Merab’s Choice May Harm Forestry Sector -Donors’ Dossier on him “not favorable”

MONROVIA: There are strong indications that the appointment of Rudolph Merab as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority by President Joseph Nyuma Boakai may affect the chances of the international donors continuing to support Liberia’s forestry sector which is fast on the decline based on ethical grounds as “the dossiers on him by the international donors are not favorable”

According to some classified information which were leaked last week to some media institutions, copies of which are in possession of The Analyst, the donors are taking serious exception to the series of “illegal logging activities Merab carried on during the war years(1989-2003) which according to them, amounts to economic crimes that the international Community seriously detests”.

There are documented pieces of evidence against Merab for his role played under former President Charles G. Taylor to the extent that the prosecution team during Taylor’s trial cited Merab as one of those who exploited Liberia’s forest products to raise money for Taylor’s war.

Besides his long history of illegal logging, Merab is known for his opposition against the international community’s support to combat deforestation in the country.

Several stakeholders including development partners who spoke to The Analyst over the weekend said there are several thematic areas in sustainable forestry management which according to them include but not limited to protected areas and wildlife management; livelihoods for communities living around conservation areas; transboundary forest ecological initiatives, etc. that “will require huge capital outlay which are serious challenges to most Least Development Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Development States (SIDs) for effective management”

While asserting that Liberia is no exception to these challenges, a top staff at one of Liberia’s development partners said over the past six (6) years many international donor organizations, notable the German Development Bank (KfW) and the Norwegian Low Carbon Initiative have reduced their funding drastically or pulled out completely due to irregularities, fraud and conflict of interest in the Forestry Sector.

What is worrisome about Merab’s appointment is that it said that he was mandated by President Boakai to take along with him those who will constitute the top management team including the Deputy Managing Director for both Administration and Operations, the Comptroller and the Manager for Human Resources.

“The Mandran Wood Company, owned by Augustine Johnson and Ekemma Witherspoon who were sacked by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for separate criminal activities, are expected to form part of Merab’s Management Team at the FDA.

“Off course, the EU, KfW, USAID, World Bank and the GIZ cannot do business with such people. As a consequence, it will harm the economy thereby subjecting the entire country to untold suffering and the forest dwellers and rural communities whose culture, livelihoods and local economies depend almost entirely on forests and forest resources”, a former top manager at FDA told The Analyst.

Merab’s public outburst and criticism about a grant of USD150m from the Norwegian government to halt deforestation in Liberia has been cited as one of the reasons he should not be appointed to the position at FDA as stakeholders are of the strong conviction that he may maintain such posture with greater effect now that he will be head of FDA.

He told newsmen in 2017 that the agreement will hurt investors, businesspeople, and local employment and since then has been campaigning against every effort to combat deforestation.

Stakeholders have been critical of the choice of Merab and have expressed serious doubts about the President’s intent to make the forestry sector a key component of his economic development plan.

“At this stage and for what the President has demonstrated with this kind of appointment, one would doubt if he is serious about making the forestry sector a key component of his economic agenda.

“There is nothing outstanding or convincing about Merab in terms of policy direction and what he stands for when it comes to turning the sector around. There is no history of a road map from him; all we have seen and heard about him is being an illegal logger who exploited the forest for his own benefit”, Swen Thompson, a conservationist, told The Analyst.

Some of those who are opposed to Merab’s appointment also relied on the ACT that created FDA which has never changed since 1976 that the Managing Director of FDA should be trained professionally in Forestry. Merab has no professional training in forestry besides the first degree he has in Physics.

“The Authority shall have a Managing Director and such other officers and staff as the Board may determine to be necessary or desirable for carrying out its lawful function. The Managing Director shall be professionally qualified in Forestry. He shall be responsible for the conduct of the general operation of the Authority and for that purpose shall exercise all powers delegated to him by the Board. Subject to the approval of the Board with regard to senior officers and staff, the Managing Director shall be responsible for the organization of the staff and the appointment and dismissal of the officers”, according to section 7 of the ACT..

Despite all the communications advising President against appointing Merab and the danger of having him to manage our forest which he illegally exploited over the years, the President look more towards their long history of friendship and forget about the overall interest of the country by appointing him as the next Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, sad”

Who is Rudolph Merab?

Merab was born in Liberia to a Lebanese father and a Liberian woman. According to a sketch of his background, he graduated from the College of West Africa(CWA) in 1972 and went on to obtain a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Physics in 1991.

Much is known about him through his involvement in the logging business where he is said to be a key stakeholder and made good fortune from it. He founded the Liberia Wood Management Corporation along with his late brother Edward in 1988.

Besides making a lot of money over the years, Merab is said to have a checkered history in the industry. His company, the Liberia Wood Management Corporation is on record for illegally shipping round logs during the Charles Taylor era, and in some cases to purchase arms to fuel the civil conflict that claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people.

His company was one of those blacklisted by the international community as being one of the channels through Taylor transacted arm deals.

The Liberia Wood Management Corporation of Rudolph Merab  is on record for illegally shipping round logs during the Charles Taylor era, and in some cases to purchase arms to fuel the civil conflict which resulted in the death of about 250,000 persons.

Multiple sources including the Global Witness, claimed that during most of the war years LWMC’s properties in the-Lower Lofa, Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties were protected by ex-combatants and armed militiamen and that for just six months alone, LWMC exported 12,810.062 cubic meters of logs, according to records available from the FDA.

Merab’s illegal activities in the forestry industry continued even after the war when he founded another company, the Bopolu Development Corporation (BODECO), where it was involved in the Private Use Permit and exploited it . BODECO was said to have been awarded 90,527 hectares in Bopolu, Gbarpolu County.

Merab’s relationship with President Boakai

According to sources close to both President Boakai and Merab, Merab met the President at CWA in 1967 and both of them exchanged friendship. Boakai left him there and since then they have maintained a good relationship over the years. At a particular time, Boakai was a Chairman of Merab’s company, LWMC. The relationship grew over the years.

Pundits said it was this relationship that made it possible for Boakai to appoint him as the Managing Director of FDA despite his checkered past where he exploited the industry he was appointed to develop and revamp.

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