Madagascar government must take action on trafficking of precious wood
Transparency International - Initiative Madagascar (TI-IM) and the Voahary Gasy Alliance (AVG) were recently approached by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) to collect information and data on rosewood trafficking in Madagascar.
The resulting investigation reinforces our own analysis of the situation and that of other specialized organizations, such as the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
The investigation puts into perspective the current project of selling thousands of stockpiled rosewood logs, which is backed by the Madagascar Government and the World Bank. This project could reactivate dormant trafficking networks and enable illegal transactions to be made under cover of authorized transactions, as has occurred in the past.
As EIA executive director Alexander von Bismarck explains: "Despite recent alarms raised by international experts, local community representatives, Malagasy civil society, representatives of international and consular organizations, the Madagascar government insists on going through with a sale of stocks that will not only harm the remaining fragile rosewood populations but also benefit the traffickers who will get their money back right away."
We question why the World Bank and other technical and financial partners support the current government on this issue, as world heritage and the future of an entire population are at stake.
Further, TI-IM and AVG note that in 2016, the Madagascan government committed to implementing all the measures recommended by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) concerning the trade and management of precious wood stocks. One of these conditions is to significantly enhance measures to combat illegal logging, including seizures, investigations, arrests, prosecutions and sanctions. However, to the best of our knowledge, none of the seven recommendations put forward by CITES has been followed through on, except to a certain extent Part F (Inventory). However, it appears that this recommendation was only acted upon to facilitate a possible sale of the stocks.
If journalists have been able to infiltrate an existing mafia network and identify specific details of its modus operandi, the government could have done likewise, if it had the political will to do so.
TI-IM and AVG believe that efforts thus far do not reflect a real desire to tackle the core of the issues: the existing networks involving elected officials and political figures; logging in protected areas; and illegal export and marketing.
Government actions on the issue appear to be motivated solely by the desire to secure international funding intended for drawing up an inventory and checking existing rosewood stocks.
For example, the special rosewood and/or ebony trafficking prosecution service only recently become operational, nearly three years after Law No. 2015-056 of 17 December 2015 was promulgated, and just a few months before the CITES Standing Committee meets in Russia in October this year.
Faced with this state of affairs, TI-IM and the AVG recommend that the government stick to the commitments they have made, in particular by:
- Carrying out the expected investigations and enquiries on the whole "precious wood" affair;
- Sanctioning without reservation all traffickers and their accomplices, including public and political figures involved in trafficking precious wood;
- Meeting the obligations of protecting environmental activists involved in denouncing traffickers and their perpetrators, instead of repressing and terrorizing them;
- Demonstrating transparency in drawing up inventories of existing rosewood stocks, by including civil society, and enforcing the measures provided for in the May 2016 Biodiversity Management Plan.
The OCCRP investigation shows that some candidates in the upcoming presidential election have been, or still are, involved in trafficking of precious wood. TI-IM and AVG urge all candidates to publicly state their position on the issue, and specify the measures they advocate for in order to stop the trafficking of precious wood once and for all.
Facilitating the illegal trade in precious wood is an international environmental crime for which the perpetrators must answer in court.
Transparency International is a partner of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) through the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium, a groundbreaking partnership to accelerate the global fight against corruption by bringing together investigative journalism and advocacy.
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