- The publication of an audit of forestry contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo has exposed serious management failures.
- The audit cites serial breaches of the country’s forest code and more than a dozen violations of a 2002 moratorium on new concessions.
- The DRC’s environment minister announced the immediate suspension of forestry contracts deemed illegal by the audit, saying that where a special commission confirms the Inspectorate General of Finance’s findings, those contracts will be canceled.
- The audit is the first requirement to access a $500 million fund for protection of the Congo Basin pledged by funders last November, but the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), which is leading the funding process, has not reacted publicly to the negative findings.
The publication of an audit of forestry contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first step in a $500 million deal struck between funders and the government last November, has exposed serious management failures.
Expected to be released at the end of 2021, the report was finally published in early April. The DRC minister for the environment, Ève Bazaiba, immediately announced that she had suspended illegal contracts that failed to respect communities’ rights or biodiversity. DRC civil society groups say this is not enough and are calling on President Félix Tshisekedi to open a judicial inquiry into those responsible for plundering the country’s forests.
According to the environment minister, the release of the report was delayed for administrative reasons. Bazaiba said she put pressure on the Inspectorate General of Finance (IGF) to finalize and publish the report so work to improve management of forest resources can advance.
The audit documents serial breaches of the Forest Code adopted in 2002 and violations of a moratorium on new concessions imposed that same year by the country’s forestry administration. It found at least 18 illegal titles had been granted in violation of the 2002 moratorium, including several acquired by a DRC Army general, Gabriel Amisi, who subsequently sold concessions on to a number of Chinese companies. Amisi is currently under sanctions by the U.S. and the EU for his role in violently suppressing political demonstrations in the Bandundu, Bas-Congo, Équateur and Kinshasa regions.
The IGF inspectors estimate that more than $3 million of concession tax is outstanding for these concessions alone, and recommend legal action is taken to recover this money. Their investigations also point to missing security deposits from some companies, evidence of “sentimental and arbitrary” application of the law.
“With the gangrene exposed by this audit, it is madness to lift the moratorium on new forest titles, and yet this is what the DRC and its funders are preparing to do,” said Irène Wabiwa Betoko, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa. “What we need is a permanent forest protection plan, which is vital for thousands of local communities and Indigenous peoples.”
For Greenpeace and many other environmental defenders and civil society groups, the audit is embarrassing for both the DRC environment ministry and the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).
For her part, Environment Minister Bazaiba reiterated that appropriate measures have been taken to address the problems exposed by the IGF.
“I am in the process of setting up a commission which will examine the files on a case-by-case basis,” she said. She added that in all cases where the commission confirms the findings of the audit, she will be forced to revoke the contracts that have already been awarded.
The publication of the report is considered the first milestone in the $500 million deal that funders and the DRC government reached at the U.N. climate conference in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. Asked how funders who have pledged support for management of the Congo Basin’s forests have reacted, Bazaiba said only that it is in everyone’s interest to protect the Congo Basin.
“It’s common knowledge that the environmental potential of the Congo Basin is the answer to climate change,” she said.
CAFI has not responded to repeated requests for comment on the audit.
Banner image: Checking the legality of timber in a timber depot near Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in May 2013. Image by Flore de Preneuf/World Bank via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
This story was reported by Mongabay’s French team and published here on our French site on April 22, 2022.