16.7 ‘ensure responsible, inclusive, participatory and representative decision making at all levels’
VPAs are inclusive. A VPA partner country’s government cannot move forward without stakeholders. The private sector needs to find compromise with communities. Under a VPA, a country’s forest administration finds it difficult to take decisions without first discussing and perhaps making compromises with other affected forest stakeholders, be they other government departments, forest communities, NGOs, or chainsaw loggers.
VPAs bring all of these players into the same discussion. This is not easy– in many countries, governments have never before had to manage a multistakeholder process. As part of the inclusive VPA approach, the EC and EU member states have targeted financing through FAO and their own direct support to strengthen the capacity of stakeholders to organise, understand issues and tools, develop positions and engage the political apparatus. This is particularly important for stakeholders that are not well-organised or familiar with such a process such as small and medium enterprises, civil society groups and indigenous peoples.
The requirement for VPA processes to include national participation and consensus building has led to structures being created for both national dialogue and for dialogue within stakeholder groups. In all countries that have signed a VPA these participatory structures have continued into the VPA’s implementation phase. Every VPA process has seen this improve over time. Thus, VPAs not only foster participation but also institutionalise it through such structures, which meet regularly and are the means by which trust and collaboration develop.
In some cases, structures set up for VPA dialogue have been used to address issues beyond the remit of the VPA, such as conversion timber in Cameroon and conflict timber in Central African Republic.
The impact of this aspect of VPAs on governance is unique. Stakeholder voices have led to many changes in the forest sector including changes in the regulatory framework (government control procedures, accountability, transparency), legislative reform, financial benefits flowing back to communities, exposing corruption resulting in the ousting of top officials, and finally, have also resulted in governments seeing stakeholders as allies not problems.
- In the Central African Republic, the government turned to stakeholders for an open dialogue and to collectively reflect on accusations from Global Witness regarding conflict timber - this amidst political turbulence. This is profound in a broken country that never talked to civil society before and which could have just as easily turned to the pre-VPA norm of unilaterally making decisions.
The launch of the Multistakeholder Forestry Programme in Indonesia
The impact of VPAs on governance is unique: stakeholder voices have led to many changes in the forest sector