The fate of what are arguably the world’s most valuable and coveted timber stockpiles will be discussed at the 74th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC74) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Madagascar is proposing a new approach, according to which the so-called “controlled” stockpile (~30,000 logs) will be exclusively used for domestic purposes, be possibly traded locally, and leave the island as items weighing less than 10 kilograms per shipment. If this approach and the current recommendations from the Secretariat were to be approved, they would fully remove the “controlled” stockpile from the oversight of the Convention. Under the current scenario, the critical precondition of verifying, inventorying and marking the “controlled” stockpiles before any use, which is an essential safeguard against large scale laundering, will be dropped.
This proposal is problematic on a number of levels, with evidence already available to illustrate the laundering avenues it allows that would now be outside the Convention’s oversight. According to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Transparency International (TI)’s investigation, the first implementation of the domestic approach – used for the renovation of the Queen’s Palace – is plagued by opacity, lack of accountability, and irregularities.
Meanwhile, a suspected trafficker accused of being involved in the silencing of Malagasy environmental activists is promoted senator and vice-president of the senate by President Andry Rajoelina, who coincidentally was in power from 2009 to 2014 when the timber stockpile issue gained importance and timber barons consolidated their power on the island. In this context, the “very slow and insufficient progress regarding the governance aspects” noted by the Secretariat, is of utmost concern.3 As Madagascar is facing a series of terrible socio-economic crises, it is essential that any timber disposal process, being for alleged domestic use or international trade, strengthens governance and people’s livelihoods – in particular transparency and accountability in the use of the forest resource – and not weaken them.
EIA and TI support the Secretariat’s recommendations in SC74 Doc. 28.3.2 (a) and (b), raise utmost concern regarding (d) and (e), and particularly disagree with the Secretariat’s interpretation of (d)iii. In order to avoid yet another rosewood trafficking crisis, EIA and TI recommend, inter alia: (1) the reliable verification, inventory, and marking of any stockpile before official use; (2) the securing of the “controlled” stocks, for instance by regrouping all logs in one location; (3) the establishment of an operational third-party independent monitor to accompany the stockpile disposal and use plan; (4) the creation of a corruption-free oversight body; (5) the implementation of a transparent disposal and revenue allocation process; and (6) the implementation of domestic supply chain traceability.
Photo credit: Transparency International – Initiative Madagascar