Chinese accused of illegal logging in Congo

Mainland firm denies British NGO's claim that gifts to chiefs and misuse of permits were damaging forests in the African nation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 5:04am

China's fast-growing demand for timber from the Democratic Republic of Congo has resulted in an increase in illegal logging in the African nation.

Mainland and Hong Kong loggers were the likely culprits, Global Witness, a British non-governmental organisation, said.

Congo is the world's second most forested country, with 40 million people depending on them for income, food, building materials and medicines.

Documents obtained by Global Witness indicate a Sino-Congolese company promised US$750 and one motorcycle each to two chiefs in Congo in return for logging concessions. One of those chiefs also received two bottles of whisky, while the other opted for two cases of beer.

Other documents suggested a Hong Kong-based company signed a contract with the chief of Ngambomi village, paying him US$15 per log and gifts including two cases of beer, a carton of cigarettes, a blanket and US$500 in cash. The company reportedly told Global Witness that giving gifts to chiefs was the way things were done in Congo and it was not buying off locals.

Attempts to reach the Hong Kong firm by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.

The Congolese government issues "artisanal logging permits", which allow Congolese loggers to conduct small-scale logging.

In practice, they were often used by foreign loggers to exploit forests on an industrial scale.

Given that officially no Chinese company had an industrial logging deal in Congo, it was likely a significant portion of the exports to China of Congolese timber was linked to an increase in those permits, Global Witness said.

It found 146 artisanal permits had been handed out to loggers in Bandundu province alone since 2010, affecting an area equivalent to more than 11,000 soccer pitches.

"The Congolese authorities have been routinely breaking their own laws when handing out these logging permits," Colin Robertson, of Global Witness, said. "It is easy to get a piece of paper signed by an official. That doesn't mean the forestry laws have been respected.

"The artisanal permits are meant for small-scale logging by Congolese communities looking to improve their livelihoods. Instead they have been hijacked by companies who want to strip the forest bare."

Under Congolese law, a maximum of two artisanal permits can be issued annually to each Congolese individual, but Global Witness said up to 12 permits were being given each year to overseas logging companies.

Each year, 160,000 cubic metres of wood was going to China from Congo, he said, while in 2005 almost none went to China.

"China is growing as a market, and Europe seems to be shrinking, so China clearly drives the expansion of logging," he said.

From January to May this year, for the first time, more Congolese timber was exported to China than the European Union, Global Witness said.

Mr Zhou, a manager of Song Lin, a Chinese company engaged in logging in Congo, but not one of the previously mentioned firms, said Global Witness' allegations of illegal logging by Chinese firms in the nation were false.

"All Chinese logging firms in Congo, including Song Lin, abide by local laws," Zhou said.