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Ecuador: Conclusions

Over the course of development of this project, progress has been noted in the provision of information by the public institutions; however, there are still cases in which the lack of coordination between different ministries, or between different directorates in the same ministry, mean that it is not easy for citizens to access information. There are, for example, a number of maps related to land tenure and land use, drawn up by different organisations, but there is no single place where these maps can be accessed and comparisons made between them. There is also information on forest operation plans and forest infractions, but requests for information have to be made to access these documents; according to the criteria for the indicators analysed, this means that access is partial rather than complete. International standards on the right to information make it compulsory for public bodies to publish information of public interest in a proactive and routine manner, even when there is no request for information. This means that Ecuador is making progress, but still has some way to go with regard to transparency in the forest sector; this is a job involving both the public sector and the private sector, civil society organisations and citizens in general.
The solutions to the problem of poor forest governance are not simple. The list of social, economic and environmental problems affecting forests in Ecuador is long and complex. The measures taken by state and non-state players to deal with all these problems are beyond the scope of this report, which is focussed on access to information. After three years of work and research, we can say that although not all the changes are attributable to the Making the Forest Sector Transparent project, it has succeeded in keeping the topic of transparency and access to information on the public agenda, in sharing more information between civil society organisations, and in looking for points of agreement and uniting efforts.
Ecuador has reached a decisive point. There is a broad framework, including the Organic Law of Transparency and Access to Public Information, which provides a basis for managing the sector and taking decisions about the use of resources, and there are signs that the government wants to protect forest resources by using incentives to promote sustainable use and by implementing monitoring systems. However, insecure land tenure, deforestation, illegal logging, and the prioritisation of extractive projects indicate a clear conflict of interests. For this reason, transparent and informed dialogue between all stakeholders (government, civil society and the private sector) are crucial if good forest governance is to be achieved.
Although the environmental authority is determined to generate information systems which make citizen access easier, key processes, such as the creation of the new environmental code (if it is still on the agenda) need to be extended to civil society. The same is true for the new forest production policy: although the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries (MAGAP) has begun a process to disseminate this policy, changes in personnel and in the offices have delayed this process and there is no widely available information on this subject.

As people gradually begin to perceive the value of timber as more than just a mass consumption good (something tangible and easy to understand) and begin to understand forests as carbon reserves and providers of environmental services (neither of which is easy to measure and place a monetary value on), it becomes increasingly important for public authorities in Ecuador to be honest about the public information they have available and the decisions they take in the public interest.

We reiterate that the existence of laws is not a guarantee of transparency in itself, nor does it guarantee the dissemination of information or decision-making. On this point, civil society is an important element in promoting and encouraging compliance with the law, as it places the subject on the public agenda and organises citizen action around a series of topics related to access to information. Citizens must fulfil their role as review panels, as co-participants in the decisions taken in relation to forest management, as support for the monitoring and oversight activities implemented by the environmental authority, and reporting any cases of corruption. When all is said and done, sustainable management of forests is a shared responsibility.

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