Republic of Congo
The Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville) signed a FLEGT-VPA with the European Union on 17 May 2010; this entered into force 1 March 2013. By signing the agreement, the Congolese government committed to ensure that its entire timber industry meets the legality and traceability requirements of the Legality Assurance System (LAS).
Forests cover about half of the country’s territory, and a majority of these have been allocated for timber production. Estimates suggest that in 2007, the informal forest sector generated about 7,400 direct jobs and 14,800 indirect jobs, making the forest sector the largest provider of employment outside the cities. Congolese forests are also of high social and cultural importance to the around 100,000 Baka Pygmies and other local Bantu communities who depend on this ecosystem for subsistence although this is not accounted for in the GDP as it does not make it into the formal economy.
Latest VPA update
The Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy has been in turmoil in recent months, following the launch of an investigation by the state general inspectorate into the Forest Products Export Control Service. Several high-level officials were arrested on allegations of mismanagement and are awaiting a judicial decision. Civil society has long called for greater accountability and zero impunity in the forest sector; they believe the government response, especially to reports on illegalities, weak tax recovery rates and land use conflicts inside forest concessions, must be more ambitious.
The timeline for the adoption of a new Forest Code, one of the key VPA requirements, is still uncertain as the Government’s internal services are making further changes to the text. CSOs fear that the most advanced provisions and innovations related to community forestry, rights and participation are being watered down. During the last meeting of the JIC in June, participants agreed that the process for drafting the Code’s accompanying decrees should be as inclusive as possible and involve an expanded working group. Civil society also received indications that the implementing regulations for the 2011 law on indigenous peoples had been finalised.
Paradoxically, the parliament passed a new tenure law that may hamper communities’ ability to uphold customary rights, as it establishes an administrative procedure for all land titling that contradicts provisions of the law on indigenous peoples. The latter recognises indigenous peoples’ customary rights; the land tenure act does not. While the government sees the legislation as a step forward to clarify land tenure, governance advocates condemned the speed with which the text had been adopted and the lack of consultation with CSOs and local communities. A legal challenge has been brought, although not by civil society.
As Congo moves to the REDD+ implementation phase and receives support from the World Bank for the further development of the projects and programmes foreseen in its investment plan, it is important that the Government’s land use plans be robust and serve both its emissions reduction and development objectives. Reports of continued mining exploration in forest concessions, and of the development of large infrastructure projects such as dams in forested areas do not bode well for national efforts to combat conflicting land use and ‘unplanned deforestation’.
On a positive note, more forest management plans are being validated and implemented that will pave the way for increased community areas inside forest concessions, and possibly community forests. As logging companies start to put their house in order, one of the priorities for 2019 will be for the government to deploy the Système Informatisé de Vérification de la Légalité or computerised legality assurance system (TLAS) and ensure that companies and the forest administration are trained to use it and to monitor compliance with the forest legislation.
Transparency and access to information remain a considerable challenge. A persistent request from communities is improved access to information on the VPA, REDD+ and community forestry so that they can be better informed of their rights and potential benefits, and better equipped to take action.
The publication of the 2017 VPA annual report is a welcome development, as is the increasing availability of data on forest revenues and logging permits. There is, however, a question of how accessible this information is for local communities? For instance, do they really know how much timber comes out of their forests, and do they have access to Government receipts for it? Often local communities are not aware of social benefits that are negotiated for them because of a lack of access to company contracts.
This concern was echoed at the 11th Forest Governance Forum in October 2018, hosted by the Congolese government in Brazzaville (FW 240). The country clearly wishes to lead the way when it comes to protecting forests and strengthening livelihoods in the Congo Basin and beyond; however, it must do much more to ensure proper community participation. This begins with giving communities the right information in an accessible manner, including in local languages.
Last updated on December 2018.
A brief history of the VPA so far, from a civil society perspective.
Negotiations to conclude the Congo-EU VPA lasted less than one year (June 2008- May 2009), making it the fastest to date. Little was done in the form of informal pre-negotiations, although a workshop took place on December 2007 to establish the national plan for negotiations, and working groups to define the different sections of the agreement were already up and running three months later. The formal political and technical negotiation sessions were launched in June 2008 and progressed in a hasty pace until both parties signed the agreement on 9 May 2009.
After rapid negotiations, implementation of the VPA has been slow. Numerous related legal reforms have begun but not yet finished, and the governance reforms required under the VPA (which entered in to force in 2013) are largely stagnant. For instance adoption of the new Forestry Code is still pending, although at the most recent Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) in November the government reiterated its commitment to make progress on this.The Independent Auditor’s activities have commenced with an initial mandate of assessing how robust Congo’s VPA process is at this stage.
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