This section provides key conclusions drawn from the report cards in five countries. It lists some observations on the usefulness of the tool for civil society, as well as opportunities for increasing transparency in future. Detailed, country-specific conclusions are presented in the respective country pages, and lessons learnt regarding the report card approach are in the methodology section on further development of report card.
The primary purpose of the report card is to provide a tool for civil society to improve their analysis of the issues and to prioritise strategies to tackle them. Based on this diagnosis, each country team produces an annual transparency report, and these are proving useful in three areas:
With annual report cards produced for two years in four countries, they have begun to benchmark performance over time and to be used by civil society to galvanise change from their own governments. In some cases, such as Peru, specific indicators have been targeted - the development of policy guidelines to manage priorities between development options is a positive example of this (see Peru's data for details). In others, such as Liberia, civil society has sought to enhance access to information across the board, as NGOs have maintained pressure on the forest authority to open the promised information centre.
Over the 78 indicators there has been little change between 2009 and 2010, and forest sector transparency remains generally poor. There has been some positive change, in particular with respect to inclusive policy formulation, over the past year, but there are some major areas where lack of disclosure is persistent and undermines governance and accountability. Both these achievements and concerns are discussed in detail below.
Forest sector transparency is increasingly recognised as an issue and discussed openly. The rhetoric of forest authorities and other government agencies is positive about access to information and consultation processes. As implied by the key changes presented in the box, improvements have generally been in terms of increasing consultation and participation (and less so in active dissemination of specific documents). Some significant changes in participation are not so readily captured by the report card, but include:
Where positive change has occurred over the past year this seems to be due to two drivers:
There remain major obstacles to progressive transparency and civil society engagement with forest management decision making.
Resolving divergences between the substantive law and the reality is making slow progress. Meanwhile unworkable systems continue to facilitate obfuscation, perpetuate a culture of secrecy and lack of accountability by the public administration, and enable governments to side step their own processes when it suits those in power to do so.
Important areas of concern relate to the public availability of concession or permit agreements, and of forest management plans. In Cameroon, Ghana, and Peru concession agreements are not systematically published. In Liberia there is the legal obligation to do this, and the Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative seeks to fulfil this obligation, and it is increasingly accepted in other sectors that this is good practice. The Publish What You Pay coalition has consistently called for it as a counter-corruption measure.
Beyond the availability of the main permit, transparency and accountability would be enhanced if forest management plans were also routinely made available. In the best regimes, these plans are produced in consultation with local communities, and it is therefore particularly perverse that they should not then be available. The plans are not only an important tool in enabling ordinary people to know what is going on - and whether it is in accordance with the law and regulations - but it also provides scope to identify forest areas of particular value, environmentally or culturally, which should therefore be managed to preserve these values. Forest management plans are itemised in the transparency annex of the Cameroon Voluntary Partnership Agreement, setting a precedent that the authorities are obliged to make them public.
Problems with making information in accessible formats and in the appropriate media is apparent in all countries, and established NGOs have a role to play in overcoming this. For example, in Ecuador an analysis of the allocation of public expenditure to the forest sector presented information in a clear way to show how funds are distributed between conservation and control. In Liberia and Ghana, data on revenue generated and the proportion available to communities is published (in Liberia, once a week, in Ghana, once every six months but typically 18 months in arrears), but the format of these publications do not readily lend themselves to being disseminated to the people living nearest to the forest operations.
The greater economic and political power of mining authorities compared to those overseeing forests is evident. None of the five countries surveyed have a substantive process to assess priorities between development options. Although there have been efforts in Peru, through the ecological economic zoning guidelines, it is not yet clear how effective these will be.
The Yasuni example in Ecuador demonstrates the scale of the challenges to reconcile competing land-use options. It also highlights an important emerging issue, the value of forests in the context of climate change mitigation and forthcoming REDD agreements. Very little commitment to transparency exists for environmental services and carbon deals, and often the rights to these goods are disputed.
These conclusions provide a clear indication that key decisions on forest use continue to be made in the capital cities (and beyond), and only a limited amount of information that reaches those most directly affected by forestry deals. There exists enormous and persistent power and accountability disparity between the central level and rural communities, and as new, non-destructive values and uses for forests come to predominate over previous approaches to logs as an international commodity, it is vital that such imbalances are addressed. If not, REDD and other initiatives will risk reinforcing business as usual.