The long-delayed European Court of Auditors (ECA) report on the FLEGT Action Plan omitted key information but contained some welcome recommendations. Released on 22 October 2015, the ECA report described FLEGT as “innovative” but said that after 12 years its overall results were “meagre.”
Fern highlighted a number of the report’s deficiencies. To begin, the auditors appear to have underestimated the enormity of making deep-seated, fundamental governance reforms in often politically challenging environments in a short period of time. Only 1.5 to 6 years have elapsed since the six Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) currently being implemented were signed.
The auditors, who confined their on-the-ground investigations to Cameroon and Indonesia, also made ill-informed statements concerning other countries. In Liberia, for instance, the auditors claimed that “illegal logging nevertheless continues to be a major problem, as does the use of private permits”; in fact, the VPA has been instrumental in outlawing the use of private use permits, with landmark indictments of officials exploiting them.
The ECA also said that Liberia received €11.9m to tackle illegal logging, when its annual wood exports to the EU only averaged €5m – overlooking the fact Liberia has committed to broadening the scope of its licensing system to cover all its logging operations, irrespective of whether the timber is exported to the EU. Furthermore, judging the success of the VPA only in terms of money spent and timber exported, in a post-conflict country where the struggle for natural resources has fuelled that very conflict, is far too narrow.
More positive was the ECA’s recommendation to the EU to focus on fewer countries and demand effective implementation of the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). Although beyond the ECA’s remit, it would have been welcome had the court noted that FLEGT aims to tackle corruption and improve governance in the timber sector; notably no similar initiatives exist in other sectors, such as mining and agriculture, that largely act with impunity.