As “Illegal” Chain Sawyers Drive Away Major Concession: River Cess Citizens Decry Development Setback
Citizens of Central River Cess District have decried serious setback in the development agenda of the district and county since the “unceremonious” closure of major logger EJ and J Logging Company.
EJ and J signed its first concession agreement with the people of River Cess County by and thru its representatives and the Government of Liberia (GoL) in 2008, and later extended the deal to an additional five years in December of 2016.
However, the company “unceremonious” deserted the forest on grounds that some “illegal” pit sawyers were intruding into its concession area.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with this paper during a recent visit to the county, several citizens of the Central River Cess District and the Head of the Community Development Committee (CFDC) of the Forest Management Contract-B explained how major development projects, which were sponsored through funds paid by the company as land rental fees, are currently at a standstill since the company deserted the place due to “illegal” sawing activities in the area.
Basically there are CFDCs in River Cess County with FMC-B being the biggest with total size of 57,262 hectares and 11 affected communities with headquarters is in Nezuin, Central River Cess District.
Mr. Matthew Wallace, Head of the CFDC FMC-B pointed out that citizens of Central River Cess District and the county at large have benefited from proceeds from land rental fees paid by the company as well as other benefits through kind and cash since the company began operation in 2008.
However, he said those benefits, which were moving the district and the county forward in terms of development are no longer company since its departure in 2008.
“We signed the first forestry agreement in 2008 with EJ and J Logging Company and we have been getting benefits in kind and cash and other things. Mainly our 30%, we have benefited from that. We have built a vocational training center with 56,340 US, and we have built a clinic that worth 62,000 USD. We are building a bridge that we have contributed 35,000 to. We have gotten money for the cubic meter fees and we have districted 1,000 in each of the 75 town in the 11 clans and we have carried some things there. So, with benefit, we have really benefited, even though that may not be to our expectation,” Wallace stated.
“We signed our second agreement in 2016on December 21, and we included also besides the cubic meter fees and the land rental fees, scholarship and so we supposed to receive 5,000 per semester for our students. But we went six semester and we were only able to receive only two, the other four semesters left on the company and the company closed down unceremoniously and the only complaint they gave us is that pit sawyers illegally got into the forest against the will of the CFDC and the company and they started sawing pieces. The company said since we could not do anything, it was leaving and since it left, we are not getting those benefits anymore,” he said.
He said all the 11 affected communities have been affected since the closure of the company as there is no more room for the completion of those projects that had already started neither to begin new development projects.
“The second contract has a duration of five years, but the company closed down just in the second year. As I speak to you all the 11 communities are all affected by this, because it hampers our developmental progress,” he furthered.
“We have contacted the relevant authority, FDA and the CEO of the company, Madam Eliza Kranyahnand she told us the same, and that she has written an official communication to FDA stating her disappointment with the local authority and the community people,” Wallace asserted.
The head of the CFDC ‘B’ also verified that pit sawyers are many in the forest, however; he said the pit sawyers informed him that they paying some fees to the government as well.
“I brought the matter to the attention of the FDA and it said the money being paid by the pit sawyers doesn’t give them ground to saw in concession areas. It means that they supposed to go to leftover forest, where community people have their own forest. FDA again said it never knew that the people were sawing planks from the concession. They promised for us to work together and go to the forest to take the people from there, but since then we have not been able to form that team. It has been a year now, since January of 2020. The sawing is against that contract. This is hampering the developmental needs of the county,” Wallace alarmed.
“For instance, from the monies paid by this company, we were able to build a vocational school, a clinic and a bridge which connects the whole Zarflain District with to its headquarters Garwulor. We were doing things [development] and all those things have to stop because no money again to continue them. The bridge, which valued US$106,000, was forced to stop due to lack of funding as a result of the closure of EJ and J. We have only provided 35,000 towards the project. Pretty soon we will be turning the clinic over to the Health Ministry for dedication and to assign staff. We are working with LOIC to come and take over the vocational center. They wanted to come to River Cess and they are looking for place and I engaged them since their intention is to train young people. This is how we were developing before the company closed down,” he added.
Chief Joseph Kofi, Town Chief of Opa Village, which is one of the 75 benefiting towns in the 11 affected communities (clan), expressed serious frustration over the lack of development since EJ and J departed in 2018.
“The company promised to build school, clinic and carry out other developments for citizens in the district, but unfortunately all of these were not completed and it left,” Chief Kofi narrated.
“The forest is for us and we supposed to survive by it; get facility from the forest but we can’t do anything because we don’t have that power to control it. Our call has been to the head of our CFDC to engage the Liberian government for us through FDA so that they will further engage EJ and J over the breech of the concession contract,” he noted.
When contacted, the Chief Executive Officer of EJ and J Logging Company, Madam Mrs. Eliza D. J. Kronyanh, admitted the sudden departure of the company, stating that it has not been protected.
“I don’t want to discuss this because it has to do with the government and FDA is the government. Just take car and go there and you will see exactly what really wrong. You will see it and nobody will have to tell you. Just go there and take picture,” she explained.
“FDA is sitting here and a concession that the President has signed; the Legislature has ratified has been in a ruin. What happens, they will tell you. I paid all debt, I don’t owe government one cent. Be it premier, be it reactive premier, or land rental, I paid all. So that’s it yaa baby. The people put me in mess,” Madam Kranyahn, who is also the Treasurer of the Liberia Timber Association (LTA) added.
FDA has yet to comment on this despite several engagements through calls and text messages to Managing Director Mr. C. Mike Doryen and Department of Communications.