Response to the Special Presidential Committee on Alleged Carbon Concession
Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs
In June 2010, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appointed a three-man committee to investigate an alleged proposed carbon concession agreement between the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC), a UK based company, involving 400,000 hectares of Liberia’s forest space in Rivercess County.
In appointing the committee, the President charged them with the following terms of reference:
a) Determine whether specific procedures of the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC) Act were followed in the conduct of this alleged concession;
b) Determine the basis upon which the deal was structured and the reasons for single sourcing the proposed concession to CHC; and
c) Determine whether any act of impropriety, such as corruption, conflict of interests and payment of bribe or any form of irregular payment was made directly or indirectly to any official of the FDA, members of the Inter-Ministerial Concessions Committee (IMCC), the Board of Directors of the FDA or any official of the government of Liberia (GoL).
Response to Parts of the Report Involving the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs
1. Section 3.3 (D) under the Executive Summary:
a. The report indicts government officials in section 3.3: “It turned out that the strong but questionable money-making desire of the CHC overcame the integrity of nearly all the persons and the processes responsible for the award and negotiation of forest concession in Liberia.”
b. The report further states under sub-section D that the “Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs, Mr. Amara Konneh issues a concession certificate for the very complex and non-familiar matter of carbon credits without complying with the prerequisites clearly established by the PPCC Act, especially Section 89(1) of the Act which requires the Minister to ensure that the “barriers or bottlenecks that needed to be addressed have been clearly identified by the Concession Entity or by the Ministry responsible for Economic Affairs and brought to the attention of the Entity.””
The Minister of Planning & Economic Affairs, Amara Konneh, finds this conclusion to be false and misleading as he has NEVER issued any concession certificate to the FDA in favor of CHC and challenges the authors of the report to prove otherwise. Furthermore, Carbon concession is NOT the same as Forest concession as stated in section 3.3. Forest Management Contracts (FMCs) and Timber Sales Contracts (TSCs) are explicit components in the forestry laws of Liberia that are regulated by the Forestry Development Authority.
Since becoming Minister in August 2008, Mr. Konneh has issued ONLY one concession certificate to the FDA for Forestry Management Contracts (FMCs) for 116, 636 hectares of forest space in Rivercess County; 124, 242 hectares of forest space in Gbarpolu County; 5, 002 hectares of forest space in Bong County; 10, 004 hectares of forest space in Grand Bassa County, and 10, 004 hectares of forest land in Grand Cape Mount County.
Timeline for this process:
December 31, 2008: Minister Konneh received a letter (Ref: MD 175/08-14) from Mr. John T. Woods, former Managing Director of the FDA requesting a Certificate of Concession for the following three FMCs: FMC “A” in Gbarpolu County, FMC “B” in Rivercess County, and FMC “C” in Rivercess County, ( in addition to an earlier request for six TSCs submitted on December 18, 2007 to his predecessor) incompliance with Section 87(3) and 88(1) (2) of the PPC Act of 2005. The Letter is attached. The Act states that “prior to the commencing of any activity for the purpose of offering a specific concession, the head of the concession entity [in this case the MD of the FDA] shall request the Minister responsible for Economic Affairs to issue a Certificate of Concession for the specific concession.”
January 12, 2009: Minister Konneh received a letter from Mr. John T. Woods, former Managing Director of the FDA requesting a Certificate of Concession for the following four FMCs: FMC “F” in Grand Gedeh & River Gee Counties; FMC “I” in Grand Gedeh & Sinoe Counties; FMC “K” in Nimba, Grand Gedeh & Rivercess Counties, and FMC “P” in Maryland & Grand Kru Counties, in compliance with Section 87(3) and 88(1) (2) of the PPC Act of 2005. The Letter is attached.
January 21, 2009: Minister Konneh wrote a letter to Mr. Woods, requesting for additional information on his request (Ref: MPEA/AMK/023/A-11/’09) in fulfillment of the requirements of Article 89, section 1 & 2 of the PPC Act, as stated by the Special Presidential Committee in sub section D of their report. The letter is attached. The Minister followed the PPC law in this instance.
February 19, 2009: Minister Konneh issued a Certificate for Concession to the Forestry Development Authority, specifically to commence the process leading to the concession implementation of Forestry Management Contracts.
Section 7.3 of the Findings of the Committee’s Report states that:
The Concession Certificate issued in respect of the Contract did not comply with the PPC Act
“The Committee found that the Ministry of Planning failed to comply with the requirement of section 89(1) of the PPCC Act in that it issued a concession certificate to the FDA although (1) it knew (and told the Committee it had doubts about the workability of the carbon credits scheme, (2) it was advised that CHC was inexperienced, lacked necessary technical skills and financial means, and had also perpetuated fraud, and (3) the FDA Board of which the Ministry is a member had not approved the concession and that in fact the FDA had not developed a concession procurement plan required by section 79 of the PPCC ACT.”
