This report assesses the current level of transparency in Nepal’s Forest Sector. It serves as a baseline against which future assessments of forest sector transparency can be measured. The report uses a system of indicators (a series of questions) included in a forest sector transparency report card originally developed by Global Witness. These questions and indicators have been modified slightly to ensure a better fit with Nepal’s unique forestry context. There are 70 indicators in 15 groups all of which have been used in this report. Each indicator is given a “traffic light” rating. Green (yes) means that it has been fulfilled; yellow (partial) means it has been partially fulfilled and green (no) means it is not yet fulfilled. Of the 70 transparency indicators assessed for this baseline, 14% are completely fulfilled, 37% are partially fulfilled and 49% are unfulfilled in Nepal’s forestry sector in 2011.
Forest sector transparency is an important ingredient of forest sector governance. This first attempt to try to quantify it is important because, despite the internationally acclaimed successes of Nepal’s forestry sector such as its community forestry programme, sector governance is still weak and appears to be deteriorating. Unless this situation can be reversed, it is likely that the essential environmental services, the contribution to rural livelihoods and the potential contribution of forests to Nepal’s inclusive economic growth will not be realised. Significant sector reforms are needed to enhance forest sector governance and improve transparency and this report provides an indication of where the main weaknesses lie and what can be done to address them. This report does not aim to offer solutions – these will need to come through wider dialogue amongst different stakeholder groups. It simply registers information that will contribute to this wider debate and highlights the areas where transparency is weakest and where improvements are required.
Nepal’s forest sector appears to have a sufficiently robust legal framework to ensure transparency in various ways. For example, there are laws and directives that aim to ensure transparency across all sectors – although few are specific to the forestry sector. There are also significant legal rights for forest sector institutions of various kinds including community groups and civil society organisations. One key deficiency in the current status of forest sector transparency is that there is only limited access to decision-making and consultation by many key stakeholder groups at all different levels from national to local – although in practice good governance and transparency are far better developed at sub-national and local community levels than that at national level. There are also some fundamental issues relating to lack of clarity and widespread uncertainty over forestland use and tenure – particularly since forestland tenure is often separate from forest use rights. This is likely to become increasingly important now that environmental services from forests are being valued financially since the question arises as to who should benefit from these i.e. forestland owners, managers or right-holders?
Another major deficiency in forest sector transparency relates to the rules, regulations and procedures for assigning rights to harvest, utilise and benefit from forest products – especially timber. Many aspects of these require fundamental reform to ensure that there is better public knowledge and awareness of how forests are being utilised productively and how the resulting benefits are being distributed. Illegal harvesting, forestland encroachment and widespread corruption amongst different actors involved in timber harvesting activities (and other forest products) are a direct result of these transparency weaknesses. There are also transparency issues relating to other sectors where these impinge on, or affect, the forestry sector. This leads to a lack clarity over roles, responsibilities and decision-making between individuals and institutions (including between different government institutions) meaning that ad-hoc and personal interests can thrive. This again requires significant reforms to put forest sector decision-making on a clear and transparent basis within the wider framework of Nepal’s laws and policies.
Arguably, the single most important deficiency regarding forest sector transparency concerns law enforcement and monitoring. A robust legal and policy framework alone is insufficient to ensure a transparent and fully accountable forest sector unless there is widespread compliance with it. Unfortunately rule of law in Nepal and especially in the forest sector is weak and appears to be deteriorating. There are widespread reports of corruption and law-breaking as well as high levels of impunity. Unless these can be tackled through more transparent and accountable forest sector governance and increased public awareness, monitoring and participation, forests in Nepal will continue to be threatened by a frontier mentality that permits or justifies free-for-all forest resource exploitation for personal or political gain, rather than legitimate common or national interests.
The 70 forest sector transparency indicators used in this report allow for a comprehensive analysis of Nepal’s forest sector of the situation in 2011. However some indicators are considered to be more important or more relevant in Nepal than others. Of these 70 transparency indicators the 10 key indicators that are listed below are considered to be the most critical. Although all indicators are important, these 10 are the indicators that it would be most fruitful to continue to monitor closely as a way of assessing Nepal’s progress towards significant forest sector reform.