Liberia: Fact-Check – FDA Exposes Itself in Defending Illegal Export Permits

FDA cites violations of previous administrations, including an ex-head of the institution who is being prosecuted over forestry’s worst postwar scandal

Swiss quality company SGS says FDA lied over a so-called threshold on the registration of logs

Manager of Legality Verification distances herself from illegal permit FDA cites in excuse of its violation

The argument that over 88 cubic meters of logs do not meet the threshold is wrong, as the agency legally exports smaller volumes of logs

WHEIN TOWN, Paynesville – The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) defended its decision to award export permits to companies outside the legal system that tracks timber trade–an offense that constitutes economic sabotage–recently reported in an investigation by The DayLight.

FDA Managing Director Mike Doryen and other top managers awarded firms export permits that are not registered in the chain of custody or LiberTrace. Other managers who issued the permits include Joseph Tally, the deputy managing director for operations; Edward Kamara, the manager for forest products marketing and revenue forecast; and Jerry Yonmah, the former technical manager for the agency’s commercial department.

Export from just one of the firms, Rosemart Inc., owned by Liberian businesswoman Rose Yancy Adikwu, has traded over US$100,000 worth of timber, according to the permits awarded to the company. Rosemart has traded between US$1 million and US$2.5 million goods on Trade Key, according to the Saudi Arabia-based e-commerce platform. However, it only paid the Liberian government US$664.70, according to its tax-payment history as of the time of writing.

The FDA has kept these permits secret: they have not been published on its website, in periodic reports, or captured by the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).

The uncovering of the illegal permits comes at a time logs are being smuggled out of the country at an alarming rate. The permits evoke harsh memories of the Liberian civil wars when logging contracts were illegally awarded to companies in exchange for weapons. They recall the infamous Private Use Permit Scandal of 2012, where 2.5 million hectares of forests were illegally awarded.

The FDA’s defense of the illegal permits contains a number of unlawful and flawed arguments. “FDA’s Rejoinder to The DayLight Publication on Illegal Timber Export Permit Issuance” was published as a news story and an advertisement. Here are what we found after fact-checking major claims:

Claim One – The DayLight published a story on EJ&J

The FDA claims that The DayLight published a story in FrontPage Africa that alleges EJ&J Logging Company and Brilliant Maju exported US$3 million worth of timber. It had told villagers it had not shipped a single log so it could not pay its debt to them, according to the article.

“The amplification of this story was channeled through several newspapers, including FrontPage Africa,” the FDA wrote. “We wish to inform the public and educate the publisher of their lack of understanding of the scope and nature of forest management… ” It was used to exemplify that The DayLight’s reports were that of “paid journalism… employed by our detractors to paint us ugly in the eye of the public,” and that our style of reporting is “counterproductive to the norms of journalism.”

Facts

The article cited by the FDA was not written by The DayLight. Rather New Narratives, a media development program known for award-winning reports on Liberia’s extractive sector, transitional justice and female genital cutting (FGC).

Claim Two – SGS declined to enroll logs into the chain of custody

The FDA claims that Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS) declined to enroll teak logs from plantations as they fell below “technical requirement” and “because of their salvage nature.” It made the claim without showing any proof.

Facts

SGS refutes the FDA’s claim that it rejected the logs for any reason. It was the Swiss firm that created LiberTrace, a major component of Liberia’s 2011 Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union (EU). The trade agreement mandates both parties to ensure logs are legally and sustainably sourced.

“SGS has never been informed of any scientific management plantations to be applied in LiberTrace,” Theodore Aime Nna, SGS’ forestry project manager, told The DayLight via email over the weekend.

“Logs could be rejected through LiberTrace only if they are not traceable or illegally produced. Moreover, SGS does not certify any log in Liberia, but only verifies their history… ,” Nna added.

Claim Three – Ex-FDA Managing Director also issued illegal export permits

The FDA argues this administration is the first to issue illegal export permits. Past administrations did.

In its sponsored rebuttal in FrontPage Africa, the Doryen-led FDA published four more of the illegal permits. They had been awarded between 2016 and 2019, including one each to two other companies and two others to Rosemart.

“Past administration of the Forestry Development Authority had the option to either allow the logs to waste/rot … or take a decision that favors their utilization.”

Facts

The FDA’s reference to permits issued by past administrations as justification for the violation does not hold. Moses Wogbeh Sr., a former managing director who issued one of the permits FDA cited, was found guilty of economic sabotage, issuing deceptive writing and other crimes for his role in the Private Use Permit Scandal. Wogbeh’s appeal of Criminal Court C’s August 2015 ruling is still at the Supreme Court of Liberia.

Claim Four – The head of the legality Verification Department signed one of the Illegal Permits

Making further arguments to legitimize the illegal permits, the FDA tried to discredit comments made by Gertrude Nyaley, the technical manager of its legality verification department (LVD). Nyaley had told The DayLight that permits for wood and wood products issued outside of the chain-of-custody system are illegal. It was a huge assertion that helped lift the lid on illegal permits.

“It is important to note that that Atty. Gertrude Nyaley… , who was quoted by [The] DayLight as having no knowledge of the [permits’] legality, also signed one of the mentioned [permits] as acting managing Director.

Facts

Nyaley denies she signed the permit, though it has her name handwritten. “I did not sign any permit. They know where they got their permit from,” Nyaley said of the 2019 document. “In 2019, I served as the Technical Manager of the community forest department and was in no way near commercial activities.

Nyaley did not sign as an acting managing director, instead, she proxied for Tally, the deputy managing director for operations.

“What an inherent contradiction,” Nyaley said.

Claim Five – Rosemart Inc. does not meet the revenue threshold

The FDA says companies such as Rosemart do not meet the “revenue threshold,” and the decision for the publication of their exports lies with the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI).

Facts

This claim by the FDA is not grounded in facts. There are a number of shipments made by Rosemart that are larger than some of the ones captured by the LEITI. For instance, Rosemart exported 88.625 cubic meters of logs outside the chain of custody in 2020. That same year, Regnals Internationals Inc.–which runs the Cavalla Reforestation Plantation–exported only 62 cubic meters of logs, according to the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI). In fact, that was the same volume of logs it exported the previous fiscal period. That is a difference of more than 26 cubic meters.

This article was originally published by The DayLight and has been republished here by permission.

By The DayLight Fact-checking Desk

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