Saturday, 11 October 2008



Landowners take companies to court

Tiy Chung

THE PARADISE FORESTS OF INDONESIA, PAPUA New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are falling at an alarming rate. Every year 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the logging of natural and ancient forests.

Illegal and destructive logging in PNG is fuelling global warming which is melting icecaps, contributing to the drowning of Pacific Islands Countries and low-lying areas in PNG.

PNG’s forests can either help fight climate change if left standing or put the foot on the accelerator of global warming if the destructive and illegal logging continues. In fact by protecting its forests from logging PNG could make hundreds of millions of dollars from carbon financing. But, as a University of Papua New Guinea report points out: “PNG’s forests could make a significant contribution to global efforts to combat climate change.

"However, the current state of forest management and lack of effective governance means that PNG is a long way from being able to meaningfully participate in the carbon economy.”

The World Bank estimates that up to 70 percent of logging in PNG is illegal. Greenpeace believes the figure is as high as 90 percent due to the fact that many timber licences are obtained without the proper prior and informed consent of landowners.

“The PNG Government must put in place a moratorium on the allocation of any new logging concessions or extensions and conduct a review of all existing concessions. “Any concession found to be in breach of the laws must be revoked.

There should also be an immediate investigation into serious allegations of corruption between politicians and logging companies,” said Sam Moko, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. “Landowners are suffering while US$40 million allegedly sits in a Singapore bank account of a senior government minister from a logging company.”

Revelations: New revelations that K100 million have gone missing from the PNG National Forest Authority is further evidence that the governance surrounding forestry is out of control. In April this year, the current Forest Minister, Belden Namah, said, “I have noticed a lot of corruption going on within the forestry department.

Most [forest] officers are not supporting the landowners with their issues and are not promoting government laws and policies that are already in place to penalise the logging companies". Currently, there are 15 cases where landowners are taking logging companies to court for breaching forestry laws.

Greenpeace crew from the ship Esperanza have visited remote areas of Papua New Guinea’s Gulf and Western Provinces during September to document what is going on.

We found there were many social and environmental problems caused by industrial logging, as well breaches of the PNG Logging Code of Practice by logging companies. Local people tell of total disrespect from the company towards them. Examples of this include the destruction of sacred sites, lack of promised development, withholding royalty payments, logging too close to villages and endangering the food supply. Infrastructure like roads, airstrips and ports are rudimentary for the benefit of the logging operation and usually falls into disrepair once a company moves on.

The schools and medical facilities do not have materials, equipment or medicines. The logging industry is involved in a deception where exploitation masquerades as development.

The industry also makes over-inflated claims about the numbers of people it employs and its contribution to rural development. Foreigners do most of the skilled work, while PNG nationals are paid a pittance for dangerous work, usually done with no safety equipment.

Payslips obtained by Greenpeace from two Rimbunan Hijau (RH) concessions—Vailala and Wawoi Guavi—show workers working long hours for very little pay. Many camp workers are brought in from other areas and have no local fishing or hunting rights so must buy goods at inflated prices from the company's canteen, the only store in the area.

One fortnightly payslip showed a worker being paid K185.25 for 114 hours of work. After costs for food were deducted, he took home K5. Forestry workers are trapped in a debt cycle with logging companies and have no option but to continue working. Ken Karere, from Vailala, an RH concession, told Greenpeace, “The workload it’s very big...You have no food.

You have to go back to the store and buy food on credit and their prices are very high. All is recorded. So once I get paid, all that money goes towards the credit and you’re only left with maybe K10, K15. You have to survive on that for another two weeks but after one day that money’s finished.” “How are people supposed to invest in their and their family’s future on this type of wage?

This is not gainful employment that benefits PNG’s future, this is induced indebtedness verging on slavery,” Moko said. “These people work incredibly hard and are still well below the poverty line. They don’t even have enough money to pay to leave the area.” The International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in a diagnostic report released last year stated: “It is believed that the narrow focus of the PNG Forests Authority on exploitation of the forest resource for the primary financial benefit of the national government presents a conflict of interest which colours decisions made by the government at all levels.”

Moratorium: If the PNG Government is interested in participating in the International Carbon Market they must demonstrate a genuine commitment to saving the forests of PNG by introducing a moratorium on the allocation of all new and proposed logging concessions and extensions.

This must be done to improve Papua New Guinea’s reputation as a forest manager and address the key forest carbon issues of ‘permanence’ and ‘additionality’ before they can be taken seriously for REDD financial incentives. PNG must be able to demonstrate that they have the capacity and willingness to monitor and enforce forest protection, the ability to monitor and independently verify emission reductions, and establish national carbon accounting, before engaging with the international community on carbon financing initiatives.

PNG must also move to develop a legal and regulatory framework for carbon trading and financing and/or Payment of Ecosystem Services that ensures protection of the rights of the customary landowners as well as requiring multi-stakeholder governance and the development of national forest carbon standards.