Lawyers Fight to Dismiss FDA’s US$6M PUP Case

first_imgLawyers for four dismissed Frostery Development Authority (FDA) managers and a senior surveyor from the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy are fighting to convince Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court “C” to drop the US$6m case against their clients.Judge Gbeneweleh is serving as both the judge and jury, because the defense team chose to wave their rights for a jury.The judge will decide on Wednesday whether or not he will drop the charges against the defendants.Their clients are being tried for their alleged individual roles in the illegal issuing of up to 61 Private Use Permits (PUPs) that authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of farmland in the country when they were serving in their respective positions.They were charged based on the report of a Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB) setup by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to inquire about the issuance of the 61 PUPs by the defendants.The report is vital to the case but this is a claim the accused have denied and are yet to take the witness stand to testify in their own behalf. Their lawyers are petitioning Judge Gbeneweleh not to allow them to testify.Surprisingly, the defense team is pushing this argument after the prosecution had rested with the production of witnesses and documentary evidences.In their argument last Wednesday before Judge Gbeneweleh, a defense lawyer, Cllr. Albert Sim, said prosecutors’ witnesses failed to prove the guilt of the defendants beyond a reasonable doubt.According to a judicial expert, a burden of proof means the prosecutors must present evidence at the trial that proves beyond any doubt that the accused person committed the crimes for which he or she is being tried.The expert further said if the prosecution has not presented any evidence on a necessary fact then the case could be dismissed without the defendants having to put on any evidence, meaning that the defendants can’t take the stand.Further to the argument, Cllr. Sim explained that James Dorbor Jallah, who chaired the Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB), charged that their clients failed to investigate one of the defendants, David Blayee, former County Surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, assigned in Grand Bassa County.Unfortunately, he contended, the Jallah Committee’s final report submitted to President Sirleaf recommended that Blayee be prosecuted along with the other defendants.During his testimony, Jallah admitted that his committee did not investigate Blayee. Instead, he was charged based on interviews they held with residents in those PUP areas.“They did not give him the due process under our law. He was not investigated, but indicted,” Cllr. Sim explained.According to him, the report was selective, which may cause it to lose its credibility.“The report recommended one month suspension for the board of Director of the FDA, Dr. Florence Chenoweth, who is the Minister of Agriculture,” he stated.He also added that Chenoweth was one of those who signed and approved the issuance of the PUPs to most of the logging companies, but unfortunately she is not being prosecuted.”He continued, “They are not schooled in the area of criminal investigation so how do they arrive at the US$6m. It was based on speculation.”Based on these, the defense team asked the court not to allow the defendants to testify, but to drop the case against them. In counter argument, a member of the prosecution team, Atty. Abraham Sillah, contended that they proved their case beyond reasonable doubt.”All of the witnesses we presented testified about each of the defendants’ role in the issuance of the PUPs,” he further argued. He admitted that the Jallah Committee did not investigate David Blayee, because, according to him, when Blayee heard that the group was going to his county for investigation, he fled the area.“We do not even need his investigation before we can indict him, because the committee visited most of the communities where they had issued the PUPs and collected information there, so they did not have to ask him for his side of the story, after he had fled,” Atty. Sillah explained, supporting the Jallah Committee’s decision not to investigating Blayee.According to him, during the investigation, nobody was arrested by the police, but it was after the committee presented its findings to President Sirleaf that she recommended that the defendants be prosecuted.Dismissed FDA Managing Director Moses Diakpo Wogbeh, along with other managers, including a surveyor at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, are charged with eeconomic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting obtaining and deceptive writings, obstruction of government by public servant in connection with the much publicized Private Use Permits (PUPs) saga.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more

