After years of war in the African nation of Liberia, characterized by brutality and forest destruction, the government is reopening the country's rainforests to industrial primary forest logging. Companies have recently submitted the second round of applications for 25 year forest management contracts (FMCs). Liberia houses most of the Upper Guinean Rainforest, classified as a biodiversity hotspot, and one of the most critically fragmented regions on the planet with only about 10% of the original intact ecosystem remaining. Liberia is home to many endemic species, such as the last remaining viable population of the Pygmy hippopotamus. It is also the last stronghold of forest elephants in West Africa. There is a long troubled history of logging operations funding war, which has left at least 60 percent of the country's forests severely degraded. For years conflict timbers funded illicit arms trading and timber traders throughout Europe and North America.
Promisingly, Liberia is in transition from dictatorship and civil war to democracy. The Liberian government and international donors have spent five years and tens of millions of dollars trying to reform the forest sector. Nonetheless, two firms linked to Malaysian timber giant Samling, a company notorious for destroying tropical forests and abusing local communities, have set up covert operations in Liberia and are being considered for these major logging contracts. Samling is using the same old trick of setting up front companies to conceal its business interests, used in Papua New Guinea until 2003 and in Guyana until 2007.
Samling's long history of illegal and abusive practices is well documented. In the late 1990s it was revealed that Samling was logging without a permit and illegally sourcing timber from a Cambodian wildlife sanctuary. In the Malaysian province of Sarawak, Samling is one of the companies logging the last remaining areas of primary forest; and is at the centre of a bitter conflict with the Penan minority in Borneo. The company is abusing their rights and destroying their livelihoods. In Papua New Guinea, Concord Pacific, a company controlled by Samling founder Yaw Teck Seng, was forced to stop its operations following a July 2003 court decision which found it had undertook large-scale illegal logging. In Guyana, Samling used a front company, Interior Wood Products Inc., to illegally exploit forest concessions on Amerindian lands. The Guyana Forestry Commission fined Samling for large-scale illegal logging in 2007 and 2008. In January 2007, Barama, a Samling subsidiary, had its Forest Stewardship Council certification suspended in Guyana after an independent auditor uncovered a range of violations.
Global Witness reports the evaluation of the Liberian rainforest logging bids has been insufficient, creating the risk that the Liberian government may award forest management contracts to companies that have poor track records or are under the control of individuals or entities that have a history of law-breaking. The due diligence team failed to investigate the interrelationships between the bidders, verify and authenticate documents, and to draw conclusions on the financial capacity of the bidders. As a result the evaluation did not identify that Atlantic Resource Limited is associated with Samling via Perkapalan Damai Timar company, and that Southeast Resources Limited is also associated with Samling via Woodman.
Rainforest Rescue and Ecological Internet join with Global Witness and others in calling on the Liberian government to suspend the FMC allocation process. The dangerous and unnecessary resumption of industrial primary rainforest logging in Liberia is severely flawed even before logging begins, and cannot provide assurances the Liberian government needs about the credentials and track records of the companies that have submitted bids for the FMCs. This is of particular concern given the role that logging companies previously played in fueling the conflict in Liberia and the surrounding region. Corruption at this early stage in logging resumption illustrates further industrial rainforest logging, despite decades of reform efforts internationally, remains irredeemably corrupt. There is no evidence that industrial logging in the tropics is ever ecologically sustainable or reduces poverty. Call upon Liberia to pursue development based upon standing rainforests, and reject entirely the resumption of industrial logging.
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Having devastated the Penan of Malaysia's rainforests (ongoing and with continued protests) -- and those in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia and Guyana as well -- Samling timber mafia now turns its eye to Liberia, West Africa
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