Donors called on to address breakdown in forest governance in DR Congo as Chinese company accused of widespread illegal logging

June 26, 2019


London-based charity the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) and Congolese civil society groups are calling on donors of forestry programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to address the breakdown in forest governance in DRC after a Chinese company, accused of illegally logging, was suddenly acquitted by a local court.

Following reports by local communities of widespread industrial-scale illegal logging of the rainforest in DRC’s Equateur Province, and a site visit by provincial authorities in March this year, a representative of the Chinese logging company ‘Maniema Union 2’ was arrested on charges of “criminal conspiracy”, “malicious destruction” and “illegal logging” and subsequently appeared at a tribunal in Mbandaka over the past few months [1].  However, on 22nd May 2019 the court acquitted the company on all counts, citing a lack of evidence and that the company had paid a “transactional fine”, despite the fact the ‘fine’ had been paid before the company was accused of illegalities.

DRC has the second largest area of rainforest after Brazil, but has not had a forest minister in place since the change of government in January 2019. The previous minister issued logging licences covering over six thousand square kilometres, in defiance of a national moratorium banning any such new licences.

Fabien Mungunza, president of civil society group SOCIPEQ [2], which has appealed against the acquittal said,

We call on donors to strengthen their conditions for forestry funding to DRC and insist that the government and competent authorities adopt the highest standards of forest governance. Something has clearly gone wrong when the forestry authorities are unwilling or unable to bring successful prosecutions for industrial-scale illegal logging".

It is believed that 90 per cent of logging in DRC is illegal. More than 30 of the current 57 legally issued large-scale logging concessions in DRC, covering just over five million hectares, have no valid management plan more than five years after their concession contracts were signed, and hence are operating illegally [3]. In June 2018, Maniema Union 2 acquired a number of logging concessions in contravention of DRC’s long-standing moratorium [4].

RFUK and DRC civil society organisations have today written to the donors of multi-million dollar forest reform programmes, such as the Central African Forests Initiative (CAFI), the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Fund (FCPF) and World Bank’s Forest Investment Programme FIP [5] insisting they push for appropriate legal action against Maniema Union 2 and the local authorities implicated in its acquittal.

RFUK’s Executive Director, Simon Counsell, said: “We believe that attempting to advance forest programmes in DRC without insisting on major governance improvements will be seen as a green light for continued flagrant disregard for the law. Forest protection is being undermined by egregious illegalities, which the authorities are failing to tackle. As the international community looks to reset relations with the new DRC administration it is imperative that donors make it clear from the outset that impunity for forest law-breakers will not be tolerated,” he added.

On June 4th, a second complaint against Maniema Union 2 was raised by communities from Bolomba, accusing the company of "illegal logging", "malicious destruction", and "non-payment of local usage fees".

[1] The ‘Superviseur de l'Environnement of Territoire d'Ingende’ alerted authorities to large-scale illegal logging after a report from a community member from Loselinga village (about 12km from Ingende – see map) on the 28th March. The following day, a joint verification mission took place with the local administration where three Chinese loggers were found operating three chainsaws. They also had with two trucks to load the logs, one bulldozer and a boat for evacuating the logs and about 100 logs in their possession. A representative from the logging company was arrested on 29th March for Illegal logging outside their concession (which is in Secteur de Bokatola) and were operating in Dwali without any valid permit. 450 illegal logs were reported.

[2] Société Civile de la Province de l’Équateur. The mission of SOCIPEQ is to represent the population in fighting for the improvement of governance in the DRC for a harmonious and inclusive development.

[3] Under DRC’s forestry legislation, these concessions have to be “automatically terminated and returned to the state”.

[4] DRC adopted a moratorium on the allocation of new industrial logging concessions in 2002. The aim was to enable the country, emerging from a civil war, to develop a sustainable logging industry capable, in particular, of creating jobs and generating tax revenues for the country. Specific conditions were set under a 2007 Presidential Decree for the lifting of the moratorium - conditions which remain unmet.

[5]  CAFI is an initiative of the Norwegian Ministry for Climate and Forests, which aims to finance and support programmes to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation Central Africa, particularly in DRC, where it will support the country’s ‘REDD+ Investment Plan’. This Plan has been strongly criticised by international and local environmental groups. CAFI is financed with $190m from the Norwegian government and $3m from the French government and aims to “Fight climate change, protect forests, reduce poverty and contribute to sustainable development” . The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility is a $1.1 billion World Bank initiative largely funded by the governments of Norway, the UK and Germany which aims to establish large-scale programmes to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation in poor countries. The World Bank Forest Investment Programme is a similar initiative which supports prorgammes to reforest and ‘sustainably manage’ forests in order to help prevent climate change. All of these initiatives have large-scale programmes  in DR Congo, the total cost of which is US $300 million.

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