The month of March opened with very undesirable effects on 72 companies having as main business, wood extraction. After observing the recalcitrant comportment of these individuals cum companies, all holders of wood operation licenses, which negate the law regulating the sector, government vented its venom through a decision suspending their activities.
The decision is engraved in the on-going implementation of the Cameroon-European Union Cooperation Voluntary Partnership Agreement of the Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT). It consists in combating illegal exploitation of forest resources and trade associated to the activity.
The FLEGT plan of action provides for the signing of Voluntary Partnership Agreements with producer countries that are willing to take measures aimed at enhancing governance, control of trade in timber products, checking the legality of the products as well as meeting demand for legal timber products.
The terms of the decision are hard, straight and clear. "Economic actors in the forestry sector, holders of wood extraction authorizations and involved in activities in the course of 2010 are declared invalid and can neither be renewed nor prolonged for one reason or the other." The decision applies to all licenses awarded prior to December 30, 2009.
Even though the decision gives no details as to why the activities of the said companies have been halted, it is clear, from past experiences that their activities went contrary to the law. Forestry companies are awarded several kinds of licenses and each one specifies the actions to be taken.
In this particular case, those involved in wood extraction are expected to contribute to some development projects in the areas where they cut and transport wood. These include: construction of social amenities such as health centres, schools, road repairs, bridges and local markets.
From every indication, this has not been the case. Many dash into the forest with all swiftness, cut their wood and disappear without leaving any fallout for the local population.
Government considers this attitude as unacceptable. The suspension of the 72 companies, which in itself is serious sanction, is part of the deal government agreed with its partners of the European Union in order to put order in the sector.
The most interesting thing about forestry activity is that it is complicated and complex and it is these complexities that create openings for fraud and disorder. Of course, this is not the first time government is issuing a decision sanctioning actors in the forest sector. In effect, of the over 100,000 hectares of forest logged each year, 40 percent are illegally deforested.
Due partly, and largely too, to the laxity of the administration, logging companies regularly exceed their concessions and export as much as they can without the oversight of the authorities. Some disregard the terms specified in the licenses granted them and extract timber outside their concessions.
This is sometimes done with the complicity of some administrative agents. Many forestry companies, especially the local ones, do not have the necessary financial and technical means to fulfil the conditions specified in their licenses and so resort to subletting. This entails giving out their licenses on lease to aliens who have the means to extract wood for sell.
Other areas of fraud in the sector include: transportation where companies fail to respect the requirements of the law and marketing where buyers themselves refuse to verify if the timber or wood they are buying has gone through normal process.