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Liberia’s Forestry Dept. Giving Large Amounts Of Land To Logging Firms


 

Huffington Post

By Richard Valdmanis

DAKAR, Sept 4 (Reuters) – Liberia‘s forestry department has given a quarter of the nation’s land to logging firms over the past two years in a flurry of shady deals now under investigation by the government, advocacy group Global Witness said on Tuesday.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fending off accusations of graft and nepotism within her government, has suspended the head of the West African state’s Forestry Development Authority and launched a probe into the recent timber deals amid concerns of widespread fraud and mismanagement.

Global Witness said its research revealed that the scale of the deals marked a serious threat to the war-torn and impoverished country’s vast rainforests, as well as to the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on them.

“A quarter of Liberia’s total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years, following an explosion in the use of secretive and often illegal logging permits,” the group said in a statement.

“Unless this crisis is tackled immediately, the country’s forests could suffer widespread devastation, leaving the people who depend upon them stranded and undoing the country’s fragile progress since the resource-fuelled conflicts of 1989 to 2003.”

Global Witness conducted the investigation with two other advocacy groups, the Save My Future Foundation and Sustainable Development Institute

Corruption is seen as a big obstacle to development in Liberia, which remains one of the world’s least developed countries nearly a decade after the end of a 14-year civil war.

The government has been struggling to clarify land ownership issues across its vast forested zones, traditionally divided along ethnic lines.

Global Witness said about 26,000 square kilometers of land had been granted to timber companies through at least 66 so-called Private Use Permits – lightly regulated deals between timber companies and private land owners.

It said many of the deals made with individuals said to own the land were backed by land deeds held in the collective name of people of a district or clan who had little knowledge of the accords and would reap little benefit from the timber exported…Read more.

 

Congo Copper Mine Deals Questioned


CorpWatch

By Patrap Chatterjee

August 2nd, 2012

Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a global mining company that got its start in Kazakhstan, has won a new $101.5 million license to dig for copper at the Frontier mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company has been criticized by Global Witness for its purchases of rights from offshore companies connected to Dan Gertler, a controversial Israeli diamond merchant.

“The Congolese state has foregone billions of dollars in revenues by secretly selling off its assets on the cheap to offshore companies,” Daniel Balint-Kurti, campaigner for the Democratic Republic of Congo at Global Witness said in a press release issued last month. “With so much at stake in one of the poorest countries on the planet, ENRC must do the right thing and shed full light on its dealings.”

Per-capita income in the Congo is under $300 a year and experts at the Carter Centre, which was founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, say there is a reason. “In a mining sector defined by irregularities and mismanagement, large industrial mining projects can earn huge profits for investors and government officials,” Sam Jones, associate director of the centre’s human rights program, told the Guardian. “(L)ittle revenue finds its way back into desperately impoverished Congolese communities for schools, healthcare, or other social services.”

The Frontier copper mine is located near the town of Sakania in the Congo, about a mile from the Zambian border. It is located in the copper belt that straddles the border of the two countries that has been exploited commercially from the days of Belgian colonization to this day. Indeed the profits from the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, the original mining company in the region, was a major source of wealth for Belgium at the beginning of the 20th century.

First Quantum, a Canadian company, acquired the rights to mine for copper at Frontier in 2001 but was forced to turn it over to Sodimco, a state owned company in 2010 by the Congolese government. The licences were then sold to Fortune Ahead, a Hong Kong shell company. Meanwhile First Quantum filed multiple legal claims demanding $4 billion in compensation for Frontier and other assets nationalized by the Congolese government.

In January this year First Quantum agreed to turn over all its prior mineral rights to ENRC for $1.25 billion. ENRC had already bought rights to the giant Kolwezi tailings project for $175 million and purchased CAMEC, yet another Congolese company that owned a half share in the SMKK copper and cobalt mine.

But exactly who paid whom how much for mining rights in the Congo is up for debate. “ENRC’s purchase of its stake in Kolwezi was structured through a deal between itself and at least seven companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, all connected to Dan Gertler,” states a Global Witness fact sheet. “When ENRC bought the remaining 50 per cent stake in SMKK, it purchased it from another British Virgin Islands company linked to Mr Gertler. Even ENRC’s acquisition of CAMEC involved sale purchase agreements with several offshore companies linked to Dan Gertler which held shares in CAMEC.”

Gertler, an Israeli diamond merchant, has been doing business in Congo for over a decade, working first with Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the former president of the Congo, and now with his son, Joseph Kabila, the current president.

