Illegal Logging

There is a very high risk that almost all logging occurring in natural forest areas in Papua New Guinea is illegal - as revealed in a Timber Legality Risk Assessment published ACT NOW!

The assessment is based on a comprehensive review of all the available literature, including the reports of official government inquiries, court cases, international organisations (such as the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the International Tropical Timber Association) and civil society groups.

The analysis shows that although most logging operations are authorised by the PNG Forest Authority there is an almost universal failure by the PNGFA to follow the law in issuing timber harvesting licences.

This includes a failure to ensure the informed consent of customary landowners and a failure to follow the correct procedural steps designated in the Forest Act.

There is also a complete failure to monitor timber harvesting operations and ensure the logging companies follow the terms and conditions of their licences. 

A case study on the Wammy logging operation provides a good example of the types of illegality that can be found across the whole logging sector. A foreign owned logging company was issued a Forest Clearing Authority (FCA) in 2013, allowing it to clear discrete areas of forest in West Sepik Province for agriculture planting. The FCA was issued despite the opposition of a large number of local clans. Ten years later, although logs worth around US$31 million (K115 million) have been exported, no agriculture projects have been established.

The Forestry Act clearly states that forest clearing cannot extend beyond the first 500 hectares until there is clear evidence of agriculture planting, yet the PNGFA has allowed the logging company to harvest trees over more than 40,000 hectares.

ACT NOW’s Risk Assessment also finds that in breach of the Forest Act there is no attempt in most logging projects to apply basic sustainable forest management principles or to ensure the logging companies follow the logging code of practice.

The research shows there are the same, well documented problems, in all three different types of large-scale logging authorised by the PNGFA - the colonial era Timber Rights Purchase (TRP), Forest Management Agreement (FMA) and the FCA.

The Risk Assessment findings of widespread illegal logging are consistent with the recently released Anti-Corruption and Money Laundering Strategic Plan published by the Bank of PNG.

The Strategic Plan identifies illegal logging as one of the top five money laundering risks in PNG.

ACT NOW! is calling on the government to immediately suspend all logging operations across the country until each one is independently audited to establish whether it is legal or not. 

ACT NOW! also says the government cannot rely on the PNG Forest Authority to bring the problem of illegal logging under control or implement any reforms.

There is strong evidence the PNGFA is operating as a rogue organisation that is endorsing and facilitating widespread illegal activity.

The police fraud squad, the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Financial Analysis and Supervision Unit at the Bank of PNG should all take a very hard look at the behaviour of the PNGFA and its staff.

The illegal logging industry is generating hundreds of millions of Kina in revenue and its being assisted by government employees. It is not hard to imagine what their motivation and rewards might be.

PNG Forest Authority response

On 12 November 2023, the PNG Forestry Authority published a four-page media statement in the Sunday Bulletin newspaper addressing the concerns raised by ACT NOW in its Timber Legality Risk Assessment.

The Statement starts by asserting the PNGFA and the forestry sector is already undergoing major reforms to address the issues raised by ACT NOW in the Risk Assessment, but it then goes on to dismiss those concerns.

In particular, on the issue of timber legality, the Statement asserts that as PNG timbers are harvested from legally permitted and licensed projects they comply with both the International Tropical Timber Organisation and the European Union definitions of illegal timber, which both refer to the harvesting of timber in contravention of local laws.

With all due respect to the PNGFA their assertion is both illogical and legally incorrect. Just because a logging operation is being conducted under a permit or licence issued by the PNGFA does not mean that the correct legal steps have been followed in issuing the permit nor that the logging company is operating within the laws governing timber harvesting operations. A permit or licence is not proof of legality.

Download the full statement from the PNG Forest Authority.