Illegal logging: Getting to the trunk of the matter

A recent report has revealed that in the past six years, up to 60% of Liberian rainforests have been signed over to major international logging companies, posing an environmental and economic  threat to the country’s forests, using a loophole in the Liberian legal system.

Samling Global Ltd, a forest resource and wood products company who is known to be connected with other major logging forces such as Atlantic Resources and Alpha Logging, does not claim to be actively working in Liberia, where sustainable logging and protection of the untouched rainforests is paramount. Yet a recent report by Global Witness suggests that these major companies have obtained logging rights to up to two-thirds of Liberia’s pristine tropical forests, despite them being reserved for private landowners.

Whilst Liberia has invested a huge amount of time, money and effort into the reformation of timber export laws and the protection of its forests, Samling and its co-companies have taken advantage of an ambiguity in the Liberian law system, and have acquired Private Use Permits (PUPs), which were initially designed and developed in order to allow private landowners to cut trees on their own property. When used legitimately, PUPs benefit both the landowner and the taxpayer: communities benefit from the revenue generated by the sale of timber. Yet here we see little benefit for the Liberian government and its citizens. A report by AllAfrica suggests that as little as 1% of the timber’s value is returned to the community from which the timber was taken, whilst Samling owes millions of pounds in back taxes, which, through its illegally-obtained PUP, it does not repay. Liberian communities do not benefit from this unsustainable mass deforestation, though it seems that the Liberian government are striving to rectify the situation now that they have been alerted to the scale of the problem.  This weekend Moses Wogbeh, the head of Liberia’s Forestry Authority was suspended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf under the allegation that he violated a land permit issuance moratorium that was enacted in February. Now it is up to Sirleaf and her government to conduct an investigation into the use and subsequent abuse of Private Use Permits, once a source of job creation and consistent revenue, now a major threat to the future of Liberia’s tropical forests.

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Global Witness, AllAfrica

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