“The nature of these deals raises serious questions about whether corrupt Congolese officials could be benefitting from Congo’s considerable mineral wealth at the expense of the Congolese people,” says Balint-Kurti. “Global Witness has been calling for ENRC to publish the full results of an external audit into its dealings in Congo, conducted by the law firm Dechert.”

It is certainly not the first time Gertler and the Kabila clan have been linked. A lawsuit filed in Israel by Yossi Kamisa, a former Israeli fighter who worked for Gertler, says that the diamond tycoon had offered the elder Kabila military aid to the Congolese army in 2000.

“At the time, the Second Congo War (1998-2003) was raging – one of the most brutal conflicts in the history of the African continent, involving eight countries, dozens of guerrilla organizations and a horrific human toll that included large-scale rape and even cannibalism,” write Gidi Weitz, Uri Blau and Yotam Feldman in Haaretz newspaper. “This did not deter Gertler from realizing his plan to penetrate the lucrative diamond market in the DRC.”

Kamisa’s lawsuit charges that he “witnessed Gertler’s method of operation, involving paying considerable sums of money as bribery to different individuals in the Congo government … all in order to pave the way to a meeting with the president of Congo and to improve the terms of the future agreement that was to be struck between him and the state.”

Gertler denied these allegations, calling them vengeful and baseless, says the newspaper.

Watchdog group warns of oil corruption in Liberia


Voice of America

By James Butty

A new Global Witness report says corruption is rampant in Liberia‘s oil sector even before any oil is discovered

The international watchdog group Global Witness says corruption is rampant in Liberia’s oil sector, even before any oil has been discovered.  In a report Monday, the group said government and business officials have been involved in bribery to get contracts approved.

Global Witness campaigner Natalie Ashworth said some government officials choose to “break their own laws.

There were three findings which highlight the problems.  First, we discussed evidence of the payment of lobbying fees. NOCAL, which is the National Oil Company, paid lobbying fees to the legislators to get oil contracts passed. The second is an inadequate legislative framework to protect communities and the environment and, thirdly, there is a lack of capacity by the National Oil Company and by the EPA, which is the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the environment sector,” she said.

Ashworth said the report calls on the government to investigate evidence of corruption in the oil sector.

“When it comes to the National Oil Company, we’re recommending a number of things.  One, we’re recommending that all the allegations that are in the report and in the General Auditing Commission audit of the National Oil Company need to be investigated.  We are also recommending that the power to regulate be taken away from the National Oil Company and given to a separate agency,” Ashworth said.

The report said the actions by some lawmakers to accept bribes are against Liberian laws.

“Liberia’s penal code makes specific reference to bribery, and the general auditor has deemed these lobbying fees to be bribes,” she said.

The report said Monrovia has made some promising improvements in the resource sector.  But, Ashworth said these changes have been poorly managed.

Christopher Neyor, president and CEO of the National Oil Company of Liberia, questions the timing of the global witness report, especially as Liberia prepares for next month’s presidential elections.

He said the government was already implementing some of the recommendations contained in the global witness report.

“Our position on this Global Witness report is clear. We are delighted that they have acknowledged that the president has appointed someone with a reformist agenda and they had earlier spoken with us and we had given them the outline of our agenda. So, basically, while we appreciate the input of Global Witness, just about all what they are recommending are things that we initiated and, not only initiated, we [are] implementing at the National Oil Company,” Neyor said.

He said, in a sense, the government agrees with much of the findings in the Global Witness report.

Neyor said there is nothing new about NOCAL paying members of the Liberian legislature lobbying fees to ratify oil contracts between 2006 and 2008.

“That again is nothing new; it’s been around for a while in the media. It has been debated and the debate had centered on the definition of the lobbying fee, or facilitation fee, or what you may call it.  There are some people who like to call it a bribe,” Neyor said.

‘Libya’s oil deals need to be transparent’


Pie chart of world oil reserves by region
Image via Wikipedia

Guardian

Sitting on Africa‘s largest oil reserves, one can expect foreign oil companies to be beating a path to its door clamouring for contracts. But campaigners urged the National Transitional Council (NTC) to refrain from any new oil concessions until an elected government is in place to avoid perceptions of a Libyan “oil grab”.

“Any deals at this time could raise concerns within Libya that international support for the NTC is driven by a desire for access to oil rather than for the benefit of the Libyan people,” said campaigning group Global Witness. “The NTC is likely to have to honour Gaddafi-era contracts in order to get oil revenues flowing. But no new deals for the exploration or exploitation of oilfields should be considered until an elected government can review existing rules and laws to ensure robust transparency and accountability.” Read more.

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