Papua New Guinea NGO’s Sceptical on New Timber Legality Scheme.
Port Moresby, December 2, 2008.
A timber legality scheme announced today by Rimbunan Hijau (RH) and the Papua New Guinea Forest Industries Association (PNGFIA) was met with scepticism by Greenpeace and two leading PNG environmental NGO’s. The scheme claims to be the first to independently verify the legality of timber leaving PNG.
PNG’s forestry industry has a woeful track record. No logging concession is able to meet the International Tropical Timber Organization’s (ITTO) criteria for sustainable forest management and the World Bank estimates that up to 70% of all logging in PNG is illegal.
Greenpeace is concerned that SGS is far from being an independent, neutral and objective body in the implementation of its TLTV verification scheme, as it is too close to the PNG logging industry and is an advocate of industry views. Being objective and neutral is a key requirement for third party independent verification schemes. There was also minimal input from NGOs on the process.
“SGS’ involvement of NGO’s has been minimal. NGOs were shut out of the verification process through not being able to have an observer participate in the audit,” said PNG Eco-Forestry Forum (EFF) spokesperson Effrey Dademo. “If they had nothing to hide they would have been open and transparent with the organisations that are trying to insure that PNG’s forests are being managed in an environmentally responsible and legal manner.”
SGS’ reputation on legal verification schemes has much to be desired.
“SGS verified as legal Swiss logging company Danzer in the Congo but we found Danzer was carrying out massive transfer pricing and tax avoidance,” said Greenpeace spokesperson, Tiy Chung. “The TLTV system did not pick these failures up.” (1)
Greenpeace International has also looked at two TLTV schemes in Russia and Africa and found that neither was able to fully meet the criteria needed for a credible legality verification system. (2)
“The primary concern with this scheme is that it does not address responsible forest management,” said Yati Bun of the Foundation for People and Community Development. “How can this scheme be taken seriously when it does nothing to stop destructive practices by the logging industry.”
Malaysian logging giant, RH, has operated in PNG for 32 years and is the largest logging company in PNG. They have been accused of illegal logging, gross human rights violations and logging without prior and informed consent of landowners.
“Increased international demand for legally harvested timber has forced RH to fast track this verification scheme,” Mr Chung said. “Given RH’s woeful track record in PNG we are sceptical that this will be little more than a greenwashing exercise.”
“There is huge potential for capturing the value of forest carbon but ongoing destructive logging and poor forestry governance mean PNG has a long way to go to convince the world it can protect its forests and distribute funds equitably to local communities,” Mr Chung said.
Greenpeace is calling on the PNG Government to establish a moratorium on issuing any new large-scale logging concessions or extensions.