PNG forests face renewed assault
By Scott Atkinson and Petrina Lin
Foreign timber companies have refused to pay a PNG government-mandated increase in timber royalties to land-holders.
Currently, land-holders receive approximately 4-5 kina [A$4-5] per cubic metre of timber. However, in an effort to move at least part way to its promised K23 per cubic metre, the government announced a K10 per cubic metre royalty.
Local conservationists are critical of the policy, which fails to address preservation of biodiversity and falls short of the promised K23 per cubic metre. They have developed their own alternative NGO forestry policy, which proposes to radically change the way land-holders sell their timber.
The NGO policy calls for a shift to small and medium scale community-based forest projects. This contrasts with the current emphasis upon large scale, foreign-controlled industrial logging. The alternative policy stresses conservation of biodiversity, community control and community negotiated land-use management, environmental monitoring, project regulation and the promotion of non-timber forest products.
Foreign timber companies, led by Malaysian-owned Rimbunan Hijau, have refused to pay even the increase to K10 per cubic metre. They claim that under the increase their companies will be operating at a loss and will have to pull out. The rebuttal is simple: if they aren't willing to pay fair market value for a resource that is making them rich at the expense of a struggling developing economy, then good riddance.
The powerful timber companies already earn billions of dollars, own one of PNG's two daily newspapers, have bought significant political influence and continue to flaunt their control over the developing economy of PNG.
[Abridged from Ecological Enterprises Forest Networking Project.]