Number Five: 22 June 2002
Chamber of Commerce undermines forest governance reforms.
The PNG Chamber of Commerce has deliberately blocked forest governance reform by putting the forest industry back on the National Forest Board. This is contrary to the intention of reforms passed by Parliament in amendments to the Forestry Act.
Those amendments removed the logging industry lobby group, the Forest Industries Association, from representation on the National Forest Board. This was in response to what was seen as a gross conflict of interest situation and undue logging company influence on the Board.
In making its decision, Parliament was particularly conscious of the attempts by the Board to grant the giant Kamula Dosa logging concession to Rimbunan Hijau outside normal procedures and against the advice of the PNG Forest Authority. The Ombudsman Commission has investigated this matter, though its final report has not yet been published.
To replace the logging industry on the National Forest Board, the Forestry Amendment Act, gave a seat to the Chamber of Commerce. The Act specifically provided that the nominee of the Chamber should not be from a ‘foreign owned or controlled company dealing in timber’.
But now, in a slap in the face for the PNG Government and all those working for forest industry reform and against corruption, the Chamber of Commerce has nominated the Forest Industries Association as their representative on the National Forest Board.
The Forest Industries Association is funded by a voluntary levy from logging companies based on the volume of their log exports. This means that PNGs largest logging company, Rimbunan Hijau (a ‘foreign owned and controlled company dealing in timber’), is the principal financial supporter of the FIA.
Rimbunan Hijau has been at the center of a number of logging controversies including the allocation of Kamula Dosa and the recent illegal extension to the Wawoi Guavi timber permit. RH has also recently been revealed to be illegally employing hundreds of foreign workers as tractor drivers, cooks and machinery operators in its logging camps.
Despite the Chamber of Commerce having taken a vocal role in the ‘Community Campaign against Corruption’, it seems that the Chamber is happy to deliberately undo governance reforms in the logging sector by putting the FIA back on the National Forest Board.
The Chamber of Commerce decision not only defeats the intention of Parliament and blocks a much needed reform measure, the appointment is a direct breach of all normal conflict of interest rules and it has been made despite the clearly suspect history of overseas logging comapnies in PNG.
Forestry Amendment Act 2000:
Forestry Act 1996:
Forest Industries Association Presidents Report 1999:
1999 Financial Report notes: