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WEST WATER GROUP (LIBERIA) INC LOGGING COMPANY, A CURSE OR A BLESSING?

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Blinlon Administrative District Nimba County Liberia– Blinlon is one of the Nineteenth (19) Administrative Districts in Nimba County and has a densely forest area with wide life and beautify mountains range which makes it even more beautiful. It borders Rivercess County on the North/East (NE) and Grand Bassa County on the East (E). Blinlon has fourteenth (14) towns with one semi-high school including many primary public schools some of which has been constructed by their current Representative Prof. Hon. Johnson N. Gwaikolo, four clinics, and has religious tolerance. They have mixed culture and several other tribe speaking groups therein with Mano being dominant.  The famous Kwendin Vocational Training Institute though destroyed because of the 14 years of war but facilities are still being seen with its beautiful features. The issue of Global System for Mobiles (GSM) Communication is still a challenge but the leadership of their current Representative Prof. Gwaikolo continue to lobby in getting in partnership with Lonestar MTN Mobile in planting their receivers as being seen in few of the towns across the district. On the other hand, some parts of the district receives Global System for Mobiles (GSM) networks like Orange Liberia and Lonestar MTN but by standing or sitting to a particular location.

In July 2020, Geoffrey Gawu as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of West Water Group (Liberia) Incorporated signed a third party 15 years Commercial Used Contract Agreement (CUC) after going through several steps by law in line with The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) rules & regulations as it relates to logging activities with the citizens of Blinlon Administrative District represented by Their Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) for logging purposes. It was a joyous occasioned that was witnessed by jubilant crowd from across the district including some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from Grand Bassa, Stakeholders including the district Representative Prof. Johnson N. Gwaikolo.

Geoffery Gawu,CEO of West Water Group (Liberia) Inc

During the signing ceremony of the CUC, The CEO of West Water (Liberia) Incorporated Mr. Gawu appreciated the government of Liberia headed by His Excellency President George M. Weah, Honorable Johnson N. Gwaikolo, Forestry Development Authority (FDA), citizens of Blinlon, Stakeholders, and Civil Society Organizations, one and all for their level of cooperation. He furthered assured the citizens that his company will live up to the agreement signed.

Expats Residence at the camp

 In another development, Prof. Gwaikolo as lawmaker of the district, equally appreciated all partners that were involved with the step by step arrangements which led to the signing of the CUC, but he strongly cautioned the company to live to its task as being spelled out in the agreement.

“We want to see the road works to get started in providing farm to market road which will enable our citizen’s take their good over to the market. So we thank you. We equally want you our citizens to welcome this development for the better good of us because investors love security and our way of working with them will provide that” Prof. Gwaikolo laments.

West Water Group (Liberia) Inc raod in transporting their logs

Logging activities has been one of the ways of revenue generation for the government of Liberia as way of providing economic values for better standard of living for its citizens. Unlike now, Climate Change which Environmentalists have cautioned against logging activities, this practice is ongoing across Nimba, Lofa, Rivercess, Sinoe including other parts of Liberia, West Africa.

In the last three years, we have witnessed heavy stormed that has destroyed homes etc. across Nimba and other parts of Liberia with Kwendin in Blinlon being one of them. Many Environmentalist have said, because of logging and farming activities that has witnessed the cutting down of trees without replanting could be possible means of these natural disasters.  

‘’Just two years after, West Water Group (Liberia) Inc signed the CUC, they have started shifting from the Agreement signed and till now they have not completed for example one of the first key areas of the agreement which has to do with connecting farm to market roads across the 14 towns. The road works supposed to have started from Gwan River behind Kwendin to Gogorpa including other parts of the concession area, but they decided to start after two years have gone against them from Boyee to Towin and the roads are not even paved properly as compared to their assess road for harvesting and transporting of their logs’’ an Elder told Media Practitioners.  

A TEAM OF PUBLIC HEALTH PRACTITIONER INCLUDING MEDIA PROFESSIONALS FROM THE ONE NIMBA HOUSE MEDIA INC WHICH OWNS AND OPERATES NIMBA D-9 TV PAID A DAY VISIT AT WEST WATER GROUP(LIBERIA) Inc. CAMP BEHIND TOWIN IN BLINLON ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT AND FILED IN THE BELOW THAT WERE OBSERVED

With a challenging road, narrowed bridges and extremely heavy down pulled of rain, a team of professionals reached the camp and was welcomed by their Human Resource Manager Garfus Rufus Yonjaye who later on invited the Camp Manager.

