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Stopping Illegal Logging in Sinoe County

SDI exposes and prevents Forest Ventures from carrying out illegal logging inside GVL's concession
Published : August 23, 2022 | Updated: July 27, 2022

In early 2015, SDI staff traveled to southeastern Liberia to recruit and train community members in the use of its new smart-phone application, TIMBY (This Is My Back Yard), developed to track and report on environmental and social issues in the natural resource sector. In Tarjuwon District, a forested area where Golden Veroleum Liberia holds an MOU with local communities for its next phase of plantation expansions, the team heard reports that a logging company called Forest Ventures was preparing to harvest timber in the area. Given the lack of regulations covering commercial logging inside an agricultural concession, this raised concerns.

Back in Monrovia, SDI wrote to the Forestry Development Authority, asking for information about Forest Ventures’ operations. The head of the FDA, Harrison Karnwea, responded immediately – denying the agency had issued any permit for logging in the area.

But through a further investigation, SDI was able to obtain a letter sent from acting Managing Director Kederick Johnson, dated March 13, 2015, to Paul Chea, Tarjuwon’s district Superintendent. The letter contradicted the FDA’s claim that no such approval had been granted, essentially arranging an extralegal agreement for logging in Tarjuwon – requiring only that Golden Veroleum approved of the operation before the operation commenced. The letter relied on a dubious interpretation of the clause in GVL’s concession agreement that allows the company to harvest timber for its own use. For its part, GVL expressed to SDI that it was not aware of the arrangement.

Primary Source
FDA Official Grants Permission for Commercial Logging in Tarjuowon
June 10, 2022

Kederick F. Johnson, the Managing Director of the FDA, writes to Hon. Paul J. Chea, the Superintendent of the Tarjuowon District, in Sinoe County. 

This letter acknowledges the receipt of a permit request from Chea, dated Feb 13th, 2015. Chea requested hiring a logging company to extract marketable tree species before GVL clears the area. Johnson’s response (attached) is dated March 13th, 2015. 

The attached letter states that the FDA cancels Chea’s application for CFMA, and requests a copy of the agreement between the community and GVL. 

Johnson proceeds to list requirements if Chea hires a logging company: 

1. The company must be pre-qualified.

2. The company must not harvest timber outside of the concession area.

3. The company must liaise with SGS/LIBER FOR to enter all timber into the chain of custody system.

4. Export fees on this timber must be paid to the Liberian Government. 

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Primary Source

FDA Official Grants Permission for Commercial Logging in Tarjuowon

June 10, 2022

Kederick F. Johnson, the Managing Director of the FDA, writes to Hon. Paul J. Chea, the Superintendent of the Tarjuowon District, in Sinoe County. 

This letter acknowledges the receipt of a permit request from Chea, dated Feb 13th, 2015. Chea requested hiring a logging company to extract marketable tree species before GVL clears the area. Johnson’s response (attached) is dated March 13th, 2015. 

The attached letter states that the FDA cancels Chea’s application for CFMA, and requests a copy of the agreement between the community and GVL. 

Johnson proceeds to list requirements if Chea hires a logging company: 

1. The company must be pre-qualified.

2. The company must not harvest timber outside of the concession area.

3. The company must liaise with SGS/LIBER FOR to enter all timber into the chain of custody system.

4. Export fees on this timber must be paid to the Liberian Government. 

If the operation were to have gone forward, it would have essentially formalized logging to take place inside GVL's concession without any regulations on how to responsibly manage it. There are no laws that permit the granting of overlapping concessions in the same area. Regardless of the logic of Tarjuwon's administration or the FDA, the letter represented a concerning degradation of the rule of law in Liberian forestry.

If GVL were to have signed off on the arrangement, it could potentially have enabled the company to skirt its internal rules on refraining from cultivating oil palm in areas with high-value forests. Troublingly, it would also have taken place without the formal bidding procedure that is mandated by law for the allocation of forest concessions in Liberia.

Confronted with the letter from his deputy approving Forest Ventures’ operation, Harrison Karnwea wrote again to Chea, this time revoking the earlier letter.

Primary Source
FDA Revokes Permit for Logging in Tarjuwon District
March 22, 2022

Harrison Karnwea, Managing Director of the FDA, writes to Superintendent of Tarjuowon District, Paul Chea on May 20th, 2015. Karnwea revokes the letter written to Chea by the former Managing Director, Kederick Johnson on March 13th, 2015.   

