Calls To End Sole Timber Right

As sole timber export right granted on Leadway Trading Company Limited still in force, a consortium timber companies are calling on government for equal consideration.

Most timber owners have received valid trade certificates to actively take part in the timber trade, but have been stopped by government. The stoppage has brought untold financial losses to the affected companies as they cannot export timber products.

Pile of correspondences seen by Nightwatch indicates that timber exporting companies, Banico Holdings Sierra Leone Ltd, Phoenix Investment Engineering Company (SL) Ltd and Nazadco Trading Company were legal entities to export timber from Sierra Leone. The three documents were issued on the same date, 12th August, 2020 by the appropriate institution, Ministry of Trade and Industry. In the conduct of the timber trade, all three companies were subjected to the same conditions:

The exporter should require further approval from the ministry, the exporter be issued with a letter from the Ministry for the release of export containers before the Ministry grants exception for proof of evidence. The timber exporting companies accepted the conditions issued by the Ministry of Trade to enjoy a smooth and uninterrupted export of timber from Sierra Leone.

By the time the companies started the export, another document authored by the office of the Chief Minister cancel the trade permits.

The correspondence ordered the Ministry of Trade to reverse its decision of granting permits to other timber exporters.

“I am directed by the Hon. Chief Minister to refer to the above subject matter, and to inform you that approval has not been granted for the timber companies to ship any form of processed timber and timber residue,” the letter reads in part.

However, another correspondence seen by this press indicates that sole right of exporting timber from Sierra Leone has been granted On Leadway to export timber from Sierra Leone.

“…On 27th June, 2018, Government appointed Mr Babadi Kamara of Leadway Trading Company, Sierra Leone Limited to serve as Government agent for the management and export of timber,” the document reads in part. The document further states that the agent was to supervise the export of 699 containers at the quay and 194 containers outside the port that were already paid for before the ban was imposed on the export of timber.

Leadway, the document also says should export an estimated 13,000 containers of timber awaiting shipment before the same ban on export of timber in April, 2018. Government justifies its action on the basis of the amount of money the sole exporter has made for the state.

“Government is pleased to report that since June, 2018, a total of US$37,050,000 has been realised from the levies on the export of 13,000 containers of timber and US$90,000 recouped from previous exporters being payments for cities. Out of these amounts, the document also states, US$4, 640, 000 has been raised for reforestation and US$32, 500, 000 transferred to the consolidated revenue fund.

US$32, 500, 000, it says: has been part of the “budgetary resources used to finance government programmes.”

Mr Babadi Kamara, the document continued was re-appointed to continue in his capacity as the sole timber agent. His reappointment came in the wake of government’s finalisation of a National Reforestation and Timber Governance Agency.

The granting of a sole right to Leadway Trading Company has stalled business potentials for other timber companies. Almost all timber Companies have shut down with record job losses for able-bodied men and women in the timber industry.

In the North-eastern headquarters of Makeni, five timber companies which were operating there have been closed. The closure of the companies sent over 400 workers out of work.

Apart from job opportunities provided for the youths by the companies, school and health facilities have also been constructed in communities where the company operates as a way of complying with its corporate philanthropy.

The Union therefore calls on the attention of government to reverse such trends in the timber industry for the benefit of all.

Opening up of the economy for every trade organisation to participate is the primary concern of the union of the timber owners.

As Leadway continues to dominate the timber industry, aggrieved members of the union insistently draw the attention of President Julius Maada Bio to the situation for a possible reform.

The affected companies made the loud call in a letter dated 27th June, 2016. To date, the affected companies, NAZADCO Trading Company Ltd, BANICO HOLDINGS SL Ltd, BAHSCO HOLDINGS and Phoenix Investment Engineering Company which formed the consortium could not export timber products owing to the ban.

The four timber companies share the same pain of not being permitted to export any timber product since 2018. Phoenix Investment Engineering Company was however granted permission to export processed wood in November, 2019.

The permission was transient in spite of the company meeting its financial obligations by the payment of required fees to government’s single treasury account before the Ministry of Trade gave clearance for shipment.

The export permit was abruptly stopped by government and every activity of the company came to a sudden halt. After thorough investigation, records show that the container was released and loaded on the vessel for shipment.

The container later arrived at the port of destination accumulating demurrage allegedly owing to the absence of CITIES Certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The shutting down of the timber factories continue to hit hard on the owners who grapple with salary problems. The Union of Timber Factory Owners and Workers is a consortium of wooden industry investors operating in value addition to the timber industry in Sierra Leone.

More than 5,000 records workers, records show, have been employed by the union including youths and women.

But, the ban on timber export has rendered them jobless.

Legal documents from Ministries of trade and Agriculture have mandated the timber owners to establish manufacture and export processed wood and furniture with focus on value addition to the timber industry thereby enhancing job creation, and maximising use of forest resources with the overall aim of promoting local content policy.

Records also show that rampant harvesting and exporting of timber logs for exporting has left behind huge piles of timber wood. The rejected wood, the document also indicates, is part of a source of raw materials bought, transported, processed for value addition.

The processed wood is then exported to other countries commanding high market prices.

The companies, according to the document, have complied with the criteria set by the Ministries of Trade and Agriculture for the establishment, processing and exporting of value added wood products.

Several containers of the processed woods, the document went on, had been produced awaiting the two line ministries to honour their obligations of granting permit to export them. The consortium of timber companies anxiously wait to see a response from government in the reversal of its ban on export of timber.

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