Community advocacy organisation ACT NOW! says there are a lot of important issues for the new Forest Minister, Salio Waipo, to address, especially rampant illegal and unsustainable logging.
Campaign Manager Eddie Tanago says that it is shameful that more than 30 years after the Forest Act 1991 introduced a raft of reforms aimed at stopping the unsustainable logging and corruption exposed by the Barnett Commission of Inquiry, the situation today is no better.
“The Forest Act was supposed to mark the end for Colonial era Timber Rights Purchase (TRP) agreements which were found to be full of abuses,” says Mr Tango.
“Yet, more than thirty years later, the majority of log exports are still from TRP areas under agreements signed by landowners who have long since passed and with no sustainability clauses”.
ACT NOW! is also highlighting the abuse of another type of logging permit, the Forest Clearance Authority (FCA).
Tango said the FCA is supposed to allow the clearance of small discrete areas of forest so they can be planted with agriculture crops or for a road to be built, but instead the PNG Forest Authority is issuing FCA permits that cover hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest, which are used by logging companies for large-scale export logging operations.
Mr Tanago says the Forest Authority is failing to follow many of the steps mandated by the Forest Act in issuing the FCA permits which means that many are probably illegal.
According to official government figures, in 2021, 28% of all log exports came from FCA areas and a total of more than 2.7 million cubic metres of logs were exported.
This means that PNG is still the largest exporter of tropical logs anywhere in the world. This is despite Vision 2050 having set a target or 2010 for the end of such exports.
Before the recent National Elections, Prime Minister James Marape said his government was committed to end the export of round logs by 2025 in favour of 100% downstream processing
“Yet claims by the PM that no new log export licences have been issued to foreign companies since 2020 are simply not true”, says Mr Tanago. ACT NOW! has identified eighteen new log export operations that have commenced in the last two years and the number of new operations is accelerating, not declining.
Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Commission is still auditing more than twenty logging companies accused of defrauding the country through tax evasion and false accounting.
“The Prime Minister and his government say they are committed to effective action to stop corruption, if that is true, they need to start by ending the ongoing and very serious abuses in the forestry sector”.
ACT NOW! says there must be an immediate halt to the issuing of any new FCAs and the extension or renewal of any logging permits granted under TRP agreements while an independent audit is conducted to establish whether any of the existing operations are actually legal.
There must also be an end to the issuing of any new log export permits or licences or the extension of any existing licences so the government can meet its 2025 commitment.