This joint FAO/ITTO publication examines best practices for improving law compliance in the forest sector. It draws on case studies carried out in Bolivia, Cambodia, Cameroon, Ecuador, Honduras, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Peru, as well as from experiences in other countries and ongoing international initiatives.
These studies point to a number of underlying causes contributing to the occurrence of illegal activities in the forest sector, including a flawed policy and legal framework and minimal law enforcement capacity in producer countries, insufficient information about forest resources and illegal operations and high demand for cheap timber. Corruption both in the public and private sector was also identified as intrinsically linked to illegal logging and associated trade.
Rather than dwelling on the many complex causes and far-reaching impacts of illegal forestry operations, this report attempts to identify examples of best practices to address the problem. Several countries have recognized the urgent need to develop a comprehensive and coherent strategy to tackle the problem of illegal forestry activities. This report shows that any strategy to address forest crime needs to be based on a sound understanding of the root causes behind the current situation. It presents a short analysis of the reasons why laws are broken along with the current best practices to establish a clear, transparent, sound and coherent forest policy and legislative framework that will foster better law compliance. It also reviews a number of low-cost ways to increase the efficiency and capacity of the public forest administration to foster law compliance and to improve data and knowledge about the forest resource and how it is changing over time.
Because of the complexity of the issue, it is crucial to prioritize remedial actions through a step-by-step approach. Depending on the social, economic and political context, different countries might prioritize different interventions from the wide range of guidelines and best practices provided in this report. In ranking and prioritizing the remedial actions, a central factor is their economic and political feasibility. It is important to assess the financial costs of any intervention and the sources of necessary funds. The political question concerns the degree to which different levels of governments are willing to cooperate in an overall strategy to fight illegality in the forest sector. Political will is crucial to improve forest law compliance and ensure that the measures taken have a long-lasting impact. Lastly, any strategy to fight illegal activities should be based on an open, highly inclusive, multistakeholder process and effective participation of all interested parties. The participation of the private sector, NGOs and civil society may slow down the process, yet there is no doubt that a participatory approach is the best, if not the only way to produce a strategy capable of delivering long-term improvements in forest law compliance and enforcement.
The main conclusions, recommendations and best practices contained in this report are summarized below.
ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES IN THE FOREST SECTOR AND THEIR ROOT CAUSES
- Illegal operations in the forest sector take place when wood is harvested, transported, processed, bought or sold in violation of national laws.
- The underlying causes of illegal operations in the forest sector include a flawed policy and legal framework; minimal enforcement capacity; insufficient data and information about the forest resource and illegal operations; and corruption in the private sector and in government.
- Strategies to improve law compliance in the forest sector must be based on assessment of the underlying causes of illegal acts and identification of the leverage points to combat corruption.
- Several international initiatives have emerged over the last few years to tackle the problem of corruption and illegal forest activities.
- Without comprehensive political will to improve forest law compliance, any measures taken have only a limited chance of success.
TOWARDS A STRATEGY FOR BETTER LAW COMPLIANCE IN THE FOREST SECTOR
- Illegal forest activities have far-reaching economic, social and environmental impacts including government revenue loss, ecological degradation and greater income inequality.
- Any strategy aimed at addressing the problem of illegal activities needs to be holistic and include a wide range of policy, legal, institutional and technical options in order to discourage illegal activities and facilitate legal behaviour.
- Four elements are critical to a successful strategic approach to better law compliance in the forest sector: addressing the underlying causes of illegality, prioritizing remedial actions, assessing the economic feasibility and social acceptability of reforms, and ensuring stakeholder participation.
