Govt. Will Arrest Anyone
-For Intruding Sarpo Nat’l Park
Authorities of the two forestry regulatory and monitoring agencies- the Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), say the government in conjunction with UNMIL will arrest anyone found encroaching on the Sarpo National Park.
The Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy, Jonathan Mason and FDA Managing Director, Eugene Wilson, in a joint press conference over the weekend said, anyone be it from MODEL, LURD or GOL will be arrested and prosecuted if caught carrying out illegal activities at the park exclusively reserved for wildlife conservation.
According to Minister Mason, he was taken aback when he saw in the newspaper that people were mining at the Sarpo National Park. He said the information presented in the paper appeared as if they (regulatory and monitoring agencies) were aware of what is going on at the park, adding, “the reports that the ministry has given approval [for such illegal activities] is false and have no iota of truth.”
He said like the Gola National Forest in the upper Grand Cape Mount and Lofa Counties, the Sarpo Forest was set aside since 1960s to safeguard not only the infrastructure in terms of trees or mineral resources but wildlife as well and they will not allow anyone to desecrate the park. According to him, “what the people doing there is sickening; we have never issued any claim to anybody, they are all illegal,” adding, “as I speak, my agents and monitors are on their way to the park to get those people out.” Minister Mason said his ministry has done a letter to the Justice Ministry to have all those people arrested and move them from the place.
Earlier, FDA Managing Director Eugene Wilson said it is their responsibility to protect and safeguard the Sarpo Forest, which he described as “our heritage for over three hundred years.” He said the issue in the media raised some concern and comments about the park and he immediately contacted the Minister of Lands, Mines & Energy so as to see what kind of collaborative approach to take because “our team from the FDA was visiting the place to do some assessment and gather information about the park at the time.”
Mr. Wilson stated that they need to adopt a sustainable approach to monitor and regulate the park so that those illegal activities do not occur. He used the occasion to appeal to their international partners like Fauna & Flora International, Conservation International, Liberia Forest Initiative and some business people to help them with resources to make sure that the project on hand can be implemented.
According to him, if FDA is functional- as public corporation, it will be able to generate its revenue, which will enable it carry on its own operations. He said right now, they have gone into the fourth month without paying their employees’ salary because the subsidy is not forthcoming. “How do we take those people with four month arrears to resettle them at the park?” Mr. Wilson questioned, adding, “This is why we are calling on our international partners to help us.”
For his part, the FDA Deputy Managing Director Anthony Tapilah, said in order to send out those rangers to the park, they need to buy T-shirts as well as provide them with travel allowance. He said the entire project cost US$35,805.
John Woods, Coordinator of Liberia Forest Initiative In-country said he was happy that the two government institutions could take the matter seriously at this time. He said what they need to do now is to send signal to the international community that the government is prepared to do something about the Sarpo National Park.
The Program Manager of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Anyaa Vohiri, said her agency supports the park hundred percent, especially through the local NGOs working with the National Park. She said they at FFI, would like to see that the forest sector is balanced in terms of commercial, conservation and communal.
Meanwhile, the UNMIL Civil Affairs Officer, Joseph Sam-Sesay said the security issue raised by the parties concerned would be taken to the relevant authorities of UNMIL. According to him, the security issue is not only about the park but also the country as a whole, adding, “we have to protect the forest for our future generations.”