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Blog: What can the EU do to curb corruption in the forest sector?

By Laurence WETE SOH (FODER, Cameroon)

Corruption. It has blighted countries in every continent for generations, and is identified as a main reason why illegal logging continues at a seemingly unstoppable rate. Each year Transparency International produces a Corruption Perception Index, and it is no surprise that timber-producing countries often hold a high position. If the European Union (EU)’s efforts to end illegal logging are to be successful, they will have to help tackle corruption.

This is where the 2003 FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) Action Plan comes in. It aims to combat illegal logging and the associated trade by dealing with problems in both consumer and producer countries.

As part of this work, Cameroon and the EU have been negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) since 2007. Cameroon's National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) recognises that the VPA can help the fight against corruption in the forest and wildlife sector, but that fight isn’t going to be easy. My organisation FODER does its own Corruption intensity Perception Assessment (CIPA), which revealed that corruption is systemic in this sector in Cameroon.

The social, economic and environmental consequences of this corruption are serious. Not only does it take away from state revenues and corporate profits, it also catalyses social injustice and encourages unfair competition. What’s more, it destroys efforts to combat deforestation, tackle climate change, preserve biodiversity, respect human rights and achieve inclusive and sustainable development.

The EU should be applauded for the key roles it plays, both political and technical, in resolving global environmental and sustainable development challenges. But we should also be honest that the issue of corruption needs to take more prominence. It is barely part of the FLEGT Action Plan, either in the VPAs or the EU Timber Regulation, and is absent in mechanisms to fight wildlife trafficking. The EU must commit to tackling corruption in developing countries and specifically in the forest sector if it is serious about combating climate change, improving sustainable development and respecting human rights.

I am presently in Brussels to explain to forest policy makers how they can learn from Cameroon to make sure their anti-deforestation efforts achieve the best results. On this tour FODER is calling on the EU to:

  • Raise the issue of corruption in the forest and wildlife sector in all discussions about processes to combat illegal logging, deforestation and poaching. Official Development Assistance (ODA) often increases corruption. Public funds that were to be used for projects are diverted and projects carried out with development aid instead. To receive ODA, countries must be required to show progress in the fight against corruption.
  • Support in-country efforts to deter corruption, and to obtain fair and equitable reparation for its victims. In many countries there is a culture of impunity, which has allowed corruption to prosper. Independent and credible grievance mechanisms are needed, especially where corruption is systemic and legal frameworks weak. Victims need support and to have confidence in judicial institutions.
  • Encourage the establishment of complaints mechanisms. Victims need to be able to easily file complaints and obtain redress without fear of reprisals.

There are many ways the EU can support countries such as Cameroon to wean themselves away from corruption. There is a need for awareness raising and education, but also incentives and sanctions. Without increased efforts to deal with this most pertinent problem, there is concern that corruption could nullify all efforts taken to fight illegal logging and deforestation and promote human rights.

Editor’s note: FODER is Cameroonian organisation working to improve forest governance by enhancing forest communities and civil society organisations’ participation in the decisions that affect their lives. They fight illegal logging and corruption in the forestry and mining sectors and have been involved since the early days of FLEGT.