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Illegal or legal logging?
The debate about industrial logging and its benefits for Papua New Guinea continues with a lot of talk from both the environmental movement and pro industry lobbyists. While the debate is producing a lot of attention both in PNG and internationally, it fails to incite action from the PNG Government to either prove conclusively that PNG's forestry sector is operating legally, nor has the Government taken any action on a problem which every environment, legal and human rights group operating in PNG, considers to be a major economic, environmental and social problem for the country.
A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (Loggers remain a law unto themselves, dated September 9-10 2006), questioned the Government's ability and desire to control logging companies.
It highlighted the utter disregard of PNG's laws by logging companies and the fact that their operations are hard to supervise as administrations are short of resources, allowing the loggers to operate with impunity. It also highlighted the close connection between the National Alliance and the logging industry, reporting that Rimbunan Hijau paid K100,000 on table sponsorships for a recent dinner put on by the ruling party. Former Treasurer Bart Philemon was quoted in the article to the effect that his efforts to extend internal audits into the national forestry and fisheries authorities were blocked by the PM. Mr Philemon was quoted as saying: 'Sometimes I find it very difficult to talk forestry with the PM. Somehow ' I don't know whether he has interests or what interests he has in there ' but he seems very protective on the forests issue.
The image of government is tainted simply because we haven't done anything but try and to lamely refute some of these allegations from Greenpeace, siding with the company' Mr Philemon also called for another judicial inquiry into logging.
The last attempt to independently audit PNG's forestry sector took place between 2000 and 2005. The Independent Review Team was mandated by the PNG Government and the World Bank and collected extensive data across many areas of the PNG logging industry. The drafts and final reports made allegations widespread illegalities across the industry. Rimbunan Hijau's operations in areas like Wawoi Guavi and Vailala received scathing criticism regarding the conditions for local employees and allegations of human rights abuses.
Until recently, it was very difficult to access the findings of the review publicly, however a group called Forest Trends, based in Washington DC, has collated these findings into two reports and made it available online (http://www.forest-trends.org/documents/png/index.php).
Forest Trends came to the following conclusion: 'The Reviews clearly show that operators are not achieving compliance in (the basic key areas that define 'lawful' logging), and that current commercial forest management is ecologically and economically unsustainable and illegal. Logging is also not serving the long-term interests of landowners or the state.
One review alone of 14 active logging projects (including the five largest and eight of the top 12 and covering a gross area of 3.16 million hectares with a population of more than 83,000 people) found that none can be defined as legal and only one project manages to meet more than 50 per cent of key criteria for a lawful logging operation.'
(Editor's Note: Rimbunan Hijau has disputed the findings and has defended its operations saying they are legal and that they meet government requirements).
The Government has shelved the review process, avoiding the embarrassment of tabling them in Parliament, and has not said what, if any, action it has taken to address the recommendations of the reports. One may ask, why the Ggovernment stopped pursuing the Review process, losing the chance to eliminate all doubts raised in the reports about non-compliance by the industry?
If PNG's logging industry had nothing to hide it could have used the review process to clarify so called mis-reporting by the Review Team. The reports painted a damning picture of the forestry industry in PNG and would have been very embarrassing for the government and the forestry industry if made public.
Greenpeace believes that the PNG government must combat illegal and destructive logging for the benefit of the country's future and that the timber companies should clean up their act. A moratorium on all new industrial logging should be called while the government acts on the recommendations of the Independent Review Team reports.
Forestry should be a resource that benefits all the people and not just a privileged few in the short term.
' Ty Chung is communications officer with Greenpeace Asia Pacific Forest