MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia has begun the process of revoking timber permits that were allocated inappropriately over a two-year period, allowing logging companies to claim 40 percent of the country's forests, the head of the Forestry Development Authority said Tuesday.
The holders of 17 so-called Private Use Permits, or PUPs, have been told their permits will be reviewed, Harrison Karnweah said, adding that "more will come."
A government investigation completed last December found that the permits, which were intended for individual landowners, had been exploited by logging companies looking to circumvent social and environmental safeguards. In response, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf halted the companies' operations and issued a moratorium on the licences.
A total of 63 the permits had been issued, according to the report.
"Most of these PUPs were granted in contravention of the Forestry Reform Law of 2006," Karnweah said. "Consequently, we have to revoke them."
He added that the permits could be reinstated if the review process shows they were granted legally. Companies can also appeal to the courts.
When she announced the moratorium on the logging permits in January, Sirleaf also vowed to take action against those responsible for issuing them.
Chloe Fussell, campaigner for the watchdog group Global Witness, urged the government to pursue criminal prosecutions.
"I think what's really important now is that the companies who were responsible are actually prosecuted and stopped from operating in the country," she said.
In a June report, Global Witness said the failure of the government to enforce forestry laws was encouraging new forms of abuse in the wake of the PUP moratorium. In particular, the group warned about "large numbers" of applications under a separate program called Community Forest Management Agreements, which were also not intended for logging companies.
Fussell said Tuesday that none of those applications were currently being granted.
Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.