The Democratic Republic of Congo government has announced an imminent purge of “doubtful contracts” in the forestry sector, promising another round of anxiety in an area of the economy deemed exploited by foreign entities.
The decision was announced on Monday by the government spokesman and Minister for Information Patrick Muyaya, who said Kinshasa would revisit all permits on tree harvesting to ensure they are not exploiting the country.
Mr Muyaya said line officials had been directed to conduct a “technical and financial” audit on all forest concessions in the DRC.
President Felix Tshisekedi, he said, has also ordered Ève Bazaiba, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Environment and Sustainable Development, to suspend “all doubtful contracts pending the outcome of the audit.”
According to an initial verification, the Congolese government claims numerous “illegal” contracts, among them “those signed in September 2020, including six concessions by a single company covering a total area of 1,376,375 hectares in violation of the law.”
DRC law limits the acreage control by a single firm to 500,000 hectares.
This review primarily targets a firm known as Trade Link Sarl based in Lubumbashi, the biggest city in southwestern region of Haut-Katanga.
In September last year, the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development Claude Nyamugabo Bazibuhe signed six concessions, raising eyebrows on whether due diligence was followed.
In February this year, environment conservation charity group Greenpeace called for the cancellation of four forestry concession contracts covering more than 777,000 hectares awarded to Group Services, a local operator, which it deemed “illegal.”
In September 2020, Codelt and Océan, two civil society organisations, appealed to the Council of States to invalidate the granting of nine forest concessions valued at nearly two million hectares, notably because of the violation of the 2005 moratorium on the authorisation of new forest concessions.
“We know how important the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo are in the fight against climate change. If the DRC really wants to play an important role in the fight against these scourges, what is the point of giving more than two million hectares for industrial exploitation?”
In Africa, the DRC is the leading forestry country, home to 60 percent of the Congo Basin’s dense forests, the second-largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon with 375 million hectares. The region is often referred to as the ‘right lung’ of the world, with the left being the Amazon.
The depletion of forests, often under hazy contracts, has also been cited by critics as the continual exploitation of Congo’s natural resources, something President Tshisekedi promised to end.
Last month, Kinshasa also announced a purge of mining contracts, promising to suspend those with exploitative clauses and renegotiate them.
The programme to clean the sector, Congo’s biggest source of revenue, is a result of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July. Under this arrangement, the IMF committed to a three-year credit to the tune of $1.5 billion.
But it came with conditions, which included enhancing the fight against graft and cleaning up messy lopsided mining agreements granted to foreign firms.
The arrangement is such that the DRC must revise old agreements for mining and set up policies that will prevent future deals from being one-sided.