Affected Forest Communities Want 30% Shares of Land Rental Fees

-Petitioned House Of Rep.

Mark N. Mengonfia –

Affected forest Communities are craving their lawmakers to ensure that they benefit from their 30% share of the land rental fees paid by logging companies to the Government of Liberia.

In their petition statement which was read by Andrew Y.Y. Zelemen, Head of Secretariat of the National Union of Community Forestry Development Committee said from fiscal years 2016/2017, 2018/2019 and 2019/2020, which this current government took over, FDA calculation shows that a total of three million three hundred fifty-three thousand five hundred seventeen United States Dollars twenty-five cent ($3,353,517.25) is been collected.

“Out of this amount, the affected communities 30% is equal to one million six thousand fifty-five Unites States dollars ($1,006,055.18), the fifteen counties the same amount and the national government one million three hundred forty-one thousand four hundred six United States Dollars $1,341,406.90,” Zelemen read on as Chairperson of Claims and Petitions looks on.

According to the petitioners, they see their action to petition their lawmakers as timely and appropriate on grounds that budget hearing is that will lead to the approval of the 2020-2021 National Budget ongoing.

On this note, he said “Honorable members of the House of Legislature, we are calling on you to please intervene in ensuring that at least  the one million six thousand fifty-five Unites States dollars ($1,006,055.18) is placed in the 2020/2021 National Budget for Affected Communities. This amount is reported as 30% shares land rental fees of forest revenues generated by the Government of Liberia from logging companies on behalf of affected communities.”

Giving a background, the group said the Government of Liberia through the FDA in collaboration with the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is mandated to collect land rental fees from the Logging companies and transfer 30% of all land rental fees to the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board for the benefit of the communities affected by logging concessions.

They went on to say that logging concessions were allocated through competitive bidding, but when the government eliminated the bid premium in 2013, the result was foregone revenue in excess of US$277 million over 20 years (Sustainable Development Institute 2014 Briefing Paper 5) – $83 million of which would have gone to communities. The government apparently has failed to collect at least half of the area-based land rental fees due from logging companies.

“While US$27.7 million in area-based fees has reportedly been collected by the LRA by mid-2019 from logging companies, the arrears may be more than $37.6 million. If all land rental fees had been collected ($65.6 million), by law, 30% (or more than $19.6 million) should have gone to communities. But even of the $27.7 million reportedly collected, by law, $8.3 million (30%) should have been transferred to the NBST to be disbursed to communities. However, only $2.6 million has been transferred to date; the government is more than $5.5 million in arrears to the NBST, and thus, communities (Forest-Trend Benefit Sharing Report 2020)” they explained additionally.

Back tracking a little bit, the group said the Government of President Ellen Johnson provided to affected communities two million six hundred twenty-two thousand United States Dollars (US$2,622,000.00) as part of the land rental fees arrears the Government of Liberia collected from loggers since 2009.

They indicated that the  amount paid to affected communities enable them to initiate and implement over forty (40) community projects including construction of schools, clinics, vocational training centers, road rehabilitation, guest houses, and community halls among others. 

Looking in the face of the chair on Claims and Petitions, Zelemen said, “We are kindly requesting the House to ensure that portion of the 30% share of Land Rental Fees for communities affected by commercial logging in Liberia is appropriated in the 2020/2021 national budget.”

When their quest is approved, 23 communities in Lofa, Gbarpolu, Rivercess, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru, Maryland Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount counties shares of the 30% land rental fees will duly be given directly into their account to carry out the necessary development they desire.

According to them, they have raised the issues of the 30% with the FDA times without numbers, but FDA has told them that they are not responsible for budget appropriation or allocation adding that as part of efforts to ensure community receives money, they as well arranged a meeting with the Deputy Minister for Budget at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) on May 29, 2019 at the Minister’s Office to discuss these issues with him, but all efforts failed.

He indicated that “As part of efforts to get the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning’s support in ensuring communities receive their just benefits, we (NUCFDC), alongside with the leadership of the National Benefit Sharing Trust Board and the NGO Coalition of Liberia, again wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning requesting for a meeting with him to discuss these issues. Like previous attempts made, there has been no respond from the Minister and all efforts applied to meet authority of the ministry have yielded no positive result due to either no answer to our calls or we are asked to wait.”

Receiving the petition of the citizens, Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis thanked them for channeling their grievances the proper way and she will communicate with the plenary.

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