Is the clock finally ticking for PNG’s illegal loggers?
By Lela Stanley
A time traveler from 1988 visiting Papua New Guinea’s forestry sector today would find it distressingly familiar territory. Three decades ago, Commissioner Tos Barnett was conducting his Inquiry into aspects of the forest industry, published as a two-volume survey of the corruption and illegalities allowing PNG’s forests to be felled wholesale and exported, to the country’s economic and environmental loss. Barnett’s famous pronouncement that logging companies were operating in Papua New Guinea with the “self-assurance of robber barons” is as relevant now as it was then. (Indeed, hardly a think piece on the industry can be published without repeating the quote.) What has changed in the interim is that those mostly foreign-backed companies have cut and sold off many millions more cubic meters of PNG timber, in a process that has signally failed to bring meaningful development to the country’s rural and forest-dependent communities.
PNG’s ongoing crisis in forest governance has been meticulously documented since Barnett’s day, including in a flurry of research published in the last several years. All of it tells the same story. Chatham House estimated in 2014 that 70% of the country’s timber may be produced illegally. The sustainability certification organisation NepCON gave PNG an abysmal score of 3/100 in its 2017 Timber legality risk assessment. In July, my organisation Global Witness published a report that included an analysis of satellite images of eight of PNG’s largest logging operations. All of the companies involved in those operations, based on imagery that documented violations of the Forestry Act, appear to have broken the law many times over. None of them have faced any legal consequences, and all continue to sell PNG timber abroad.
For Papua New Guinean communities that depend directly on their environment for their livelihoods …read more