The Minister did tell the Committee that he too had questions about carbon credits when he was approached about it by Senator Barney on two occasions in the Minister’s office. In two separate meetings with the Minister and his deputies in the Minister’s office, Senator Barney failed to convince Minister Konneh and his team on CHC. The Minister contacted Mr. Woods after the meeting, who told the Minister not to do anything until he (Woods) concluded their (FDA’s) studies on carbon. The Minister didn’t hear from Woods on carbon issues again.
No Concession Certificate issued for carbon activity: The Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs NEVER issued a Certificate for Concession in respect of the CHC Contract. In its own investigation, the Ministry has discovered that CHC engagement with the FDA was to pilot 400,000 hectares of forest space. The FDA couldn’t have used the February 19, 2009 Concession Certificate the Ministry issued to the FDA for FMC to begin the process of awarding concession to CHC because the certificate was issued specifically for a total of 265, 888 hectares of forest space while the CHC pilot project was intended for 400,000 hectares of forest. Again, the MPEA challenges the Committee to retract this false and misleading statement. If, during its investigations, the Committee had discovered that the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs issued a concession certificate in favor of the CHC pilot project, let it produce it. The evidence gathered by the committee and classified as “Annexes” in the report does not include a copy of the concession certificate that the Ministry supposedly issued.
Section 7.16: The Conduct of the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs and his Chief of Staff suspects:
“The Committee found that the concession certificate issued for the CHC Contract by the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs was in violation of the PPCC Act… The Committee also received credible evidence that a staff of the Ministry of Planning was paid bribes in connection with the issuance of a concession certificate for the CHC Contract.”
The report continues, “While the exact identity of the dishonest MOP’s staff , the Committee found the conduct of Mr. Edward Eesiah, Chief of Staff to the Minister of MOP as suspect, especially as it relates to duration and discussions of his meeting with Thomas Downing (controversial GEMAP Advisor at FDA who changed jobs in Liberia about 4 times), and the unreasonable failure to have failed to disclose the very important matters discussed in that meeting to either or both his principal and the Board.”
This statement is alarmingly incorrect. Mr. Eesiah specifically told the team that he reported the outcome of his meeting with Mr. Tom Downing to his principal, the Minister of Planning. Edward was further asked if he remembered discussing the carbon issue with anyone in FDA Board meetings or outside the FDA and he said no. The only time this carbon issue was discussed in FDA Board meeting was when the concept was introduced in the Board meeting. Again, Finance Minister Ngafuan and former Internal Affairs Johnson were present at that very meeting. And as far as the Planning Minister’s office is concerned, the issue never resurfaced in subsequent Board meetings. Therefore, Mr. Eesiah did not have reason(s) to report to the Board on the outcome of a meeting that his principal told him to hold with Mr. Downing. Mr. Downing advised against issuing the certificate to the Board and separately to specific board members. Mr. Eesiah promptly communicated that to his principal, causing the Minister not to issue the certificate in favor of CHC pilot project. The meeting with Mr. Downing was not a sanctioned meeting by the board for the Ministry of Planning to investigate the carbon credit; therefore, making Mr. Eesiah and the Ministry culpable based on speculations is very rash.
While the Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs cannot discount the possibility that a “staff of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs,” could be compromised, the Ministry’s own internal investigation has not uncovered any certificate of concession it issued legitimately or illegitimately in favor of the so-called CHC Contract. Again, we challenge the Committee to produce a copy of the certificate.
We understand that the Committee travelled to London and interviewed the London Police and other actors in the investigation. We urge the committee to implore the London Police to acquire the purported concession certificate in CHC’s possession. Our search of the FDA records revealed no certificate. In fact, the FDA told us that the CHC discussion had not advanced to the level of a concession certificate.
A letter written by the former Assistant Managing Director, Mr. E. Emeka A. Witherspoon dated February 16, 2009 requesting a concession certificate was NEVER acted on by the Ministry. Furthermore, Mr. Witherspoon also wrote similar letter to the PPCC for a SINGLE SOURCE. This letter for single source was written on the same day as the request for a carbon concession certificate was made. Under observation, in order for the process to have been normal, the MPEA certificate would have been required prior to the request to the PPCC to begin the tender process. That is MPEA establish the economic viability of the propose concession from the sector entity and PPCC then provide the tender approval.
Edward Eesiah neither received nor took bribe. In Section 5.23 of their report, the Committee states:
“March 2009: Tom Downing met for an hour or more with the Chief of Staff of the Minister of Planning in his office where Downing laid out CHC fraud at the request of the Planning Minister.”