RATIONALIZING THE POLICY AND LEGAL ENVIRONMENT
A number of steps can be taken in order to streamline and rationalize forest policies and laws, including:
- assessing underlying social, economic, cultural and political causes of non-compliance and modifying the policy and legal framework governing the forest sector accordingly;
- analysing the impact of the forest policy and legal framework on the livelihoods of the poor;
- increasing clarity, transparency and consistency of forest and forest-related legislation, by drafting legislation that is simple, unambiguous, based on tested approaches and containing minimal discretionary powers;
- ensuring a participatory approach to forest law design in order to promote transparency, reduce the potential for corruption, enable people to scrutinize the effectiveness of subsequent implementation, help ensure greater equity and minimize the undue influence of privileged groups;
- encouraging consistency of the regulatory framework to ensure that laws do not contradict others within the forest legal framework or other sectors;
- minimizing bureaucracy, streamlining legal procedures and simplifying regulations, for instance through decentralization, avoiding regulatory proliferation and simplifying forest regulations concerning management planning;
- securing forest land ownership rights in order to ensure accountability and control of forestry operations at the local level;
- ensuring that in-country industrial capacity does not exceed sustainable supplies, for instance, by conducting feasibility studies before new mills are built and/or closing down mills and facilitating timber imports;
- establishing international or bilateral trade agreements with trading partners;
- ensuring cross-sectoral linkages and collaboration to guarantee a coherent and overarching approach to forest issues, for instance, through national forest programmes;
- increasing the competitiveness of legal operations by decreasing the profitability of illegal operations and increasing the profitability of legal ones;
- promoting the independence of the judiciary and transparency of judicial processes.
BUILDING INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY FOR FOREST LAW ENFORCEMENT
Increasing the efficiency of the public forest administration often requires many more resources than are available in most countries. Yet, relatively low-cost options do exist. These include:
- prioritizing and strategically focusing the law enforcement efforts of the public forest administration on key actions, regions or actors;
- increasing the operational capacity of the forest administration to detect and suppress forest crimes, for instance by re-structuring or creating new institutional bodies and increasing staff number and performance;
- promoting better interagency linkages at national and local levels;
- establishing partnerships with appropriate NGOs, civil society or private sector actors to support enforcement and/or monitoring;
- encouraging the development and use of independent forest certification and voluntary corporate codes of conduct;
- engaging in bilateral agreements with selected trading partners or in multilateral agreements involving a large number of exporting and importing countries to limit illegal timber trade;
- tapping into the forest law compliance programmes of international organizations dealing with natural resource use;
- enabling citizens, supported where necessary by NGOs and government agents, to assist in monitoring and detecting forest crime.
IMPROVING DATA AND KNOWLEDGE
Accurate and up-to-date information is essential for forest crime prevention, detection, monitoring, reporting, investigation and eventually, suppression. Increased data is needed in most countries about the forest resources and about illegal forest activities, in order for governments to identify priorities for remedial actions and to enforce the rule of law.
- Forest resources assessment and monitoring are indispensable, as they will provide baseline data on the state of the forest resources, which will in turn allow monitoring of changes over time.
- A commonly agreed operational definition of illegality between trading partners will enable restriction of illegal timber trade. Countries should identify all elements required to define their standard of legality, taking into account international norms and local circumstances.
- Once a definition of what constitutes illegality in the forest sector has been developed and agreed upon by all stakeholders, the following methods may help improve the data about forest resources and detect forest crime: on-the-ground monitoring and reporting of forest operations; confidential diagnostic surveys of illegal activities aimed at business, government officials, communities and other major actors in the sector; use of informants in the forest sector and of NGOs to obtain up-to-date and timely information about forest resource change and illegal operations; industrial wood input/output estimates to identify illegally sourced supplies; aerial surveillance and satellite detection; log tracking; computerized road checkpoints linked to licence registration systems.
- Comparison of official exports and import statistics can be used to estimate the extent of illegal international trade, especially if discrepancies are large and occur systematically for a number of years.
- Raising awareness about the impacts of illegal forestry is also crucial in order to gain wide acceptance and support for law enforcement in the forest sector by society at large.
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF FOREST SECTOR LAW COMPLIANCE
- Interest groups negatively affected by reforms to improve law compliance in the forest sector can undermine the design, legislature or implementation of new rules and regulations.
- Reformers will need to analyse the structure, relative strengths and likely responses of all affected parties and plan accordingly to ensure their support for new regulations.
- The strategies for gaining support from various stakeholder groups will vary according to the political, economic and cultural context of the country.