LOG EXPORT MONITORING IN PNG SECURED

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By Neville Choi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 6, 2000 – The Independent)--- The Papua New Guinea National Forest Authority (PNGNFA) has extended its contract with the Surveillance Generate Systems (SGS), assuring the monitoring of log exports from the country for another 18 months.

A decision by the National Executive Council (NEC) to extend the company's contract was passed in early December last year to prevent the contract from expiring on December 31.

The contract between SGS and the NFA was in danger last year when the National Forest Board (NFB) decided on March 12, 1999 to allow it to expire on April 1.

But during a special meeting by NEC on March 26, the contract was extended to cover the remaining nine months of the year.

Forest industry officials voiced serious concerns when the contract was supposed to have expired in April last year. Many called on the government and PNGNFA to maintain the contract.

Sources within the industry cited widespread transferring of prices and species misdeclaration by log exporters as being some of the serious problems, which could arise in the absence of a monitoring authority.

PNGNFA officials held urgent discussions with the Finance and Treasury Department to seek funding for maintaining the contract for the remainder of the year. Several options to find a way to cover the costs of maintaining the companies services were put forward, including that of imposing a log export levy to meet the additional K 3.3 million (US$ 1.194), which was needed to cover the rest of last year.

The option that was directed by NEC was later rescinded.

When the contract was again in danger of expiring on December 31 last year, NEC directed on December 29 that an extension of 18 months be granted and that the Secretary of Finance release funds for that period.

It is unclear how much is needed to cover the cost of the extension, but it will probably be released quarterly.

SGS acting General Manager Darren Collett said the company was pleased with the contract extension. He said the company is committed to making sure that the country's logging resource is not abused.

"We're elated with the extension of the contract and we think that it is a great thing for the forest industry," he said. "Even when the contract was about to expire in December last year and when we were supposed to have begun winding down, we were carrying out full operations."

NFA General Manager Goodwill Amos voiced similar sentiments and commended SGS and their work. He said the company had been doing a good job and said he is pleased their contract was renewed.

SGS was hired in late 1994, following charges of massive under pricing and malpractice by logging operators.

SGS provides inspection, testing and verification of log exports, and species declaration. The company's monitoring activities made an immediate impact on the industry, and confirmed that malpractice in the export logging industry had been rampant.

Amos also said that even though it was a good thing that monitoring would be safe for the next 18 months, there was still a lot to be done.

For additional reports from The Independent, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Independent (Papua New Guinea).

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