He fully briefed the team and said they signed the CUC for 15 years and what they have noticed so far is, the logs they wanted have not being found since their operation started and moving forward the company may get involved with other activities in producing other products. Though the team saw logging activities being ongoing actively. He mentioned they have 7 expats and 67 Liberians with 60% of the work-force being hired from Blinlon Administrative District based on their scales in logging. Those who are not qualified have been placed into other departments in building their capacities. As a company, our focus is to see the community develop and because of that, we have paid the first land rental fees of USD$27,094 plus USD$5,000 as scholarship fund for community development and capacity building. He lamented that, some citizens are in the hobby of farming in the concession area which he is calling on the relevant authorities to move in before it affects their operations.

“It is three years and they have only paid year one land rental fees including the scholarship fund which we appreciate but they still have not paid the biggest amount in the tone of USD$54,188 plus USD$10,000 for Land Rental Fees and  Scholarship funds but they continue in harvesting the  logs and even brought in some gentlemen from Sinoe that are harvesting the under dia-meter logs allegedly which is a violation and burying them because they want to destroyed our forest and go back to Sinoe where they borrowed these few pieces of earth moving equipment they are using from. As you travelled on the road you will see the parts of the road paved and you will compare it to their assess roads which are properly paved than the roads we are using as citizens. Yes, honestly speaking, relatively there are improvements but they need to do it better as it is what we signed.  I can, say this West Water Group (Liberia) Incorporated  is a 419 company and we say thank you all for coming in lifting these issues” A Citizen of Boyee.

The team observed the following:

  • The team noticed that the roads are relatively good
  • We noticed very professional security team from Lakpor Private Security Guard a security firm hired from Nimba County with branches across Liberia. Theire recruitment covers 95% citizens of Blinlon and they were very professional during our stayed
  • The first year scholarship fund USD$5,000 has being given to the community Schorlarship Committee headed by Amos Pilkawo
  • According to the CUC signed, qualified citizens of Blinlon Administrative District are to hold key Managerial positions, but on the contrary it is not the case at West Water Group (Liberia).
  • Open Defecation (ODF) is being practice amongst the Local staff because the company has no latrines for local workers, but has relatively good toilet facilities for all the expats. This practice poses serious health risk for not only the camp but other adjacent communities across the district, but nothing has been done in addressing the issue since their operations started.
  • Eye witnesses that do not want to be named told, team that, they will always tell inspectors that they are addressing the issue but when the people leave they can’t do anything
  • We saw a closed hand dug well and was told by Mr. Yonjaye that, they were during the well when a boy got drowned in it which caused them a huge setback though he was tightlipped on how the death of the boy was resolved. The entire local workers side of the camp has no safe drinking water and the workers drink from the creek as an Open Defecation (ODF) Community.
  • The expats have safe drinking water with a water pump machine just close to their residence opposite the local staff side.
  • The camp has electricity
  • There is no coverage as workers walks miles in finding faint GSM connection
  • There is a poor health post which does not represent a concession of 15 years with a local clinic registered as their medical officer with no medical licensed that equally violates  healthcare provider recruitment   
  • No ambulance for emergency purposes
West Water Group (Liberia) Inc health post

Amidst them all, Mr. Yonjage said, these are issues that they will resolve as they move forward because the economic climate globally is experiencing serious issue and West Water Group (Liberia) Incorporated is of no exception. He cleverly did not say when the company will pay the two years land rental fees plus scholarship funds to the people of Blinlon, but rather said they are committed in working with all sides in solving these issues.

Media team on tour in the camp with the Human Resource Manager

In balancing this report, a team of media practitioners from ELBC, Liberia Public Radio and The One Nimba House Media Inc (Nimba D-9 TV) had an exclusive interview with Prof. Hon. Johnson N. Gwaikolo on July 5, 2022 and he amongst other things said that these issues as raised have come to his attention verbally and he has invited the company and the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) for conference in crossing checking with the company’s operations.

Scene of where was supposed to be a site for safe drinking water
Lakpor Private Security Guard at West Water Camp

“As we said to both the company and our citizens during the signing ceremony in Boyee, Blinlon Administrative District that this company should go by the agreement signed in keeping all sides in good working relationship, we maintained that and calling our citizens of Blinlon to remain calm in helping to solve these and other issues.    

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