October 8, 2020
This report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at initiatives aimed at strengthening governance in the forest sector.
Initiatives aimed at strengthening governance in the forest sector have improved transparency and the participation of non-state actors in a number of tropical forest countries. However, evidence for their impact on accountability is limited. Two case studies in Ghana and one case study in Cameroon suggest that increased transparency and participation have helped to improve accountability of government and the private sector, with some indications that this is having a positive impact on the management of the forest sector. The development and implementation of a digital wood-tracking system (WTS) in Ghana has improved the quality and accessibility of information on forest-sector activities, both within government and for non-state actors. This has resulted in better oversight and decision-making by the government, as indicated by improvements in law enforcement. Reforms to Ghana’s system of Social Responsibility Agreements (SRAs) – a form of contract between logging companies and communities – in parallel with improved transparency with regard to forest-sector revenues has resulted in more equitable processes for negotiating these agreements and better monitoring of their implementation by government. In Cameroon, a rigorous approach to independent forest monitoring has enabled civil society organizations (CSOs) to advocate more effectively for enforcement actions. The Standardized System of External Independent Observation (SNOIE) has improved trust between civil society and enforcement officials, with indications that this is improving the latter’s response to cases of non-compliance. The three case studies in this paper highlight the complexity of the processes that lead to change, which involve multiple actors, pathways and mechanisms. The concept of an ‘accountability ecosystem’ is a useful one and should be borne in mind by those seeking to develop strategies for reform. The case studies also illustrate that change is often incremental, which provides opportunities for learning lessons and for ratchetting up progress. These characteristics mean that strategies aimed at improving accountability should be adaptive and that, even in the most challenging of contexts, limited reforms can have significant impacts in the long-term. Building trust between government and civil society is an important factor in all the case studies. The Ghanaian experiences illustrate how better relationships between state and non-state actors have helped to establish more inclusive decision-making processes and improve transparency. Both the horizontal and vertical aspects of accountability were important in the case studies. Horizontal accountability mechanisms – i.e., those within government – are often overlooked in attempts to improve governance.
Co-ownership of reform processes by state and non-state actors is a critical factor in bringing about durable change, while each can help to drive improvements in the other and strengthen the overall system of accountability.