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Timber Trade In A Total Mess

Timber Trade In A Total Mess

Timber logging and trading, a lucrative business which has been a very important and reliable source of income and livelihood for both the Government of Sierra Leone and thousands of Sierra Leoneans over the years, is now experiencing its most messy moments in the history of the trade according to a thorough investigation conducted by Sierra Express Media (SEM).  (Photo: Babadie Kamara)

Since our country’s timber began to be exported in the early 2000s, government and hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans have benefited immensely from the trade.  The trade which is statutorily placed under direct supervision of the Forestry department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, has been a well-organized one with laid down rules called the 2010 Forestry Policy.

The Forestry Policy, which was in operation in 2001 to 2004 until it was ratified in 2010, stipulates that anyone interested in exporting timber out of the country must first register a company in Sierra Leone, must also have a concession i.e he/she must go to a particular area in the country and buy a forest, must have done an Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA), must have done management and operational planning and must also lay down the sum of fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) as collateral among other criteria before the Forestry Department of Agriculture Ministry will then instruct the Ministry of Trade and Industry to issue an export certificate to the individual. In a bid to ensure transparency and most importantly, to ensure that the government gets all the taxes it deserves, a system worth over $300,000 called the CADESTRE SYSTEM was developed with the help of FAO, DFID, UNDP and EU to track every detail information on amount of timber exported, Cubic Meters, Volume of Containers and revenue generated on the timber export among others.

Even though the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) government of late President Kabba and the All Peoples Congress (APC) government of former President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma made some adjustments in the policy to include appointing a sole government agent who must have a functional factory for value addition as one of the criteria to oversee all the timber exports and serves as an extra eye for the government, our investigation further reveals, both the Cadastre System and the Forestry Policy were fully operational and both the Agriculture and Trade ministries fully played their supervisory roles.

When the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) government came to power in April this year, His Excellency Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio, through an executive order, put a ban on the timber trade and set up a committee to look into the happenings around the trade with a supposed intention of making it more attractive and beneficial to both government and the people of Sierra Leone. Sadly though, our investigation also reveals, the committee which was supposed to look into some of the challenges of the trade and proffer recommendations for the benefit of all never carried out it job but rather went ahead to misinform the president purporting that there were over 13,000 containers worth of timber already logged which resulted to the subsequent appointment of a total novice, Babadie Kamara of Leadway Trading Company, who do not meet almost all criteria set out in the 2010 Forestry Policy including owning a factory to do value addition among others, as a sole agent for the export of a whopping thirteen thousand containers of timber log and in the process, absolutely excluded the statutory institutions (Agriculture and Trade Ministries) in the trade.

Upon his appointment, our investigation unearthed, Babadie’s first step was to kick out all the major stakeholders who have all the knowledge in the timber trade including the Timber Association, Timber Exporters and most of all, agriculture and trade ministries who are statutorily mandated to supervise the timber trade and replaced them with total novice in the timber business. Moving from being the government agent as per his appointment, Babadie in collaboration with the Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, are allegedly doing everything in the timber trade including logging, loading the containers and every other step involve in the exportation of the timber without any checks and balances systems. He also allegedly goes around arrogantly threatening people and breaking every available rule in the timber industry at will without any regard or whatsoever.  ‘’ Nobody knows what is been generated from the trade’’, sources within the Ministries of Agriculture and Trade respectively stated adding that he only reports what he pleases as revenue generated in the trade. Our sources in both ministries also revealed that the thirteen thousand containers of timber log reported to have been already available for export, is totally untrue because as it is now, our forests are been destroyed heavily as a result of the timber logging going on currently across the country.

When contacted for his response to the above allegations, Mr. Babadie Kamara denied all the allegations and added that it is a deliberate attempt by detractors of the New Direction to sabotage his good works.

This medium therefore urges His Excellency Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio to critically look into the state of affairs of the timber trade in order to clean the mess gets messy.

In our subsequent editions, more damning revelation about the timber trade will made. Stay connected.

By Ibrahim Alusine Kamara

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