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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, May 20) – There are signs that the Papua New Guinea government’s failure to comply with its World Bank loan agreement forced the bank it to pull the plug on the US$34.3 million (K111.6 million) Forestry and Conservation Project.

Government insiders say a 2003-2004 review of PNG timber projects uncovered breaches in a number of them that the government made attempts to address, but "problems" with three Malaysian logging operations in the Western and Gulf provinces continued to be a thorny issue.

The decision by the Government to later issue new timber permits — despite the failure by the timber company to comply with sustainable harvest requirements and meet overdue social and infrastructure obligations to landowners — added to the bank’s resentment.

New timber permits issued, including for East Awin in the Western Province, failed to conform to forestry requirements, as the area had been extensively logged and needed to be revised to be consistent with an up to date resource inventory.

The Government made another attempt to get the bank to lift the suspension but was told to get the three logging operations into compliance — which it could not do due to strong pressure from the logging company.

While there are indications moves were also made within Cabinet to add pressure on Forest Minister Patrick Pruaitch to wield the axe against the Malaysian logging company, timber industry sources say non-action by the Minister and the "sidelining" of the National Forest Board compelled the bank to conclude the industry was beyond salvation.

The PNG government and the World Bank announced the project termination in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The program, introduced in 2001, was to be supported by a World Bank loan of US$17.3 million and two Global Environment Facility grants totalling US$17 million.

It has been under suspension since September 2003.

Meanwhile, the loss of the program was lamented by former field boss of the 2003-2004 Papua New Guinea forestry review team, Tom "Diwai’ Vigus, who called it a "sorry day" for the environment of Papua New Guinea.

Mr Vigus said it was also a sad day for landowners who would have benefited from both the program and the Mama Graun Conservation Trust Fund.

He said it was his hope that the World Bank would have lifted the suspension on the FCP to ensure recommendations contained in the final report of the 2003-2004 review team were implemented.

"The situation had become untenable with the suspension of the FCP lasting for so long, and it was an embarrassment to see all the vehicles parked in the PNGFA (Forest Authority) carpark while we were doing the review of ongoing forestry projects and finding the few field-based foresters trying to monitor logging operations with either badly run down or no vehicles, no fuel and no phones," Mr Vigus said.

"The logging companies have all the advantages and used them to ignore the PNGFA, DEC (Department of Environment and Conservation) and other PNG authorities."

Urging Papua New Guineans to "demand" copies of his group’s report from the Government to "see evidence of logging companies’ destructive logging practices’’, Mr Vigus said his team recorded and photographed evidence of loggers’ illegal activities.

"When will PNG wake up?" he asked. "Probably when all the trees are gone along with the loggers, royalties, temporary roads and bridges, and the kickbacks that the ‘giaman landowner representatives’ who will no longer be able to live it up in Port Moresby hotels take at the expense of the rural people."

May 20, 2005

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/



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