Kinshasa, 1 April 2022: After three months of pressure from Greenpeace Africa, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has finally backed down: after a leak in the media and the visit of an angry UK Minister, it realized it was no longer possible not to publish an explosive 2020 audit by the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) slamming the “culpable laxism” of the Environment Ministry and the “chaos which well serves” Ministry officials.
Its publication before the end of 2021 was the very first milestone of the $500 million forest deal signed by President Félix Tshisekedi and donors at last November’s COP26 in Glasgow.
One now understands why the Congolese government nonchalantly missed this deadline and ignored the alert it received on 2 January, and it’s not hard to imagine the donors’ embarrassment.
“With all the gangrene this audit exposes, it’s madness to lift the moratorium on new logging concessions – and yet this is what the DRC and its donors are preparing to do. What we need is a plan to permanently protect forests, this is vital to thousands of local communities and indigenous people,” says Irène Wabiwa Betoko, head of the Greenpeace Africa forest campaign.
The scathing audit, filed in May 2021, pulls no punches about Congolese “forest governance,” and it once again puts Vice-prime Minister and Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba in great difficulty.
Last October – on the eve of COP26 – President Tshisekedi instructed her to immediately suspend all “dubious” forest concessions. In doing the bare minimum, two months later, she seems to have forgotten about millions of hectares of more than “dubious” allocations identified by the IGF.
By that time the donors of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) had already taken out their checkbooks. The accord they signed at COP26 gives the green light to the lifting of a 2002 moratorium on new logging concessions.
Ms. Bazaiba’s negligence – she swears she hadn’t seen the audit before February 2022 – is typical of the negligence the auditors describe as systemic.
They found no less than 18 concessions awarded in violation of the 2002 moratorium.
These illegal titles include the totality of those resold by US- and EU-sanctioned general and logger Gabriel Amisi to Chinese partners. The IGF claims that $3.1 million of area tax for these titles has yet to be paid. The inspectors recommend its collection “by all legal means.”
They cast doubt on the “receipts” issued against area tax payments in the provinces.
The favorite of the Agence française de développement (AFD) and DRC’s only French logger, Compagnie forestière et de transformation (CFT), is claimed to owe back taxes as well. Sporting a “legality” label issued by the certification service Preferred by Nature, CFT is also one of the only companies contacted which openly contested the IGF’s right to audit it. In 2021, the firm belonged to a Paisian expert in Old Masters painting, Eric Turquin, via his little-known Société française pour l’environnement.
For the auditors, the absence of a bank deposit by certain loggers – including the leading Lebanese firm Industrie forestière du Congo (IFCO) – indicates a “sentimental and arbitrary” application of the law. Successive Ministers’ use of direct negotiation for title award shows “all their resistance” to respecting the law, “profiting their personal interests.” The gift to General Amisi was “deliberate favoritism.”
Named one by one : Ministers Robert Bopolo, Bienvenu Liyota, Athys Kabongo, Franck Mwedi Malila, and the effervescent Amy Ambatobe et Claude Nyamugabo.
But it’s not only the Ministry – and, especially Ministers – of Environment that are denounced. The IGF notes as well the “total failure” of the tax authority, the Direction générale des recettes administratives, judiciaires, domaniales et de participations (DGRAD) – whose director didn’t deign to respond to their request for feedback on their findings. A total of four firms out of 45 listed paid area tax.
No doubt it’s a bit complicated for the DGRAD to collect taxes from companies of which only a “very limited” number could be localized by the IGF, the majority of addresses being “erroneous or simply non-existent.” To blame: “the nonchalance of the forest administration in identifying and overseeing concessionaires.”
It’s only a pity the period the IGF was mandated to audit terminated in mid-2020. In the second half of that year, Claude Nyamugabo scored yet another hold-up, on a massive scale. He handed out so-called “conservation” concessions half the size of Belgium to an obscure trading company called Tradelink. And several old logging concessions of the giant Portuguese-owned firm Nordsudtimber were able to convert, illegally, to “conservation” status. Other firms benefited as well from Mr. Nyamugabo’s indulgence.
Greenpeace Africa again calls on President Tshisekedi to order the opening of a legal investigation into those officials responsible for plundering Congo’s forest, and, where necessary, the lifting of their parliamentary immunity. We demand that light be shed immediately on the present Minister’s refusal to comply with his orders. Why didn’t she suspend a single logging concession when an audit delivered in May 2021 laid out the extent of the damage to be repaired?
Raphaël Mavambu, Media and Communications Consultant for Greenpeace Africa,