Sinoe County Superintendent J. Milton Teahjay has announced that his administration has cleared the Sarpo National Park of more than 20,000 illegal miners and poachers, thanks to the enormous support he said he got from President Sirleaf, international partners, and his colleagues in River Gee and Grand Gedeh counties.
The some in the group that had occupied the park, he disclosed, have been digging large holes indiscriminately in the forest in search of diamond and gold as others killed and poached endangered species of animals, while the rest ripped off rare flowers and tree species carefully selected and planted by horticulturists for research and tourist attraction.
“So going in the park was to preserve the park for research purposes by universities all over the world in agriculture, forestry, fishery, animal raring and all kinds of things. Secondly, when we get to that point of preserving that park and creating an environment in which tourists can go in there to see the animal species that will be a major center of tourists’ attraction in Liberia and perhaps the biggest in the sub- region,” the Sinoe boss said.
The Sarpo National Park, the largest national conservation zone in the country, borders River Gee, Grand Gedeh, and Sinoe counties, about 85% of the Park being in Sinoe.
The illegal miners and poachers had swarmed and occupied the national park dating back to the takeover of the region by the rebel MODEL faction in 2003.
They have since defied efforts by the government and international conservationists to get them out in order to protect endangered species until recently when Superintendent Teahjay booted them out “without firing a bullet”.
Many had thought that clearing of the park of armed felons would have resulted into a firefight, something the superintendent said did not become necessary because the illegal miners and poachers simply complied with his ultimatum to leave the area within a given period.
The former MICAT Deputy Boss, who lavished praises on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for affording him the opportunity to serve his people, said he was grateful to the president, the citizens of Sinoe, his colleagues in the region and donors for the smooth completion of the exercise.
“The Sarpo National Park has been 100% cleared now, without firing a bullet and it is important to state that here. Those who were occupying the park were given a timetable to vacate the park to avoid government forces going in there and having military confrontation with them,” Mr. Teahjay said.
Besides the Liberian government, the authorities of River Gee and Grand Gedeh counties, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the International Conservation Union (ICU), and the ICUMU have contributed immensely to the success, Superintendent Teahjay told The Analyst in an interview this week.
He did not say what roles the county authorities and each of the organizations have played in getting the illegal miners out, but he said what was now important was for the government to barricade the park to prevent the illegal miners and poachers from reoccupying it.
President Sirleaf recently mandated Superintendent Teahjay to clear the Sarpo National Park of illegal miners in preparation for its rehabilitation.
“Now that we have achieved the goal she gave us, we need to now go to her and give our own practical recommendations as to how we can preserve what we have achieved,” he said.
He said he was planning recommending to the President the deployment of a unit of the security forces to work with FDA to keep illegal miners out of the park as removing them once they reoccupied the park would require unnecessary expenditure as well as be time consuming.
“The only way to achieve that objective is for the national security forces to go in there, get posted for a while for the next few months while the FDA is trying to prepare its rangers to take over from the national security forces,” Mr. Teahjay said, noting that a delay would be create a difficult situation.
He said the clearing of the park was one of three major assignments the President gave him upon his induction as Superintendent of Sinoe County in November 2009.
The other two were the clearing of the Sinoe Rubber Corporation (SRC) plantations of illegal tappers, which ended with the intervention of armed guards of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberian National Police (LNP), and the gem-rich Government Camp.
Unlike the park and the SRC situation, which required the forced removal of illegal occupants, he said he was successful in getting the Government Camp miners to upgrade their operational licenses from 23% to 92%.
He did not say what the increased percentage point meant for government revenue generation in the region or in terms of illegal cross-border trade, which UN says has become an emerging problem in Liberia as border security improved in the region, but he said he was satisfied that the miners were operating legally.
Meantime the Sinoe County Superintendent has disclosed that some of the yellow machines the county has ordered for road and bridge construction have arrived in the country.
He said the caterpillar machine was still en route and would take few more months to arrive in the country because it was being shipped on a separate vessel because of its size.
“The equipments are being bought and they are currently in Monrovia and you can go on the 13th Street and those machines are there on display, except for the caterpillar that is still on the way coming,” he said.
He said the presence of the equipment, which would be transported to Sinoe when road condition improved, settled the suspicion that he had withdrawn US $250,000.00 from the Sinoe Development Fund to construct a private mansion.
“Even if the people of Sinoe County were stupid, they will not allow me to go and withdraw US $250,000.00, where do I get that kind of trick from to do it? So, the equipments are here and they are on display now for verification. But I am disappointed that while we are trying to put Sinoe County on the right path in terms of development, there are those who are still bent on destroying Sinoe County,” he said.
The Sinoe boss, who graded himself “A” for achieving presidential assignments on time, said his administration has reconciled the people of Sinoe to the extent that there was no distinction between Sarpos, Krus, Jelapoans, and Americo-Liberians.
“Sinoe County now is reconciled, everybody in the country is now considered to be Sinoans and not tribal elements,” he claimed, grateful to the youth and student population of the county for supporting his administration in its endeavor to undertake meaningful development.
“I also want to assure them that the scholarship scheme which was mismanaged many years ago before I became superintendent of Sinoe County is back on course,” he declared.
Meanwhile the former United People’s Party (UPP) presidential hopeful said his only political ambition now is to serve the people of Sinoe County as superintendent.
He then disclosed plans by President Sirleaf, in collaboration with the Governance Reform Commission (GRC), to submit a bill to parliament calling for the election of county superintendents.
“If that bill passes the House, it will be a good thing to try to serve my people if they want me to serve them. Any other thing beyond the superintendent position is possible, but I want to keep my card to my chest at this point,” Mr. Teahjay said.