FAO, UNDP Use Village Savings and Loans Program to Empower Farmers

first_imgBeneficiaries of the Village savings and loans program distribute money among members.The United Nations Peacebuilding project, jointly implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) focusing on components within their mandate and comparative advantage, continues to reach out to the most vulnerable rural populations especially young women by providing the needed alternative livelihood opportunities.The Multi-Partnership Trust Fund Project titled: “Strengthening Conflict Prevention through the Establishment of Multi-stakeholders Platforms and Improved Alternative Livelihoods” led by FAO, is providing increased support to nine (9) concession affected communities in Bomi (Gbar-Jakeh, Beh-sao and Moore Town) and Nimba (Sippi Town, Zolowee, Minkinto and Sayeaga).The two agencies are jointly coordinating their efforts alongside the Government of Liberia to reach out to over 1500 direct beneficiaries in Bomi and Nimba Counties.UNDP coordinates the aspects on establishing and capacitating multi-stakeholder platforms (MSPs) that incorporate opinion leaders including civil society representatives and local leaders (town chiefs, commissioners, women and youth) and (MSP) is strategically positioned between the government, concessionaires, and these communities. The MSP is “an innovative approach for peacebuilding and social cohesion. It works to ensure effective prevention and resolution of concessions land-related conflicts. These platforms have helped resolve differences amicably, preserving agreements between all parties through MoUs and consensus”.FAO leads the component that helps provide sustainable alternative livelihood to affected communities. Through a local Implementing Partner “Universal Empowerment Mission”, FAO rolled out an intensive two-week capacity development exercise for targeted beneficiaries simultaneously in the seven (7) project communities in the two counties. The exercise aimed to equip the beneficiaries with skills and knowledge in Business Management and Marketing, and Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) for sustainable access to credit, agriculture-based income generating activities and social cohesion in group spirit. The training targeted seven (7) VSLA groups comprising 240 young women (cassava, poultry and vegetables producers) across the two project counties.FAO provided agriculture inputs and post-harvest facilities In addition to the VSLA and Business Management and Marketing capacity enhancement support, FAO is providing support to the farming communities consisting of women farmers who make up majority of Liberia’s smallholder producers and agricultural labour force with improved rice seeds, cassava cuttings and hand tools, backed by extension services to enhance production and productivity.Two post-harvest facilities have been constructed and equipped with agro processors in the counties to enable farmers minimize post-harvest losses.Farmers embraced the ideas of FAO and government of Liberia  Emmanuel N. Zangbory, Secretary of the SLAC Farmers’ Cooperative in Nimba County, which hosts four communities, described the training as “rewarding” adding, “This is the first time for such a training to be introduced to our farmers. This is helpful, it will encourage the women to get involved in agriculture.”He noted that since the introduction of the project in the four communities, farmers have been actively, working in groups, and agricultural activities are moving well among them. “The women here only depend on farming, this will be a great help for them,” he added.George Dale, Program Officer, Universal Empowerment Mission, added that from the training, the women have established by-laws and constitutions that will ensure effective regulation and management of the groups activities and engender them sustainably. “We introduced to them group election, meeting procedures, business management and social fund policies and practices as well as constitutional development,” he noted. Further, he mentioned that the training also provided the opportunity for the groups to have a broader knowledge on loan disbursement and repayment to enable them to identify their income at the end of the cycle. He added that the project is a unifier as women are brought together and united under a common purpose, expressed enthusiasm in acquiring the knowledge to enhance their agriculture activities.A clearly ecstatic Bendu Scott, Chairlady, “Think for tomorrow” VSLA group in Beh-sao, Bomi County, took the podium, and speaking on behalf of her group, requested FAO for additional support to consider expanding the training to reach out to other women.The chairlady of the thirty (30) women’s group underscored the importance of the training, “We are so happy for your support. We appeal to FAO to provide similar support to other women who are not part of this training. This is an opportunity that is provided to help us increase our production.” She added that women from the three communities (Gbar-Jakeh, Beh-sao and Moore Town), in Bomi benefited from the training.She noted that the VSLA introduced by FAO will improve their agriculture production, empower them economically and improve their self-reliance (dependence on their husbands).Next StepsWorking through the Government of Liberia, FAO Liberia, UNDP, and its partners, will ensure that gains made are sustained. To this end, some capacity support has been provided to the GoL to undertake monitoring and follow-up actions through the decentralized structures of the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Bureau of Concessions.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more