The PNG Forest Authority has confirmed there are multiple issues affecting the Wammy rural development project in West Sepik province but denies the logging company is misusing its Forest Clearance Authority (FCA).
This is despite the Forest Authority confirming only 121 hectares of forest have being cleared for agriculture over a ten year period. Such a small area of forest would be capable of generating no more than 6,000 cubic metres of logs, yet the Malaysian owned logging company, Global Elite has exported more than 400,000 cubic metres, worth over K115 million since 2015. This clearly indicates that the logging company has been operating a large-scale selective logging operation across the entire 50,000 hectare FCA area, as has been confirmed by analysis of satelitte imagery, but the PNGFA has ignored this obvious discreapancy in its defence of the logging operation.
In September, ACT NOW! and Jubilee Australia published a report on the Wammy Rural Development Project that detailed multiple problems with the logging operation including allegations of unlawful timber harvesting, a lack of informed consent from local landowners, breach of agreements and human rights abuses.
In response to the report, the PNGFA has sent a six-page letter to ACT NOW that says while the project has been ‘moving at a slow pace due to ongoing challenges’ there is ‘no misuse’.
The challenges listed by the PNGFA largely relate to landowner concerns with the project - ‘landowners not fully understanding the company’s development plans’, ‘landowner disputes and misunderstandings’, landowners not ‘releasing their land’ for planting, not allowing extraction of road gravel and the process of ILG registration being ‘slow’ and incomplete.
All these issues, says ACT NOW!, point to the landowners never having understood the project in the first place and never having given their free informed consent to the issuing of the FCA - a fundamental legal flaw that is being ignored by the PNGFA.
The PNGFA letter also fails to address the central issue that the logging company has been allowed to conduct a large-scale selective logging operation across 50,000 hectares of forest, over a ten-year period and export huge quantities of logs all of which is outside the scope of the FCA licence.
A Forest Clearance Authority is only supposed to be used to allow the clearing of discrete areas of forest for agriculture planting or other land use changes. All large-scale selective logging operations are supposed to be licensed using a Forest Management Agreement which requires a much more stringent development process to ensure long-term sustainability and more stringent controls through the application of the Logging Code of Practice and Monitoring and Control Procedures.
The PNGFA letter says that any agriculture planting has been limited to only 88.5 hectares due to the landowner issues and other factors including the COVID pandemic, rising costs, climate change affecting the water level in the Sepik river (making transportation difficult) and a bridge collapse due to heavy rain and flooding. The PNGFA does not explain though how the export logging operations have miraculously been able to flourish despite these problems.
The PNGFA has also listed the infrastructure benefits it says have been provided by the logging company. These include 89 kilometres of main road, 164 kilometres of secondary road and 55 bridges. The PNGFA does not mention though these roads have primarily been built to access forest areas for logging rather than to link communities and does not say if the bridges are just temporary log constructions.
The PNGFA also says 12 new dormitories, classrooms and staff houses have been constructed at the Edwaki High School. There is no mention of any new health facilities, which landowners says they were promised and while the new school buildings are very welcome, they represent the bare minimum that communities should be able to expect from a project that has earned the company K115 million in log exports revenues alone.
The PNGFA letter concludes by saying the ‘spreading of untrue and misleading reports as done by ACT NOW and JARC is a slap in the face of genuine developers such as Global Elite Ltd, who in their line of business, endeavour to reach the unreachable particularly the 70-80% rural based population with basic key infrastructure, health and social services, in partnership with government through its respective agencies’.
ACT NOW! believes the PNGFA defence of the Wammy logging operation and denial of anything unlawful sums up everything that is currently wrong with large-scale forest management in Papua New Guinea and the reason why there is widespread illegality. .
Firstly, the PNGFA is ignoring the blatant illegality and defending the actions of the logging company as if it is an industry body not a government regulator.
Secondly, the PNGFA appears incapable of defending landowner rights or upholding the law and as such is a key part of the problem of widespread illegal and unsustainable logging rather than offering any solutions.
The PNGFA has not responded to requests from ACT NOW! for permission to republish its letter in full.