PNG Groups Urge World Bank to Keep Logging Reviews

By Bob Burton

CANBERRA, Australia, September 27, 2002 (ENS) - Papua New Guinea environmental and community development groups fear the World Bank will buckle to lobbying by the logging industry and agree to retreat from commitments it made to protect landowners and environmental values of the country's rainforests.

At the center of the controversy is a stand-off that flared earlier this week between the PNG Forest Authority (PNGFA) and the World Bank over implementation of the $US39 million, six year Forest and Conservation Project.


Rainforest in Papua New Guinea (Photo courtesy PNG Eco-Forestry Forum)
The project, agreed to in December 2001 by the previous PNG government and the World Bank, included commitments to review all new logging permit applications and review 15 current logging projects by June 2003.

Papua New Guinea contains the world’s third most extensive tract of forested land, which covers more than 60 percent of the country's land area. Nearly all of it is held as customary land by the country’s five million people, and 80 percent of PNG residents use forests for timber and non-timber products.

The Forest and Conservation Project (FCP) was to be launched at a public forum in Port Moresby last Friday following intensive workshops with government agencies earlier in the week. But on Monday morning, the managing director of the PNG Forest Authority, David Nelson, demanded the World Bank postpone the workshops indefinitely.

A leaked World Bank memo revealed the exasperation of World Bank staff over the cancelation of the project's public launch. “The reason given was that there has been insufficient consultation with the PNGFA and that they want to renegotiate aspects of the FCP prior to any launch workshop,” the memo stated.

“If the government (PNGFA) walks away from this agreement, or fails to cooperate at this stage, then it is likely to have very negative implications with respect to future donor assistance in PNG," the memo said. "The PNGFA have been consulted about the FCP for a very long time and have been aware of the workshop date for at least since … the start of August."


Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare
(Photo courtesy National Alliance)
Despite frustration, the World Bank agreed to cancel the planned forums, suggesting they may take place within a few weeks.

World Bank country director Klaus Rohland, who was unavailable for comment, signaled in a media statement that the “World Bank expects to discuss these matters further [with PNG leaders] during the meeting in Washington, DC." The annual meeting of the World Bank opened today in Washington and continues through Sunday.

The Eco-Forestry Forum (EFF), an umbrella group of 20 community development and environment groups promoting community forestry projects, fears the World Bank will agree to further weaken the FCP project.

EFF chairman Kenn Mondiai wrote in a fax to Rohland this morning, “If the conditions of the loan agreement are not to be implemented and fully observed, then much of the FCP will become pointless as large scale logging operations will continue unabated and uncontrolled, destroying forest areas and negatively impacting on the lives of rural people and the national economy.”


PNG community sawmill (Photo courtesy EFF)
In the eyes of the EFF, the postponement of the FCP project launch is ominous. “The events of the past few days were clearly predictable and demonstrate a clear agenda on the part of the PNG Forest Authority, the logging industry and some politicians to see the FCP withdrawn or renegotiated,” Mondiai wrote.

Dick McCarthy, who serves as executive director of the PNG Forest Industry Association, has welcomed the government’s insistence that the launch of the project be deferred in order to allow time for renegotiation of the project.

All the PNG government did was ask that the World Bank "review the terms of reference," McCarthy told ENS. "Now if you sally forth here and do something and don’t have support of the masses you get ourself into trouble … and I think they sallied forth,” he said.

“But no one is canceling. All they are saying is we want to sit down and talk about it to try and get things a bit better,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy confirmed that the logging industry body would be pushing PNG's new government to overturn changes made by the previous government. “Commercial industry and the professional foresters of PNG were sidelined [by the World Bank] to allow much greater say by the greens, and there were some changes done to the Forest Act, and that needs to be unchanged,” he said.

Greenpeace forest campaigner in Papua New Guinea, Brian Brunton, is worried. “The World Bank has shown themselves to be consistently weak at the knees," he said.


Industrial scale logging in PNG (Photo courtesy EFF)
"Whether or not they will stand firm or give up will depend on the amount of pressure that is applied to them," Brunton said. "But if no pressure is applied to them I think they will repeat the mistakes they have made in the past with the Papua New Guinea government."

The previous PNG Prime Minister, Sir Mekere Morauta, failed to overturn government approvals for new logging projects without the required agreement of landowners.

The new PNG government is headed by Sir Michale Somare following an election count finalized in July. Brunton is hopeful the new government will respond to landowners' concerns.

“This government is a lot firmer and is a lot more open then the previous government on forests and conservation issues, so it is quite possible this government could actually pull itself into line," Brunton said. "The real problem is that agreements that were made between certain members of the previous government and logging companies are still being played out."