National government stakeholders
Within the national government of a timber-exporting country, there are groups of stakeholders, each with their own interests regarding a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA). For example, several ministries will have an interest in the forest sector. Government stakeholders may include:
- Finance ministries, with an interest in increasing tax revenues from the forestry sector by, for instance, formalising the informal sector and eliminating illegality
- Environment ministries, with an interest in promoting environmental safeguards in the forest sector
- Justice departments and law enforcement agencies, with an interest in eliminating forest crime and criminal groups
- Trade ministries, with an interest in boosting exports of timber, competing more strongly with other nations and improving the credibility of the forest sector
- Customs authorities, with an interest in simplifying operational systems
- Foreign affairs ministries, with an interest in the diplomatic value of international forest policy or improving the image of the country
However, the interests of different national stakeholders may compete (see box ‘Competing interests in Cameroon'). Even within a government ministry there may be powerful forces pulling in different directions. Also, there may be government stakeholders who object to the reforms to the forest sector required by a VPA. Objectors may not understand a VPA or may stand to lose power or resources if a VPA is implemented.
Another issue is that different government agencies have responsibility for or jurisdiction over different parts of the timber supply chain. However, effective coordination and communication between agencies may be lacking.
It is, therefore, important for government stakeholders to overcome their differences and reach consensus on key issues. VPA processes can bring government stakeholders together and promote the improved communication and coordination that is critical to implementing a timber legality assurance system.
Ensuring broad representation on national VPA structures can strengthen coordination among government stakeholders. In some VPA processes, governments have set up an inter-agency coordination committee to strengthen links between ministries and government agencies.
Challenges to VPA implementation
In Cameroon, according to research by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), chainsaw millers operating illegally produce approximately 75% of the timber harvested for domestic use. The government does not receive any revenue from this trade. But government officers pocket large sums of money each year, extracted from informal loggers and timber traders as bribes. Small-scale loggers in an association called Les Verts would prefer to pay taxes instead of bribes. The CIFOR researchers report that Les Verts made a proposal on taxes to the finance ministry, which supported the idea. However, officials in the forest ministry blocked the move, arguing that it would legitimise criminal activity.
Sources: Cerutti, P.O. et al. 2013. Cameroon's Hidden Harvest: Commercial Chainsaw Logging, Corruption, and Livelihoods. Society and Natural Resources 26: 539–553. [Download PDF] and Pye-Smith, C. 2010. Cameroon's Hidden Harvest. CIFOR. Bogor, Indonesia. 30pp. [Download PDF]