Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended, without pay, the managing director of the Forestry Development Authority, Moses Wogbeh, following allegations in an upcoming report of abuse in the issuance of Private Use Permits (PUP).
The report, to be released Tuesday was the work of a consortium of human rights groups including Global Witness, the Sustainable Development Institute of Liberia (SDI) and the Save the Future Foundation.
Sam Jackson, an independent economic consultant, who reviewed the report’s findings at the behest of the government, said Sirleaf has named a blue ribbon panel to look into the allegations.
“Private Use Permits are basically deeded property belonging to individuals that are then granted to a private operator to be used for logging operations,” he said.
Jackson said there were four active PUPs in February as a result of a request by civil society for an investigation to be conducted into the proliferation of the PUPs, which he said was jeopardizing reforms within the forestry sector.
“So, the Board of Directors met and on February 28th
made a decision to cancel all inactive PUPs. But then, apparently a few weeks ago, Global Witness and SDI that the ones that were considered inactive were now active, and there was again an additional 17 PUPs that had been issued. And those… cover up to 25 percent of Liberian territory and they blew the alarm,” Jackson said.
He said his preliminary assessment of the upcoming report found that Private Use Permits may have been open to some abuse.
“Instead of going into a concession, or what they call into forest management contract, or the timber sale contract, they were using a private deeded property as a means of getting concessions which amounted to the same thing like getting a concession but without paying the same kind of taxes and following the same rules regarding the timber sales contract. And that’s why Global Witness and SDI made these allegations,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Sirleaf has appointed a blue ribbon panel because, on the surface, it appears something happened in the issuing of Private Use Permits.
“The jury is still out. Only a complete assessment by this blue ribbon panel will make a determination as to whether there were illegalities and whether these illegalities amounted to environmental degradation,” Jackson said.