The 2011 index of perceptions of corruption by Transparency International gives a score of 2.7 out of 10 for Guatemala, making the country one of those categorised as having 'High Levels of Corruption', occupying 120th place out of 183 countries assessed in the world ranking. This situation has repercussions on the levels of transparency in public management and has a negative impact on the country's development indices. In this national context, laws and initiatives which seek to make public management more transparent, including the environmental and forest sectors, are valuable.
A study by Citizen Action in 2008 concluded that regulation and the guarantee of the Right to Access to Public Information in Guatemala was "optimum", based on the Political Constitution (Articles 30 and 31), and on the Law on Access to Public Information (LAIP, Decree 57-2008), which designates the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) as the regulatory authority to ensure compliance.
Despite the regulations currently in force, there is evidence of deterioration on the part of the public entities in the forest sector in matters of transparency. The 2011 report by the PDH on oversight of websites classified the National Forests Institute (INAB), the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) as deficient, with less than 60% compliance with the LAIP specifications. The levels of compliance achieved in 2011 were: MARN 40% (a marked deterioration from 86.66% in 2010); CONAP 33.33 % (no figures for 2010); and INAB 12.12% (a deterioration from 18.51% in 2010).
The level of deterioration of the MARN, the governing body for environmental matters and climate change, is worrying. The deterioration in the INAB figure can be partly explained by the process of restructuring undertaken in the organisation between 2010 and 2011. However, this should not be a justification for failure to comply with the LAIP. A review of the INAB website shows the paucity of information available and, as in 2010, it does not have all the information links required by Article 10 of the LAIP (only 17 information links were present at the time of assessment).
It is worth highlighting the National System of Statistical Forest Information of Guatemala (SIFGUA) initiative, which is promoted by a number of bodies in the forest sector to consolidate a system for collating, analysing and disseminating information on forest activities in Guatemala. Despite the importance of the initiative, strategic information for the forest sector is not widely disseminated; this includes detailed maps, licences awarded, management plans, infractions and other information.
It is important to analyse the committed citizen initiative which is responsible for carrying out quality social auditing, a task which involves the participation, critical scrutiny and proposals from citizens' organisations, to demand compliance with forest and environmental legislation, and with the LAIP. To illustrate this situation, the INAB information unit reported between January and July 2012 a total of only 12 requests for information from citizens: two on forest investment certificates; one on beneficiaries of the PINPEP, two on forest licences, three on INAB rulings, and four regarding forest managers. This suggests that there little interest from the population in requesting information, either because they are unaware of the LAIP, or because the law is not widely disseminated (even when relevant to the indigenous peoples).
Sixteen years after the signing of the Peace Accords in Guatemala, high land inequality continues to be the norm. The National Agricultural Survey (ENA) estimates that 90% of agricultural producers operate at below-subsistence and subsistence level, occupying 21.7% of agricultural lands. In contrast, commercial producers represent 8%, but occupy 78.2% of the country's agricultural lands. There are no specific studies or maps which detail tenure of forest lands in Guatemala. 2004 figures from the FAO specify the following tenure for forests: 38% private, 34% national public, 23% municipal-communal public and 5% undetermined.
A number of studies evaluating compliance with the Peace Accords reveal a failure to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, including recognition of customary laws, even though they are broadly recognised by Guatemala's Constitution, as well as international agreements and protocols ratified by the country. It is worth highlighting that the indigenous movements have established legal mechanisms to assert these rights: evidence of this can be seen in the unconstitutionality actions presented in the first half of 2012 against the Mining Law, the sanctioning and promulgation of which was a violation of these rights.
To address this problem, various civil society institutions, academic and other bodies are promoting bill 40-84, the aim of which is to create a National System of Integrated Rural Development. This seeks to link together policies on agricultural, forest, hydro-biological, economic, social, cultural, participation and political development topics to promote the development of rural communities.
The history of forest legislation in Guatemala dates from 1920, up to the promulgation of the current Forest Law (1996), which states that "reforestation and conservation of forests is a national emergency of social interest". Hence the creation of INAB as the governing body for the forest sector, and the establishment of guidelines for the promulgation of policies and regulations for sustainable forest management. In 1999, the formulation of the Forest Policy provided a set of principles, objectives and instruments allowing maximisation of the goods and services obtained from forest ecosystems.
However, an evaluation of the Forest Policy shows that challenges continue to exist before environmental sustainability can be achieved: deforestation and the deterioration of natural forests, illegal logging, informal use by rural communities, centralisation of the forest administration and others. These factors deepen poverty and make the country more vulnerable to climate change.
The most recent studies on forest coverage from 2006 to 2010 show that the country has 3.7 million hectares of forests (34% of the national territory) with a net annual loss of 38,597 hectares. Although the net loss of forests seems to be decreasing, overall deforestation continues to increase, reaching the figure of 132,137 hectares per year for the period 2006 to 2010. This is evidence of a growing trend for loss of natural forests both inside and outside the protected areas. Worth noting are the high levels of illegal logging, and also the importance of the amount of wood used by families for firewood.
This has led to the development of a series of documents and policy instruments, characterised by their diffuse nature, which need to be integrated into a broad environmental management instrument. These instruments include:
- updating the national forest policy
- formulation of a law for forest incentives programmes (Post-PINFOR)
- action plan on forest-industry-market links
- institutional action plan to reduce illegal logging
- legislative negotiations to approve the Framework Law on Climate Change
Although these initiatives are designed to put together a regulatory framework for the environmental sector, public officials continue to find it difficult to adequately manage environmental and forest affairs, indicating a structural weakness in the institutions' ability to guarantee compliance with the sector regulations.
