Corruption blamed for Papuan rainforest destruction

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Thursday, March 2, 2006

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A new report on the commercial logging industry in Papua New Guinea (PNG) released by international forestry organization, Forest Trends, shows that the overwhelming majority of current commercial industrial forestry operations in PNG are ecologically and economically unsustainable.

Foreign logging companies are in open defiance of the law and cutting down Papua New Guinea's rainforests, thanks to corruption and government inaction, the report alleges. Washington-based environmental group, Forest Trends, linked Malaysian loggers to Papua New Guinea's political elite. It described working conditions as "modern-day slavery" and said forests were effectively being logged out.

While the PNG Government does have laws and regulations to ensure sustainable timber production, these were not being enforced, the report states. It identified "a political vacuum with no demonstrated government interest in controlling the problems in the sector."

The report summarised independent reviews of the timber industry between 2000 and 2005. Forest Trends claimed corruption had devastated rural living standards and ignored the basic rights of landowners: "There are a few logging operations in the country which are deemed beneficial to both local landowners and the country, but they are lost in a sea of bad operators. The Government needs to support these companies, or risk having the international community boycott all of PNG's exports."

Natural forests are being chopped down unsustainably, mostly by Malaysian companies, the organisation says.

It reports that much of the labour is imported, and says that Papua New Guineans are not getting an acceptable return for the logging while one of the country's precious natural resources is dwindling. Most of the timber is exported to China, and is often turned into products for export to Western countries.

If foresting continues in this manner, they warn, Papua New Guinea could be bereft of its natural cover in a decade.

"The system must be fixed," said Michael Jenkins, President & CEO of Forest Trends. "The nexus between the logging companies and the political elite needs to be broken. One way to do this is to help local landowners better understand their rights and to establish a legal fund so that they can be defended. Papua New Guinea's legal system does exist outside of political control and the courts have a track record of ruling against illegal logging."

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