By Mambu James Kpargoi, Jr., Monrovia
A cartel of foreign and local businessman and government officials under the guidance of former President Charles Taylor looted and pillaged Liberia’s forest resources, the director of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) has told the TRC.
Silas Kpanan’ Ayoung Siakor said not only did they loot Liberia’s forest resources but many of them aided and abetted the conflict that claimed approximately a quarter of million lives.
What was most appalling of their activities, Siakor said, was the harassment, intimidation, molestation, they meted against the people in rural areas where they operated with impunity.
Mr. Siakor was speaking Monday at Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Public Hearing on Economic Crimes at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in Monrovia. His presentation focused on the Logging Sector and the Conflict.
Siakor described the actions of former President Taylor and associates as organized looting of public property in which government officials at various levels participated and contributed to this large scale theft of public property. He said bad governance was one of the most important factors that made this possible.
But Mr. Siakor expressed concern that the present government led by “perhaps the most high profile opposition and critic of former President Taylor” appears to be determined to maintain Taylor’s most notorious legacy, the large scale seizure of over a million acre of community’s forestlands in 2000.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, this was allowed by sons and daughters of those communities when they enacted the National Forest Law in 2000 which provided that all forest resources are owned by the republic-totally disregarding the property rights of communities with deeds for their forestlands.”
The loss to these communities, he said, were in three-folds, as not only did the government steal the forest, but many of the companies that were given concessions wantonly violated their rights and yet they did not benefit from the revenue generated from logging activities.
He said while this government boasts about good governance and trumpets its respect for the rule of law it appears to be determined to maintain the legacy of former President Taylor.
“The people of Bokomu and Gou Nwolaila Districts in Gbarpolu County are the first victims. Today the FDA have seized their forestlands and given them to different companies against their will in the name of creating job opportunities and stimulating economic activities in their districts,” he said.
TRC Chairman Counselor Jerome Verdier said issues of economic crimes are central to understanding the nature of the Liberian conflict.
Cllr. Verdier also recognized the role and bravery of victims who came forward to testify during the commission public hearings
Under the theme: “Economic Crimes, Corruption and the Conflict in Liberia: Policy Options for an Emerging Democracy and sustainable peace,” the hearing is addressing the contribution of economic crimes to the conflict including corruption and the illicit exploitation of natural resources.
The hearing is also discussing the correlation between the extractive industry and the fueling of the conflict and appropriate policies aimed at reversing the unauthorized exploitation of the natural resources by individuals, groups and the government for purposes external to the national good.
Also to make presentations are former deputy Maritime Commissioner Tarty Teh, on the Role of the Maritime Industry in the Conflict; former National Bank of Liberia Governor David Vinton, on the Role of Banking Institution in the Crisis; and former Postal and Telecommunication Minister Mewaseh Paye-Bayee, on the Role of Communications in the commission of Economic Crimes.
Pursuant to the TRC Act of 2005, the commission is mandated to investigate gross human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law as well as abuses that occurred, including massacres, sexual violations, murder, extra-judicial killings and economic crimes, such as the exploitation of natural or public resources to perpetuate armed conflicts during the period January 1979 to October 14, 2003.
The commission is mandated to determine whether these were isolated incidents or part of a systematic pattern; establishing the antecedents, circumstances, factors and context of such violations and abuses; and determining those responsible for the commission of the violations and abuses and their motives as well as their impact on victims.