Citizen participation and social auditing in public management (including the forest sector) are regulated by the so-called trilogy of state modernisation laws: the Law on Development Councils which creates the System of Development Councils (SISCODE), the Decentralisation Law and the Municipal Code. The SISCODE, with its pyramid structure and operation - from local to national - should be the institution channelling citizen participation to the upper levels; in practice this still occurs insufficiently and faces major challenges.
The INAB Forest Development Department is home to the Strengthening of Municipal and Communal Forests project (BOSCOM), which promotes municipal forest administration through the creation of Municipal Forest Offices and community participation in forest management. Some of its actions include: the signing of agreements with municipalities (2012) for decentralisation of the issuing of forest licences for family consumption, dealing with a total of 167 Municipal Forest Offices, and 360 community organisations. Similarly, the National Forest Agenda has encouraged Forums for forest dialogue, Regional Round Tables to implement the forest agenda and the formation of the Forest Consultation Group, as bodies for citizen participation in forest affairs. In these spaces, different civil society organisations, academic bodies and community organisations look to position themselves in relation to the political agendas and participate in decision-making.
Meanwhile, AOFCG, together with environmentalist movements (Madre Selva, CALAS, Red Manglar, amongst others) and academics, have played an important role in reviewing and defining public policies for the sector, through political involvement in strategic forest-related topics. However, the state's political block on the inclusion of collective interests, and the criminalisation of social and environmentalist movements considered obstacles to development have generated a high level of social and environmental conflict in the country.
The Forest Law creates forest incentives to encourage reforestation (Article 91), incentives for small landowners (Article 81) and the Exclusive Forest Fund (Article 84), which are the mechanisms for distribution of royalties or taxes from forest operations. At the moment, the Forestry Incentives Programme (PINFOR), and the Law on Forestry Incentives for Small Landowners of a Forest or Afro-Forestry Vocation (PINPEP), are the instruments used to distribute financial resources to the population, and have also been the principal promoters of reforestation and sustainable forest management.
The PINPEP Law is currently dealing with a number of disputes linked to systems of tenure, possession and ownership of land, which may lead to changes in the regulation. In addition, the first half of the year was characterised by parliamentary negotiations to allocate the budget stipulated in the law.
Despite the size and importance of these two programmes, INAB has not yet updated the figures relating to amounts, beneficiaries and projects on its website. The reports from 1998 to 2010 indicate that PINFOR approved 6,486 projects (69% for reforestation and 31% for natural forest management), with a total of 290,743 hectares of forest, spending Q 1,222,030,768 (approximately US$155 million) and generating an estimated 180,000 jobs. In PINPEP's case, only 5,156 projects were approved, covering a total of 20,845 hectares of forest, with expenditure of Q 39,633,078 (approximately $5 million), benefiting a total of 21,690 men and 7,413 women. This situation demonstrates the unfair distribution in favour of PINFOR, and the multiple requests for natural forest management, as stipulated by Article 81 of the forest law, which designates a distribution of the incentives in a ratio of 80% for projects for reforestation and forest management, and 20% for natural forest management.
Guatemala is currently at a political juncture that is important for the forest sector and crucial for communities, because of the convergence of different dynamics for the formulation of legal and political instruments to improve forest and environmental management, and the search for national development, in the light of major environmental problems (deforestation, pollution, soil erosion), as well as the problems of malnutrition and poverty.
On this point, it is crucial to consider these major factors in the variety of processes open for the formulation of forest and environmental policies, notably following:
a) The formulation of a new national forest policy 2012+, to update Guatemala's current forest policy.
b) The development of a process seeking to build a new legal framework for the forest incentives programme, as the current PINFOR ends in 2016.
The 2009 Guatemala Environmental Report states that the extra-sectoral activities with greatest impact on the forest sector are: "promotion of livestock activity, growing of African palm and the extraction of hydrocarbons". Changes in land use, consumption of firewood, fires and forest pests,, in addition to illegal activities are other factors which demonstrate the lack of prioritisation of sustainable development.
For three decades now, Guatemala has been promoting a series of processes for the development of regulations and policies designed to regulate the use and conservation of natural resources. Currently, topics such as water, forests, biodiversity, communal lands, soil and air are being addressed by different efforts and in different spaces for citizen participation to develop policies and strategies to deal with them. They are closely related to the problems of human development, malnutrition and poverty facing the majority of the population. Notable initiatives include:
- Interest in creating a legal framework to regulate the situation of access to and use of water resources to guarantee the right of humans to water (Waters Law).
- Parliamentary negotiation on the Framework Law on Climate Change which, if approved, will regulate some environmental services, such as carbon sequestration (the initiative is in its third reading in congress, with no political will to approve it). A considerable role has been played in this by the National Climate Change Committee and the Indigenous Committee on Climate Change.
- There is currently an active process of consultation with indigenous peoples, including a series of workshops, designed to build consensus on the content of the national climate change policy.
- National preparation for REDD+, by the Group on Forests, Biodiversity and Climate Change, which includes amongst its achievements the drawing up of the REDD+ Preparation Proposal, which was approved in March 2012.
The participation of civil society, non-governmental organisations and indigenous and grass-roots rural organisations in these spaces for dialogue has the merit of positioning in the debate the legitimate expectations and needs of rural indigenous and peasant populations, thus promoting participatory and broad models for defining public policies. Although these exercises are far from being a true horizontal decision-making model, they can be seen as exercises in participation and impact on strategic topics for the economic and social development of the communities.