Another classic FCA abuse: The Woodlark Island logging scandal

Three recent case studies published by ACT NOW, Ten Years Without A CropA New Forest Grab, and Where is the Beef? illustrate how logging companies use false or inflated claims of agriculture planting to obtain Forest Clearing Authorities which are then used as cover for large-scale selective logging operations.

This is no different to the story below reported in the Post Courier newspaper (11th June 2024) on an illegal logging scandal on Woodlark Island.

The abuse of FCA logging permits is just one part of the wider problem of illegal logging in PNG. A recent Timber Legality Risk Assessment published by ACT NOW! concludes there is a high risk that almost all logging in PNG is unlawful because of a failure to ensure the prior informed consent of landowners, failure to follow proper process under the Forestry Act or a lack of effective monitoring to ensure sustainable forest management. There are also issues of human rights abuses, financial misreporting and tax evasion.   

The commissioning of new FCA projects also calls into question PNG’s commitment to reducing forest loss and degradation and the recently announced funding of $100 million from the French government to support such measures.

While the Marape government has committed to phasing out almost all export logging by 2027 in its Medium Term Development Plan, current rates of logging are on course to exceed the mandated limits. The new FCA projects will only worsen this situation.

There are currently 24 FCA projects operating across Papua New Guinea and they account for one-third of total log exports.

Illegal logging unfolds on Woodlark Island. Provincial Government Cracks down

Source: Post Courier 10th June 2024

In a startling development, the Milne Bay Provincial Government has intensified its efforts against illegal logging activities on Woodlark Island, a district under its jurisdiction.

Kulawood Limited, a company operating on the island, has come under scrutiny for conducting logging operations logging operations without proper authorisation, raising questions about corruption and procedural violations within the forestry management.

The controversy centres around the issuance of a Forest Clearance Authority (FCA – 401) to Kulawood Ltd.

Despite the provincial Forest Management Committee (PFMC) rejecting their application due to unmet requirement, Kulawood Ltd managed to obtain an FCA, with conflicting versions signed under dubious circumstances.

This permit, crucial for legal logging operations, was reportedly granted without the necessary PFMC recommendation, a direct violation of the Forestry Act.

Other licence holders and a legally operating small scale logging company, has also taken Kulawood Ltd to court, filing for trespass after Kulawood allegedly harvested logs within the licensed area.

The court case highlights the boarder issue of illegal activities and the compromised state of regulatory oversight in the region.

The Milne Bay Provincial Member and other officials have repeatedly raised concerns about Kulawood operations in Parliament, demanding accountability and action.

The illegal logging has had severe repercussions for the local community.

The Milne Bay Provincial Government has not received any levies or revenue form Kulawood’s operation, with questions about where the money from the harvested logs is going.

Local resources, such as Bech-de-mer, are also being illegally harvested and transported under the guise of logging operations as well as ebony trees.

Meanwhile, the resource rich Woodlark Island community faces economic hardships, with residents struggling for basic sustenance during natural disasters.

The provincial government has decided to take a strong measure to address the situation.

Boats used in the illegal operations have been impounded, and there are plans to arrest and charge those involved.

Key issues identified include unregistered vehicles, unauthorised foreign workers, fuel being provided straight from overseas, food rations being bought from Kimbe, instead of Milne Bay and the lack of a registered office for Kulawood Ltd in Port Moresby.

Provincial Member Gordon Wesly has been vocal about the need for transparency and justice.

He emphasised the suffering of the local community and the urgency of protecting Milne Bay’s resources from exploitations.

Mr Wesly’s heartfelt plea reflects the frustration and determination of the provincial leadership to end the exploitation and bring those responsible to justice.

In a statement, Mr Wesly called on national authorities and the public to stand against bribery and corruption.

He urged for a through investigation and accountability for all logs and funds associated with Kulawood’s operations.

The provincial governments resole underscores a commitment to safeguard local resources and ensuring that the benefits of these resources are returned to the rightful owners – the people of Milne Bay.

As the Milne Bay Provincial Government moves to clamp down on illicit activities, the community and officials alike hope for a resolutions that ensures justice and restores the rightful management of their natural resources.