberately ignoring the President's orders and exploiting weaknesses in the Liberian government,” said Gant. “It stands to earn a fortune by selling Private Use Permit timber on the international market, but the Liberian people will see little benefit and the forests are likely to be wiped out. The President needs to reassert control immediately.”
According to the London-based group, Atlantic Resources did not respond to its' request for comment.