Can Independent Forest Monitoring be a tool for dialogue between civil society and the private sector?

During the 17th CBFP Meeting held at Sawa Hotel in Douala from 24 – 27 October 2017, FLAG convened a brainstorming session to improve the private sector involvement in IM implementation. This session was managed by FLAG as part of the CV4C project.

Independent Monitoring (IM) is a process through which third parties monitor the respect and enforcement of forest laws at national levels. Initiated in Cameroon in the year 2000, IM implementation has expanded to the sub-regional level, and three countries currently have an IM mandated by the Administration in charge of forests (Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo). In other countries, many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) operate without a mandate.

Whether mandated or not, the importance of IM is well established, as it contributes to the fight against illegal logging as well as improving the overall environment of forest governance. This brainstorming session, which brought together several actors from the civil society and private sector, was an opportunity to share experiences on the relations between the IM teams and actors in the forestry sector. Some of the grievances that the profession harbors towards IM were also identified before suggesting ways to facilitate private sector involvement in IM implementation.

The 75 participants in this side event attended three presentations by resource persons, including Caroline Duhesme from ATIBT, Samuel Ebia Ndongo from BUREDIP and Serge Moukouri from FLAG. This was a frank and open exchange between the various stakeholders involved in independent monitoring, as a means to identify elements that should be taken into account in order to facilitate dialogue between the private sector and civil society, through Independent Monitoring (IM). The presentations focused on the contribution of IM for the different actors of forest management, the impact of implementing IM in forest management monitoring activities by the administration, and finally the point of view of the private sector on IM implementation.

The first presentation by Serge Moukouri highlighted the interest of different stakeholders in IM implementation, beginning from the mechanism, its expansion and diversification in the sub-region, to the point where almost all of the Congo Basin countries are now concerned by different approaches to implementation. In addition, it was strongly emphasized that IM is not only limited to detecting illegalities, but also to identify weaknesses in the legal framework that are likely to generate problems in governance.

The second presentation, delivered by Mr. Ebia Ndongo, highlighted the impact that IM has had on forest law enforcement in Cameroon and other countries of the sub-region. He indicated that this impact is at each of the three levels of activity: support for forest law enforcement, capacity building of the administration and dissemination of information. According to the presenter, IM has helped to improve the technical quality of the results of control carried out by the administration through its impact on the performance of control missions, the implementation and interpretation of the legislation and the use of modern monitoring tools by appointed agents. However, the latter has a set of criticisms mainly regarding the management of information, the legitimacy of its intervention in the litigation management process as well as many others.

The final presentation by Ms. Caroline Duhesme was on the point of view of the private sector. She highlighted the main grievances that the private sector has towards IM, whilst noting the important contribution of this mechanism to the availability of information from independent sources for the improvement of fairness vis-à-vis actors of this sector. These grievances range from challenging the methodological approach and the legitimacy of IM actors, to the disqualification of results produced by IMs because of real or supposed relationships with other NGOs working in the sector.

After two hours of exchange and debate, it emerged that IM could be a real tool for dialogue between the private sector and civil society by improving the implementation of this tool (coherence and harmonization of approaches, clear impact assessment methodology, securing long-term funding), but also through continued capacity building of the implementing organisations.

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