Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Forestry officials ignoring PNG law

The Australian newspaper

Forestry officials ignoring PNG

Greg Roberts April 23, 2008

PAPUA New Guinea has admitted its forestry sector is riddled with corruption as a high-powered delegation of Australian frontbenchers arrives in the country for talks that will focus on deforestation.

Nine Rudd government ministers and parliamentary secretaries will front the first PNG-Australia Ministerial Forum since 2005, in Madang, PNG's second city, with the new forest carbon partnership between the two nations the main topic for discussion.

The parties are expected to reach an agreement to protect the Kokoda Track at today's forum in what will be billed as recognition of the sacrifices made by Australian Diggers during World War II in PNG in the lead-up to Anzac Day.

In the first admission of its kind by a PNG Government, the country's new Forest Minister, Belden Namah, has told the PNG parliament in Port Moresby that logging companies routinely flout laws with the help of corrupt officials.

Mr Namah said "most" of his departmental officers responsible for monitoring forestry operations had ignored the laws and that many were "in the pockets" of logging companies.

"I have noticed a lot of corruption going on within the Forest Department," he said.
He said he had suspended two forestry licences and that no permits would be issued for log exports after 2010.

"Now that we are facing climate change, we must move to sustainable management of our forests," he said.

The Madang summit follows a series of high-level talks about how the PNG-Australia Forest Carbon Partnership - announced by Kevin Rudd during his visit to Port Moresby last month - will operate.

Climage Change Minister Penny Wong said protection of rainforests and a reduction in forestry were the main objectives of the partnership.

"The partnership aims to help PNG reduce its emissions from deforestation," Senator Wong told The Australian.

"An important part of this is helping PNG prepare to enter future international carbon markets. These are intended to create financial incentives to retain forests rather than deplete them."

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Duncan Kerr indicated that agreements under the partnership would be closely monitored.

"The robustness of a monitoring mechanism will be obviously crucial to the credibility of what is put in place," he said.

An agreement to protect the Kokoda Track, where more than 600 Australians died fighting the Japanese, would confirm Australia's support for the World Heritage listing of the trail and the surrounding Owen Stanley Range.

"We have constantly stressed to PNG how important Kokoda is to Australia because of the sacrifices of our soldiers, especially leading up to Anzac Day," Mr Kerr said.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the summit showed the Australia-PNG relationship was "back on track" after being strained under the Howard government.