The Minister requested that Mr. Downing and his Chief of Staff meet to discuss the CHC proposed project and Senator Barney’s harassment. This meeting was after a face-to-face meeting with Mr. John Woods on Monday, March 2, 2009 (The Minister’s schedule for 3/2/09 is actually in our records) in the Minister’s office. The Minister wanted to know if Mr. Woods endorsed a letter from Woods’ then deputy, E. Ekema A. Whitherspoon to the Minister of Planning while Woods was out of the office. The meeting was attended by the Minister’s deputies Muah and Ben, and the Chief of Staff. Mr. Woods told the Minister to ignore the letter written by Mr. A. Ekema A. Witherspoon on February 16, 2009 requesting for a Certificate of Concession in favor of CHC to “conduct forest carbon pilot activities in favor of 400,000 hectares of forest outside the Proposed Protected Areas Network of Liberia.” Mr. Woods told the Minister that Mr. Witherspoon didn’t understand the process and wrote the letter while he (Woods) was traveling. The Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs did not act on that letter. Our own investigation also showed that Mr. Woods withdrew the single source request thatMr. Witherspoon had sent to the PPCC. Our investigation also revealed that nothing happened on the CHC project between February and December 2009.
Mr. Eesiah met with Tom Downing on a Saturday in March (March 15, 2009). According to Mr. Eesiah’s briefing to me after his meeting with Mr. Downing, he was informed by Mr. Downing to advise the Minister not to issue a concession certificate in favor of the CHC pilot project. This was approximately a month after the Minister had issued a single certificate for concession to FDA for Forestry Management Contracts.
In his interview with the Special Presidential Committee, Mr. Eesiah actually told the committee that he met with Mr. Downing upon Minister Konneh’s request and informed the Minister of the outcome of that meeting. He also told them that Minister Konneh told him to meet with Tom after he (the Minister) ran into him at a reception in Mamba Point. It is the date and duration of the meeting that Mr. Eesiah could not remember, but he told the Committee the meeting took place on a Saturday, and probably lasted 15-30 minutes. Reflecting now, it is possible that the meeting lasted longer than 30 minutes because Tom insisted on showing Edward documents from some entity in California (or another State in the US), to prove that the CHC document was a mere “copy & paste”. If no Concession certificate was issued for carbon activity by the time Mr. Eesiah met with Mr. Downing in March 2009 and there is no evidence of one being issued after the meeting, how then could the Committee conclude that he accepted a bribe? If Mr. Eesiah solicited and received a bribe to issue a certificate as the Committee is alleging, we challenge them to show the certificate or anything suggesting that he did. Eesiah’s purported bribers must have given him money in exchange for a Concession certificate. We believe that it is incumbent on the Committee to produce the certificate which should form an integral part of their report to the President.
Additional response to verbal discussion with the Chair of the Committee, Counselor T. Nagbalee Warner:
a) Monday October 4, 2010: Minister Konneh, upon learning of the completion of the Committee’s report, immediately contacted Mr. Warner and the President:
a. Minister Konneh raised the same questions in this brief; and
b. The Chairman emphatically told the President of the Republic of Liberia and the Minister that the Committee had in their possession a copy of the Certificate of Concession the Minister issued in favor of the CHC pilot project and further accepted the President’s request to show the Minister a copy of the certificate the following day.
b) October 5, 2010: Minister Konneh followed up again with the Chairman but got no certificate. The Chairman told the Minister that his team was searching for the certificate and he would get back to the Minister when they found it.
c) October 6, 2010: Minister Konneh followed up again with the Chair. This time the Chair told the Minister that the Committee had no certificate. He however told the Minister that he (Mr. Konneh) has said on record during his interview with the Committee on Thursday, August 19, 2010 that he had issued a certificate.
a. Since becoming Minister in August 2008, Minister Konneh has issued 4 Certificates of Concession: Western Cluster (Ministry of Lands, Mines & Energy); Buchanan Renewables (Ministry of lands, Mines & Energy); Forestry Management Contracts (FDA); and Port Sector Reform Concession (NPA). This is what Minister Konneh told the Committee.
d) October 7, 2010: Minister Konneh contacted Mr. Warner again asking for an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with the Committee to respond to the allegations against him and his Chief of Staff . The Minister also suggested to Mr. Warner that his Committee classifies the report as draft pending the reactions/responses from all accused in it, as was the standard operating procedures in these kinds of investigations. The Minister even encouraged the Chair to follow general auditing principles of giving auditees the chance to respond before they made the audit final. This practice preserves due process clause in our laws. At this time, Mr. Warner admitted there was no certificate for the CHC pilot project. He said, however, that the Committee had spent months producing the report and that most of his investigators were either out of the country or not available. He also pointed to resource constraints, stating that the GoL only provided $5,000 to his Committee for their work. He said they would need additional resources for them to incorporate the feedback and responses of all those mentioned in the report.
Finally, in light of the lack of conclusive evidence regarding the existence of a certificate for the alleged carbon concession, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs challenge unequivocally the validity of recommendation 9.1 (f) of the Special Presidential Committee that the Minister of Planning and his Chief of Staff be reprimanded. The Ministry maintains that all of their actions, including the issuance of the certificate for FMC (even if blanket as the President, not the Committee, discovered) complied with the PPCC laws of the Republic of Liberia. Therefore, I strongly urge the Committee to withdraw the report for a more thorough review and revision.
Editor's Note: Detailed president report will be publshed shortly...