- Published on Friday, 28 December 2012 07:08
- Written by The News
…Despite Ellen's Ban
Global Witness has uncovered what appears to be an illegal activity in the Private Use Permits (PUP) supported by forged documents which suggests that forest activities were in the hands of dishonest individuals.
In a recent report, Global Witness cited that the recent exportation of logs is the most significant illegal log exports since the timber-fuelled civil wars of the Charles Taylor era.
Global Witness said the recent export undermined the progress President Sirleaf has made in bringing order to the forest sector.
The group narrated that two ships recently left Liberia with cargoes that included 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 first ship, identified as Sezai Selah, left the port of Greenville on 3 November 2012 carrying 17,800m³ of timber, some of which was cut under a Private Use Permit held by Atlantic Resources. It arrived into Mundra in Gujarat, India, on 10 December.
The Ship, the Shark Bay, left Greenville port either on 21 or 22 November 2012 carrying timber, including timber cut under two Private Use Permits held by Atlantic Resources. The organization said it did not have information on the destination of this transshipment, but is certain that the logs left Greenville.
The global watchdog said two local groups, Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute have shown that many Private Use Permits are illegal and at least some appear to be based on forged documents.
The latest development followed the issuance of a moratorium placed on logging in August by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf suspending all logging activities until the investigation of all Private Use Permits (PUP) is conducted and findings released.
However, despite effort by President Sirleaf to regulate the forest sector, it seems certain individuals and groups are engaged in activities that clearly suggest as flouting the laws of the president.
In September 2012, Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development produced the brief report, outlining in detail the findings of the three organizations' investigations...
In December 2012, the United Nations Panel of Experts on Liberia also produced a report documenting Private Use Permit fraud and mismanagement.
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, a final decision by the court is expected by December 28.
In the report issued last week, Global Witness said over the past seven weeks, timber has left Liberia in violation of President Sirleaf's 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.”
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.
“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.”
Global Witness said Atlantic Resources did not respond to a request for comment.
The first ship carrying illicit timber arrived at Mundra in northwest India on 10 December. India has become a major destination for tropical timber from countries with track records of illegal logging such as Malaysia, Burma and Guyana, and is now second only to China in its imports of tropical logs.
“Once they reach India, the illegal logs are likely to be processed and sold on the Indian market, but if processed products were re-exported restrictions in other countries may apply. The U.S., E.U. and Australia have passed laws forbidding the import of illegal timber or products made from illegal timber. The U.S. law, known as the Lacey Act, has been in place since 2008, while the EU's law will take effect in March of next year and Australia's in 2014,” the report indicated.