Karnwea explains in the attached letter, that the FDA revokes the community forest permit because it is not within their policy to allow a prequalified logging company to extract marketable resources in a concession. Karnwea states that GVL should have requested the FDA’s permission on behalf of the community to extract marketable timber. In turn, this request would have been forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). 

Karnwea advises Chea to apply for authorized community forest license as described by the Community Rights Law of 2009. 

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FDA Revokes Permit for Logging in Tarjuwon District

March 22, 2022

Harrison Karnwea, Managing Director of the FDA, writes to Superintendent of Tarjuowon District, Paul Chea on May 20th, 2015. Karnwea revokes the letter written to Chea by the former Managing Director, Kederick Johnson on March 13th, 2015.   

Karnwea explains in the attached letter, that the FDA revokes the community forest permit because it is not within their policy to allow a prequalified logging company to extract marketable resources in a concession. Karnwea states that GVL should have requested the FDA’s permission on behalf of the community to extract marketable timber. In turn, this request would have been forwarded to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). 

Karnwea advises Chea to apply for authorized community forest license as described by the Community Rights Law of 2009. 

In what appeared to be an effort to strengthen its relationship with authorities in Tarjuwon, GVL then wrote to the FDA, requesting a permit for communities in the area to enter into a logging agreement with a third-party. In the letter, GVL asserts their right to enter into commercial logging contracts within their concession as per their concession agreement. Their interpretation contradicts the letter of the agreement, which allows logging when the timber is to be used for the company’s local operations, not commercial logging for export.

Primary Source
Letter from GVL to FDA on Tarjuwon Logging Operations
December 15, 2022

Letter from Golden Veroleum to the Forestry Development Authority, requesting a permit on behalf of the Tarjuwon community to allow commercial logging for export, dated October 30, 2015.

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Letter from GVL to FDA on Tarjuwon Logging Operations

December 15, 2022

Letter from Golden Veroleum to the Forestry Development Authority, requesting a permit on behalf of the Tarjuwon community to allow commercial logging for export, dated October 30, 2015.

SDI wrote to the FDA, urgently asking for the FDA’s clarification on whether it would allow commercial logging to take place inside GVL’s concession without a regulatory framework in place. Aside from accelerating deforestation, logging of that nature could enable GVL from escaping scrutiny over the destruction of forests by asserting that it was the community that bears responsibility for the destruction rather than their operations.

Primary Source
SDI Request to FDA on GVL Forest Conversion
December 15, 2022

Request from Silas Siakor of SDI to Harrison Karnwea, managing director of the FDA, on the status of the Tarjuwon community’s requests to remove timber for export from inside Golden Veroleum’s concession area.

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SDI Request to FDA on GVL Forest Conversion

December 15, 2022

Request from Silas Siakor of SDI to Harrison Karnwea, managing director of the FDA, on the status of the Tarjuwon community’s requests to remove timber for export from inside Golden Veroleum’s concession area.

GVL has asserted that the forest in question does not qualify for protection, and hence will be destroyed anyway, but the assertion of a right to export timber for profit from inside their concession nonetheless carries a high potential for abuse. Communities would be likely to face additional pressure to allow the forests they use to survive to be destroyed, and the burden of accountability for that destruction would shift from GVL to local officials and communities. In addition, permitting logging to take place outside of formal bidding and validation processes is a slippery slope that is almost certain to lead to abuse.

After months of deliberation, the FDA denied GVL’s application on March 5, 2016.

Primary Source
FDA Managing Director Letter to GVL
March 4, 2022

Harrison Karnwea writes to Andrew Kluth with the FDA’s response to GVL’s request to extract marketable tree species from certain areas of their oil palm concession in Tarjuwon.

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Primary Source

FDA Managing Director Letter to GVL

March 4, 2022

Harrison Karnwea writes to Andrew Kluth with the FDA’s response to GVL’s request to extract marketable tree species from certain areas of their oil palm concession in Tarjuwon.

This represents a victory for the rule of law in forestry activities in Liberia, and is an example of the need for careful and attentive monitoring of government and investor behavior by Liberian civil society organizations. Without SDI’s advocacy and research, it is likely that the FDA’s original letter to Tarjuwon’s local government granting its blessing for commercial logging in the area would have been uncontested, and extralegal logging would have thus taken place in the district.