The 2011 Report Cards are the third in the Making the Forest Sector Transparent programme. The report cards have proven to be useful tools for NGOs and civil society to monitor the forest sector in their countries and advocate for changes to improve transparency based on the findings. They have helped to identify positive steps taken to improve information sharing and participation in forest governance, but also revealed where weak frameworks and processes have allowed secrecy to prevail in the exploitation of forest and other resources by vested interests.
The overall picture that emerges from the 20 key indicators collected in 2011 is one of many 'yellows' and 'reds' indicating that there are only partial or non-existent provisions for them in the legal and regulatory framework that applies to the forest sector. The 'greens' tend to be clustered around the indicators on more general forest laws and policies. However, each country has its strengths and weaknesses, and direct comparison of their indicators is not appropriate given that there is wide variance in the specific context. The overall conclusion is that the governments of all seven countries need to be significantly more open in key areas to prevent under-valuing of the county's potential natural resources wealth and inequitable sharing of the goods, services, and other benefits accruing from genuinely sustainable and accountable forest management. In less transparent scenarios, secretive deals and corrupt rent-seeking continue to thrive.
It is more encouraging to find that the partners reported several improvements in 2011, including new laws or initiatives that have the potential to realise greater transparency and better governance. Although many of these changes have not yet been fully implemented, they at least suggest that the direction is largely positive. Important changes in the five countries that also completed report cards in 2010 are noted in the table below.
Improvements in forest governance in 2011
For Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the 2011 Report Cards were the first ones produced under the Making the Forest Sector Transparent programme. Further report cards will help to analyse changes in forest sector governance in these countries as well. The partner in DRC rated nearly all of the indicators as 'partial' or 'no', and progressive initiatives such as the VPA, and decree on community forests to improve forest sector governance made little progress in 2011. The partner in Guatemala identified many indicators that are met by existing provisions in the legal and regulatory framework for the forest sector, but implementation is hampered by lack of institutional capacity and deep land inequalities. An important step forward in Guatemala was the approval in late 2010 of the law to implement a forest incentives programme for smallholders, and further monitoring will help to reveal what impact it has on the sector.
With one exception, the five prior partners did not identify indicators where forest sector governance had worsened since 2010, but this should not lead to the conclusion that there was no reason for concern over the lack of transparency. The exception was in Ghana, where further evidence was uncovered that small forestry permits were granted again in 2011 at the discretion of the forest authority, despite civil society condemning this opaque process in the previous year. Similar trends have been the allocation of Private Use Permits in Liberia and a range of smaller permits in Cameroon. Collectively, these findings reveal a worrying pattern of forest authorities not following the procedures set out in laws and regulations for the forest sector, and not sharing information if they can avoid it. Such practices are undermining the objectives of the VPAs between these countries and the EU, and they suggest that authorities may not systematically implement other measures to improve forest law enforcement governance and trade unless they have sufficient capacity and are subject to independent oversight. Another major threat is the allocation of large areas of land to agro-industrial plantations and other extractive activities without any transparent process for assessing their impact or complying with forest laws and regulations.
The lessons learnt section also presents some key conclusions. A more general conclusion that is emerging from the report cards is that well drawn up legal and regulatory frameworks for forest governance are not sufficient just in themselves. In other words, a country may have a comprehensive framework on its statute books with the potential to enable transparent access to information and decision-making, but it is of little worth unless the measures are consistently implemented with adequate resources and integration. The partners in Making the Forest Sector Transparent are advocating for changes so that vested interests cannot continue to exploit forest resources to the detriment of the environment and rural livelihoods. Working with other NGOs, civil society organisations and community groups, the partners have contributed to coalition building and networks that are pressing for change. Where necessary, they have also played a role in information dissemination to improve transparency, but this doesn't mean that governments should abdicate their responsibilities. The partners have made constructive attempts to engage forest authorities in the seven countries, but the responses have varied from positive support to critical reactions. Learning from these experiences is helping to tailor campaigns and policy engagement so that key reforms can be taken forward.