SDI Coordinator, Nora BowierSustainable Development Initiative (SDI), a forest watchdog that provides updates on the use of Liberia’s forest, has launched a project aimed exclusively at empowering forest community dwellers to be more knowledgeable of the significance of the forests.At the launch of the US$99,925 project on Thursday, August 16 in Monrovia, under the title, “Strengthening Community Forestry Structures and Their Governance”, Nora Bowier, SDI’s Coordinator, said that the project seeks to enhance community empowerment so that community members can sustainably use their forest to yield the benefits that belong to them.Ms. Bowier said SDI will ensure that communities possessing forests will be provided technical knowledge and capacity so that they will have the benefit of their forest, and not “business as usual.”She said as they are set to commence the project, they need support from their partners, including community members, to ensure that the goals and objectives are met in the one-year period the SDI has as the project’s time frame.The project is funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), European Union, UKAID and Sweden.Already, the EU is making a huge investment in Liberia’s forest sector under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). The VPA seeks to ensure that logs harvested from Liberia’s forest are certificated before leaving for countries within the EU.Additionally, the EU has negotiated with the Liberian government through the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to set certain percent of income from logging to affected communities as a benefit to them.This arrangement has at some points proven successful in the forest county of River Cess, but projects initiated from income from logging in that county are currently stalled due to exhaustion of the fund without accountability.While performing the launch of the project, Abraham Guillen, VPA Support Unit Team Leader in Liberia, said they are glad to liaise with a non-governmental institution like the SDI for such a project.Mr. Guillen said it is an essential engagement to make communities know their rights to the forest, and to have some benefits, but it should be done in a sustainable way so that the forest will not be depleted to make Liberia be like other desert countries.Also, Guillen warned that community dwellers and government should use the forest in a way to discourage illegal logging activities.A representative of the EU at the launch, David Palacio, said that it is premature to be happy at the beginning of the launch.“I cannot accept congratulations for now; the results from the implementation will bring congratulations [more] than the launch,” David said.He said the EU through the VPA has invested huge sums of money in Liberia’s forest for sustenance and benefits to the forest communities.Palacio added that they are implementing the project to help Liberia avoid running out of forests in 15 to 20 years from now, and be like other countries in the West African region.Also commenting, Mariatou Njie, FAO Representative to Liberia, said forests play significant roles in the livelihoods of poor people, and it is important that communities be involved in forest governance.She said, “participatory approaches are central to the concept of community involvement, and practical implementation is relying heavily on community forestry experiences.”She added that FAO over the years spearheaded the concept of community-based forestry as key elements in achieving social, economic and environmental objectives to sustainable forest management.Gertrude W. K. Nyaley, FDA Technical Manager of Community Forest Department, for her part, lauded the launch of the project.Meanwhile, the project will promote knowledge and technical skills to eight community Forestry Management bodies in Nimba, River Cess, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties.This will provide insight to community members about their rights and responsibilities in community forest management with focus on youth and women participation.It will also strengthen technical capacities of the National Union of Community Forest Management Boards (CFMB) to negotiate fair deals with logging companies and investors, and to monitor the negotiations of Commercial Use Contracts (CUCs).These activities will be approached through meetings with forestry stakeholders, including representatives of FDA, Community Forest Development Committee, CFMB Union, civil society, and the targeted communities to create awareness.Other methods include conduct of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) capacity building events; holding of education and awareness meetings on Community Rights Law of 2017, conduct of record keeping, and bookkeeping skills training; and collaborating with the NUCFMB to conduct four regional awareness and education events on the use of the Commercial Use Contract template, and provide logistical support to the UNCFMB to participate and monitor at least two negotiations involving two new CFMAs and third party investors.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
Budget for constitutional agenciesThe parliamentary Opposition has noted with deep concern that Government has moved to reduce the $10.29 billion that has been requested by 16 constitutional agencies in their Budget 2018 proposals and has therefore demanded a full debate on the matter at the next sitting of Parliament on Friday.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has reminded that upon assuming office in 2015, the coalition Government had passed legislation to have the budgets of these constitutional agencies considered by the National Assembly separately,Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeofrom the annual national budget.In this regard, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Members of Parliament (MPs) will be arguing for the constitutional agencies’ requests to be honoured. Jagdeo said previously, these agencies developed their budgets, it goes to the Finance Ministry and decisions are made based on what can be afforded.“I thought the whole purpose of the change (in legislation) was so that their (the agencies) budgets would be ring-fenced and the Minister of Finance cannot cut the budgets,” Jagdeo noted, while explaining that the Opposition will be requesting that the Minister give reasons for not approving the budgets.Constitutional agencies include the Auditor General’s Office, Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as well as several Commissions – Public Procurement Commission, Teaching Service Commission, Public Service Commission, Ethnic Relations Commission, Judicial Service Commission, Human Rights Commission, among others.Referring to the schedule detailing the budget requests, the Opposition LeaderFinance Minister Winston Jordannoted that Minister Jordan justified the cuts by saying that the reduced allocation takes into account the economic outlook for 2018 for revenue, expenditure and growth in the economy, challenges in implementation encountered in 2017 and annualisation of salaries.However, the Opposition Leader told the media on Tuesday that the Minister will have to answer specific questions on what the economic outlook for revenue and expenditure is and what challenges were encountered in implementation in 2017, and what is the outlook for growth in the economy.Jagdeo said, “The country will recall that immediately after the coalition Government took office, it rushed through a law that will give ‘financial autonomy’ and suggested that the constitutional bodies were not treated with respect under the PPP Administration. Since then, we have been considering the budgets for the constitutional agencies separately from the core budget debate.”He continued, “…we have had some difficulty in the past two years, addressing this part of the debate. Somehow in the head of the Minister, he feels that this part of the Budget should not be debated fully… our members of Parliament are in no mood to go there and to be controlled in a narrow framework where the Government will once again hide behind parliamentary rules to avoid open debate on these issues.”Jagdeo said the PPP is of the firm belief that the $10 billion budgeted for the constitutional agencies should be a matter that will be subject to a full debate. “We support the view that if you give financial autonomy, then you must live with the consequences… we will be aggressively challenging the reasons he give for cutting the budgets of these agencies,” he added.Further, Jagdeo warned there will be “major expressions of disproval” if there is an attempt to truncate debates on this matter. “I hope they will not say we are vulgar again when we try to represent the people… if the Speaker and the Government try to truncate us raising these legitimate concerns of people across Guyana and try to shield the Minister from giving explanations for acting contrary to the legislation that they themselves passed, then you are going to see major expressions of disapproval from our side,” the Opposition Leader said.Asked specifically about the Budget 2018 request made by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), one of the 16 constitutional agencies, in light of the reports on procurement breaches at that agency, Jagdeo made it clear that procurement breaches at the Commission was not the justification cited by Jordan in cutting GECOM’s budget. “That was not his justification to cut the budget,” he asserted.Jagdeo also expressed the view that the requests made by the constitutional agencies can be met, if the wastefulness undertaken by the coalition Government is dealt with.