MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — International logging companies are skirting the rules and have used a loophole in Liberian law which has granted them access to as much as one-quarter of Liberia's landmass, according to London-based watchdog group Global Witness.
The group said in a report published Tuesday that foreign companies are relying on so-called "Private Use Permits," which were designed for use by private landowners to allow them to cut trees on their own property. These permits are instead being used by major companies and now cover 40 percent of the country's forests, according to the report which was co-authored by the Save My Future Foundation and the Sustainable Development Institute.
Companies holding the permits are not required to log sustainably, and pay little compensation to the government for the right to export the timber. They include companies linked to Malaysian logging giant Samling, which along with its subsidiaries has been involved in cases of alleged illegal logging in countries around the world from Cambodia to Guyana to Papua New Guinea.
Over the weekend, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf suspended the head of Liberia's Forestry Authority, Moses Wogbeh. Presidential spokesman Jerolinmek Piah told The Associated Press on Monday that Wogbeh is under investigation into an allegation that he violated a land permit issuance moratorium put in place in February. Such a permit grants land to people to do logging activities commercially.
On Tuesday after the report came out, Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown thanked Global Witness for drawing attention to the issues.
"The Private Use Permits have been considered in the past to assist communities in terms of job creation, in terms of support and benefit, but the truth is, we are finding out also, that it has been abused and it is unacceptable," he said.