The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has announced the cancellation of logging concessions observers feel were illegally granted.
Environment watchdog, Greenpeace, believes that its report on 12th July about several breaches of the DRC moratorium on allocation of new logging concessions influenced the government decision.
Robert Bopolo Bogeza, DRC’s Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development, announced in the press recently that “all three titles will be canceled”.
Greenpeace Africa in a statement on Tuesday welcomed this decision by DRC Minister of Environment which, it added, was one of the recommendations outlined in the report.
“However, a mere cancellation of the logging contracts on its own is not enough: any responsibility for the breaches that lies with the former or current Minister of Environment must be clearly identified, and sanctions taken,” Greenpeace submitted in the statement endorsed by spokesperson, Hellen Dena.
The further demands “a thorough and transparent investigation done by an independent investigation commission, to ensure accountability of all officials associated with or involved in concealing the violation.”
It adds: “This is a crucial first step to address the impunity, nepotism and corruption in the forestry sector. To further ensure that all involved in this serious breach of the moratorium will be sanctioned, Greenpeace will bring this case to the Public Prosecutor for further investigation.”
In February 2016, the Minister of Environment signed three mission orders for Ministry staff to supervise and facilitate the negotiation of social contracts in the concession areas. In a comment on the Greenpeace report, the Minister reportedly claimed that the public records of the Ministry of Environment show, ‘… no sign of these contracts granting three forest concessions to Somifor and Fodeco. The Treasury has not cashed anything in this illegal transaction”, adding that he had decided to cancel these contracts “for the holders not to be able to claim them later”.
Yet, according to the concession contracts, a deposit of $50.000 was paid as a guarantee for each concession.
Greenpeace believes that this statement warrants a full investigation. “The facts suggest that either the Minister signed the mission orders in the full knowledge that the concessions were illegally awarded, which would be a clear breach of the moratorium, or the Minister signed the mission orders without even the most basic check of the legality of the concessions, which suggests negligence and a serious lack of governmental control over the forest sector. Both possible explanations are of grave concern and call for serious ramifications.”
Greenpeace also requests a response from the current Minister on the claims made by his predecessor, Mr. Bienvenu Liyota Ndjoli. Mr Liyota denied that the concessions were illegally awarded on the grounds that all three concessions were “reallocations, not new concessions”.
Dena wrote: “Yet the 1st article of the Ministerial Order of May 14th 2002 is very clear: it suspends the granting of new supply guarantees (‘Garanties d’Approvisionnement’) or letter of intent (‘Lettres d’Intention’) related to timber, as well as their renewal or extension. The titles in question were returned to the private domain of the State after the moratorium was put in place. The ‘reallocation’ of such title is a case of renewal to a different concessionaire, and therefore a new forest concession contract, which is a clear breach of the moratorium.
“This safeguard to protect Congolese forests cannot be lifted unless a geographic programming of future allocations is made, based on a consultative process. This process has not yet started. The former Minister of Environment Liyota also claimed to have received a principal agreement from the Prime Minister to examine the concession demands.”