Controller and Auditor General Ludovick Utouh on Friday made a shocking revelation - that only four per cent of forest harvesting in the country was done legally.
Unveiling Performance Audit Report on the Management of Harvesting Forests by Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Utouh said at least 96 per cent of the harvesting was done illegally and was the cause of deforestation and environmentally related problems.
He laid part of the blame for the illegal cutting down of trees on the government, saying: “There is no effective control in the forestry sector...legal tree cutting accounts for only 4 per cent.”
He reveals that illegal forest harvesting is becoming more serious, due to poor planning and lack of control strategies on the part of the responsible ministry.
The audit also revealed that the Natural Resources and Tourism ministry does not adequately monitor forest harvesting activities to ensure the set controls were functioning well, pointing out that many forest reserves in the country were without management plans (FMP).
According to the CAG explained forest harvesting licences were issued even when one had no approved FMP, one of the requirements for a forestry authority to grant the document for harvesting forest products.
He faults the mechanism set up by the ministry to control issuing of licences at district level, saying it created loopholes for districts to issue the document and even transit passes in the absence of approved FMPs.
“It is impossible to control forest harvesting without having an approved FMP,” he cautioned.
Shocking? Yes. But the public is also left asking many questions. For a start, can the ministry tasked with looking after forests has the responsibility to explain to the public why it has been lax in taking of such a precious public resource?
Can we as a nation convincingly talk of working to sustain the environment and to continue supporting life? Of tackling climate change?
We all know only too well that allowing uncontrolled harvesting of forests is to invite all the climatic negatives such as droughts, floods and extreme weather fluctuations.
We are aware of the many rivers in various parts of the country that were formerly reliable sources of water for large communities of people, but have seen levels drop, affecting power and agricultural production, not to mention water for domestic use.
It is known that the ministry is not allocated all the budgetary resources it needs to fully carry out its work of forest monitoring and control.
But it cannot escape blame for not doing enough to conserve the resource and to capture all the potential fees and levies from harvested forest products to boost its budget.
For the public the scale of plunder of the country’s forest resources revealed by the CAG report cannot be explained away by laying the blame on lack of resources.
Unless the ministry responds convincingly to the findings revealed by the CAG, the public will be entitled to think that the ministry officials are abetting a crime against the whole citizenry of this country, aided by taxpayer funds. And this is unacceptable.