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Forest Sector Legal Framework and Regulations

Several indicators in the 2011 Report Card relate to policy, laws and regulations that apply to the forest sector, which many countries have been reviewing in light of the changing policy landscape such as the signing of international agreements. The main progress in 2011 was that Ecuador published a 'forest governance model' that recognises the importance of transparency and monitoring. A draft new forest policy in Ghana also includes a commitment to transparency and public participation. In principle, national forest policies should guide how governments manage and develop the sector, but the report cards have found that such documents do not exist, are out-dated or had little influence on laws and regulations in some countries. For example, an evaluation 10 years after the forest policy was formulated in Guatemala has shown that little or no progress has been made in key areas.

The main forest laws and regulations in the four African countries and Peru have been going through a review process in recent years, notably due to the advent of Voluntary Partnership Agreements with the European Union in Cameroon and Ghana and a free trade agreement between the USA and Peru. The most significant progress in 2011 was the passing of a new Forest and Wildlife Law in Peru. An important step forward was also the formulation of a new regulation in Liberia for artisanal logging and chainsaw milling - the first attempt amongst the four African countries to regulate in support of the informal sector rather than to suppress it, and one which the other countries can learn from. While these advances are welcome, ultimately their effectiveness depends on how fully they are implemented. For example, the partner in Cameroon has reported that 75 measures of the 1994 Forest Law have never had supporting instruments to enact them.

Analysis of the report cards also reveals that while countries may have passed laws and regulations that provide a potentially comprehensive framework for forest governance, such as the case in Guatemala and Liberia following the end of civil wars where natural resources and land were a source of conflict, they are little more than paper exercises without adequate institutional capacity and resources to implement them. In all of the countries there are deficiencies in the capacity of the responsible forest authorities. The immense size and relative poverty of DRC present particular challenges, which contribute to wide variation in how forestry laws and regulations are interpreted and implemented by different regions. Decentralisation processes in Peru also run the risk of a patchwork of different regional capacities - work by Making the Forest Sector Transparent has helped to train some regional bodies and civil society organisations.

Of particular concern is the implementation of ostensibly progressive laws and regulations on the allocation of concessions and permits for resource use (especially logging operations). The legal texts describe transparent allocation processes, often including that operators meet due diligence requirements and produce forest management plans with sufficient information on proposed activities, periods and locations. The report cards have found considerable evidence of failings in these processes, and little sign of improvement was evident in 2011. Key information such as contract or license documents and management plans are not proactively published in most countries, and obtaining them relies on the discretion of officials in response to information requests.

In all four African countries, while no new large forestry concessions have been allocated, there are on-going concerns about how lesser-known forestry permits are being granted by authorities and exploited by commercial interests in relative secrecy. In Ghana, this practice was exposed again in 2011 despite its condemnation in 2010 by civil society. Similarly, the forestry authority in Liberia has been recalcitrant in providing any information to shed light on the number and size of Private Use Permits granted in the last two years. These practices are a severe risk to the VPAs signed with the EU as they lock in weak governance and a poor financial deal for the state and local people. In the case of DRC, so-called artisanal logging permits have been exploited on a scale that was not envisioned. The legal framework remains incomplete until implementing legislation can be passed. Furthermore the existing forest code is poorly understood, even by civil servants, and there are incompatibilities with other relevant laws such as those on land tenure.

Enforcement of forest law and regulations has been another common shortfall raised in prior report cards. Regular information about infractions is generally not made publicly available; only in Ecuador is it possible to obtain lists with such details (but there are problems there as well with poor coordination and information sharing between government agencies on operators with a history of infractions). Independent forest monitoring or auditing by third parties, and support for communities to monitor forestry activities in their areas, is being promoted as positive step towards improving forest law enforcement. Cameroon has a functioning independent monitor, and DRC signed an agreement in 2011 with an NGO to fulfil this role, but in both countries there is a need for stronger mechanisms to oblige the authorities to act on the findings of independent monitors to ensure that their work has an impact. There are plans to establish independent monitoring and community-led monitoring as part of the VPAs between the EU with Ghana and Liberia to strengthen and give credibility to legality verification systems. Changes to the structure of forestry authorities in Peru may also support better enforcement of the new laws being introduced there.

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