Residents of the Korninga Chiefdom in the Bopolu District of Gbarpolu County want authorities to investigate and penalize the leaders of a community forest for allegedly misusing US$50,275 it received from a logging company operating in the area.
According to the report, the leadership of the Korninga ‘A’ Community Forest received the fund from Coveiyalah Investment Enterprise to carry out the community project. The two parties signed a logging contract in April 2019 for the company to fell timber in the 48,296-hectare forest in exchange for much-needed development. But townspeople from all seven communities affected by the logging operations accused the leadership of embezzlement.
Speaking in an interview with our reporter, Massaquoi Kamara, the chairperson of the chiefdom said the leaders of the Forest unilaterally used close to US$50,000 with no impact in the affected communities. He called on the office of the local authorities to properly investigate and where the fault will be discovered at the detriment of the people, and those who will be linked should be penalized to serve as a deterrent.”
Johnson Flomo, the chief officer of the Korninga ‘A’ leadership—known across the forestry industry as community forest management body (CFMB) told residents in a meeting on August 21 that he had authorized US$2,000 on a traditional ceremony and $US1,750 to purchase two motorcycles.
Flomo also said he paid a lawyer US$1,300; US$1,310 for a community workforce training and US$6,275 for another training for him and other members of the leadership as well as US$3,300 for their Christmas gift last year. He said he also spent US$500 on transportation to Monrovia and back to Gbarpolu.
Flomo did not name the lawyer he paid, nor did he say why he and his team spent additional money on transportation when they had already purchased two motorbikes.
Meanwhile, other members of the leadership have also deny the fees were paid for those purposes.
“These people acted on their own,” said Dennis Flomo, a member of the community assembly, which is the highest decision-making body in the community forestry. It also approves the community forest’s annual budget and oversees its expenditure.
County authorities placed a stay order on the community forest’s account on the same day of the meeting after Coveiyalah paid US$48,000.
Reacting to the information, an epicenter of the private use permit (PUP) Scandal of 2012, expressed their frustration over the matter.
“I’m grieving in my heart,” said James Sumo, Clan chief of Gainkpa, one of the largest towns in the chiefdom. “If anybody is guilty, let them be punished and be made to pay our money.”
Falko Yarsiah Reed, town chief for Tawalata Town, said, “Our children are just wasting here, and there is no school. We expect that when the company does anything, the communities benefit but this other report is making us feel bad.”
“Let the law take its course because if we leave them, other people will do the same thing tomorrow,” said William Karmon, a prominent elder in the chiefdom.
“This is the reason while you people (leadership) went through the nine steps that qualified this team to manage this forest. We also put educated people amongst you people, yet, you people have gone against the people,” said Olu Nangba, former commissioner of Bopolu District.
However, the community is also wrangling over who investigates the leadership. The Community Rights Law of 2009 with reference to the Forest Lands says Where there are reasonable allegations that a community forest management body or any of its members is mismanaging community forest resources or has engaged in misconduct or misappropriation of the community funds, the executive committee (EC), with the technical support of the [FDA] should conduct an investigation and prepare a comprehensive report.” But Paramount Chief George Sumo—who is not a member of the forest leadership, does not want Austin Kamara, the EC chairman, to conduct the investigation due to his absence from meetings. He recommends the office of the superintendent.
Subsequently, the Superintendent Representative at the said meeting assured the seventy affected communities of the county administration’s swift response.