Promoting Transparency and Accountability for Right Based Community Forestry in Nepal

Promoting Transparency and Accountability for Right Based Community Forestry in Nepal

YEARS: 2010-2011
THEME: Natural Resources

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2010, published by the Transparency International Nepal has stood 146th among 180 countries. It was ranked 143rd in 2009, 121st in 2008, 131st in 2007. The report states political instability, lack of political will and ineffective anti-corruption initiatives are the major factors of corruption. Corruption in public offices, level of corruption, action against corruption and its output, government anti-corruption initiatives, administrative corruption, political corruption, bribing in import and export, and irregularities in contract awards have all contributed to making Nepal one of the most corrupt nations in the region.

The corruption is widespread at all levels, which is characterized by social and political instability, bickering people’s representatives, unresponsiveness of the authority, abuse of power, and unemployment. All the major political parties are involved in corruption rather than to control corruption. Forestry sector is considered as one of most corrupted sector in Nepal. During the whole year of 2010 forest sector corruption especially in the Terai has become a major headline of local and national newspaper. Terai forest has been the attraction of bureaucrats, politicians, technicians and local leaders from several years. They don’t hesitate to take any steps to use this resource for their personal benefit. Illegal logging, revenue leakage, false measurement, authorization bribery, poor account keeping etc. are major forms of forestry sector corruption. Several Forest Officers and management committee members of several forest groups suspended and people themselves punish the culprits in several cases.

The legacy of poor governance and corruption has remained in the forestry sector even though the current trend of forestry in Nepal is moving from state control to participatory management. Despite the government has handed over approximately 22% forest of the country as community forest to the local forest users, and more than 15000 community forest user groups (CFUGs) have been established so far, poor governance have been reflected in the form of exclusion, domination, exploitation, inequity, injustice, non-transparency and inadequate participation and poor rule of law. An iron triangle of deep-rooted corruption alliances across government forest bureaucracy, community elites and private business groups is still operating even in globally renowned and successful program of community forestry. Often nexus between forest smugglers, corrupt government officials, and corrupt local leaders have resulted into the illegal extraction of timber from the community forests. The problem is more severe in the CFUGs who are informally managing forests in the name of protection committees or have registered with the government but yet to get community forest (CF) formally handed over.

During the first quarter of the project some preparatory work has been done to drive the project on right tract. Formal partnership has been established with Federation of Community Forest Users, (FECOFUN), and joint memorandum of understanding has been signed between the two organizations for the implementation of this project. Major chunk of the time of this quarter has spent on recruitment of human resources both at the national and the field level, designing and conducting baseline survey, project inception meetings at ForectAction, FECOFUN and cluster level. An independent professional has been hired for the baseline survey who has submitted a report. Similarly, reflection workshops had been conducted at both clusters to open up discourses on the issues revolving around community forestry. In this workshop representative of CFUGs had reviewed over their plans, policies, activities, issues, challenges and opportunities and prepared upcoming agenda to plan for the future. Likewise, an introductory radio programme Samudaik Ban Jagaran (Responsive Community Forest) has been prepared and aired from FM Radio. This programme amplified the situation of corruption, transparency and accountability in forestry sector focusing on community forestry in Morang district with the voices of different stakeholders.

During second quarter the real intervention begun. It is understood that irregularity in community forestry begins from the formation of community forest user group. Local elites controls over the groups in close coordination with timber traders and forest authority. The other irregularities include in formation of policy and work plan, decision making, account keeping and cutting, distributing and selling of forest products. During the preparation of situation analysis profile and reflective workshops many issues opened for wide discussion. During the course of the project both people and forest authority realized the need of urgent intervention especially in the area of governance and transparency including account keeping, public audit, process, decision and monitoring related tools, skills and technology.

As this quarter’s activities have been focused more on the local issues of governance, transparency and corruption more reflections from the community received and tried to go deeper to the issues. Network and coordination linkage with district forest authority, local government, NGOs and CBOs and private sector established during this quarter. Terai forestry sector corruption got height in this period so we felt need of a regional level workshop to discuss on the agenda. This one-day workshop held in Biratnagar with 5 working papers form DFO, Journalist, Forest Activist, independent consultant and forest practitioner.  It has provided a reflection on the situation of forestry sector corruption in the eastern Terai and measures to mitigate to these problems. Before this workshop a case from the project site captured in the documentary video (in association with other agencies too), TV and newspapers. FM radio programme also heighted about this programme. These all efforts helped to amplify the issue and alarm the community and related authority to address the concern.

During the third quarter different activities like FM radio programme, reflective interactions of network and watchdog committee, campaign against corruption, PAL trainings, self-monitoring process, information hub, case studies etc have been conducted. This programme amplified the situation of corruption, transparency and accountability in forestry sector focusing on community forestry in Morang district with the voices of different stakeholders.

Due to volatile political situation it is non-stop and getting into peak. It is also linked with the basic needs of the people of rural Nepal and are an important source of jobs and income. The rise of price of timber product also made this profession more lucrative. On one hand some people/ groups are heavily engaged in conservation of forest resource on the other hand forest some ill intentioned members of user groups, political party members, saw mill owners and forest authority are looking for the conducive environment for making money from this resource. The poor governance of this valuable resource has led to widespread illegal exploitation of forest products especially in Terai by powerful groups and individuals for financial gain and by local communities for their subsistence. This has been particularly widespread during the periods of political instability.

During the 4th quarter a small information hub has been established at FECOFUN Morang and made accessible to public. The FM radio programme continued and widely heard and discussed on the issue community focused radio scheme for which reordered radio programme provided to the CFUG. FECOFUN have taken the overall responsibility of the information hub. The information hub will be strengthened in upcoming days with documents related to corruption and good governance focusing on existing situation, situation analysis, practice and lessons from others, audio visual materials, process of change. Similarly, related laws, bylaws, guidelines, district plans, village plans, CFUG plans and other information will be made available in the hub for public access and response. Now, it is equipped with computer, radios with CD players and newspapers and news cuttings.

A policy brief is under preparation but it’s too early to link this very small practice into the policy. But this endeavour initiates the discourse on increasing bad governance of the community forestry and knocks the authority and stakeholders for taking necessary way forward for fighting community forestry regulatory issues and corruption.

Although linking with the journalist with the project implementing partners and the local communities has not been visualized in this year it happened due to the severity of the issue in the region. Both print, TV and FM radio programme has been linked with and highlighted the issue. This process is very effective and needs to continue in upcoming days as well. A video has been produces in association with FECOFUN on deforestation and forestry sector corruption. Similarly, 4 episodes of FM radio programme have been produced and broadcasted including round table discussion of CFUG with forest authority.  All the result envisioned in the project for the first year has been achieved.

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