Inside chaotic Kajo Keji logging disputes
A company has threatened a full-blown tussle against the Central Equatoria State and Kajo Keji County governments over what it terms as a breach of the agreement.
Aguek Trading Company which operates in Kajo Keji claims that the area county government and the Central Equatoria State owe it $95000 that it paid in a contractual agreement to receive the logs as of January 2020.
The company’s director, James Maduol Thong, said Aguek Trading Company was among the three companies that agreed with the two levels of government to purchase 600 logs that were being auctioned in January 2020; when the country was restructured from 32 to 10 states.
“Those people (authorities) came and auctioned those logs and we paid $15,000 to each company,” he told The City Review on a telephone interview on Saturday.
Mr. Thong said that when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-2020, the companies failed to collect the logs. The inconvenience was compounded by the armed conflict that also rocked the area.
“There was no way for us to collect the logs but in 2020 January, we went and sat down with the community to tell them that we had come to collect our logs as the three companies because we paid the money; the community told us that [they had an issue with those logs],” he revealed.
Thong said the community told them to pay some money to the state and the county governments. This meant that they had to pay UGShs35 million to allow the community to write a letter to allow them to collect their logs.
“We paid 35million Ugandan shillings to the community, equivalent to $10,000 and we agreed and we went to get our graders and workers to collect the logs but the community came and arrested our workers,’’ he proceeded to say.
He said that although their workers were released, their graders remained behind. The community offered to release them on condition that they get to the negotiating table but it took them four months to go back
“We came and discussed with the community [and they released them] by fining us…The money became all together $15, 000,” he explained.
Thong further said the CES government wrote a letter urging the soldiers attached to on the ground to verify the logs. But even afterward, they never succeeded and it became even more confusing.
The community decided to sit down with the company and they agreed that the company should go back and start the work.
He revealed that the area commissioner directed the companies to pay $1,500 to a certain director of forestry after which they began the work, only for the community to write a letter to Juba to stop the exercise.
The company says it consumed $95,000 in the process on the commitment of getting logs yet to be received.
“My message is that they should do two things: I need my logs and I will leave the place and if they are not giving me my logs, let the county give me my money and I will go. And that is why on Friday I decided to close the county office,” he added.
He explained that the two other companies were in Juba to follow up on the issue and had spent two months with no fruitful end to the stalemate.
“Now the community is calling us thieves. How can we be thieves yet they made for our permission for one-year registration of collecting the logs from the office of the forestry director?’’ he posed.
By the time of going to press, The City Review was waiting for the response from the office of the CES Governor Emmanuel Adil Anthony.
However, the CES stopped all the logging activities in Kajo Keji last year after the residents raised alarm over massive deforestation.
In a separate order, the Central Equatoria State Cabinet Minister Wayi Godwill stopped logging in Kajo-Keji County pursuant to the initial order issued by the state. The area county commissioner and the director of forestry Beden Nelson acted in enforcing the order to stop the illegal activity.
This is said to have infuriated three companies: Santos Petroleum and Timber Company, Aguek Company Limited, and Oscar Investment, which proclaimed rights for the exercise.
By yesterday, Nelson was quoted by Eye Radio expressing fears that the companies were baying for their blood.
“They threatened us that if we did not accept them to transport their logs, they would deal with us accordingly,” Nelson told Eye Radio.
While the CES and Kajo Keji County hold firm to the directives declaring logging illegal in the county, three companies maintain that their contracts are valid and they ought to proceed with their activity especially after incurring costs.