Thursday, 3 April 2014

Timber trade reeks of corruption

Nearly three-quarters of Myanmar’s timber trade is illegal, according to government figures analysed by the Environmental Investigation Agency [EIA] and released in a report on March 26, only days before the country-wide ban on log exporting came into effect.

Contrary to the official government line that timber smuggling is only endemic in rebel-held zones, the EIA report said that at least 20 percent of this illegal trade is occurring in government-controlled areas.

Official export figures from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry for 2000-13 account for only 28pc of all recorded international trade in Myanmar logs – suggesting that 72pc of log shipments were illicit, the group said in its report.

The value of the illegal trade was estimated to be US$6 billion, or four times the 2013-2014 national budgets for education and health combined, the EIA said.

“The Government’s official data on forestry and timber exports reveals endemic illegal logging and timber smuggling – crimes only possible through institutional corruption on a huge scale,” EIA forest campaign leader Faith Doherty said in a statement accompanying the report.

From April 1, the government will impose a ban on exports of raw Myanmar timber. The move is part of an effort to reform the country’s lucrative timber industry. Currently all raw timber must be exported through the Myanma Timber Enterprise, a government commercial arm with a monopoly in the sector.

But experts say the ban will do little to stem widespread corruption in the sector.

“There appears to be very good intentions and political will for [the Myanmar government] to fully implement the log export ban,” Kevin Woods, a Yangon-based researcher for the NGO Forest Trends, told The Myanmar Times.

“However, given the level of corruption and the porous national borders, it will be very difficult to fully clamp down on the export of logs.” Ms Doherty agreed.

“By proposing a log export ban from April 1, 2014, the Government of Myanmar is acknowledging that vast amounts of the country’s forests raw material in the form of logs have been looted and sold at less value than they are worth. The log export ban in itself is just not enough. More needs to be done,” she said in the EIA statement.

“The clear concerns is that, regardless of wider political reforms, opaque and unaccountable forest resource allocations mean Myanmar still continues to hemorrhage valuable natural resources for the benefit of a small elite,” the report said.

The rate of this “systematic looting” was almost that of one tree in two being lopped for illegal export.

Officials from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry could not be reached for comment.

U Win Myo Thu, co-founder and manager of the environmental NGO Ecodev, said that, alongside of the export ban, the government was collaborating with the European Union to implement a “Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade” program with pilot programs to launch in Kachin, Sagaing and Tanintharyi later this year.

“Solving the problem means … coordination between all stakeholders,” U Win Myo Thu said. “It’s difficult unless you have a strong political will [and] political mechanisms to tackle the issue. Any area where this system is weak will lead to more logging.”

source: The Myanmar Times
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