Saturday, February 27, 2016

Indigenous forest communities cry foul as Cameroon suppresses annual forest royalties

By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame
Indigenous forest communities in Cameroon are protesting a new decision by the government that deprives them of their right to benefit from land and forest royalties and improvement of livelihood.

A ministerial order No.0076/MINADT/MINFI/MINFOF of 26 June 2012  that allocated 10% of the forest incentives to communities in forest exploitation areas has been substituted by circular No 004/MINFI/DGI/L of June 2015 by the general directorate of taxation spelling out procedural requirements for the tax provisions of law No 2014/026 of 23 December 2014 relating to the 2015 finance law of Cameroon.The circular allocated 10% of the proceeds of annual forestry royalties to tax recovery agents of the Ministry of Finance and local councils.

 Finance officials justify the suppression on grounds that indigenous communities are not legal entities.According to Cameroon’s territorial structure,local councils are the smallest legal entity.
Local development actors however say the decision is a travesty of justice that will render the indigenous community even poorer and stifle development at the grass root.

‘’The suppression of forest royalties for indigenous communities in Cameroon is frustrating hopes of development,” says Luc Andebe, president of the local management and follow-up committee for forest royalties meant for Manga’a-Ndokok community in the South of Cameroon.
 He says hitherto the community depended solely on forest royalties to provide social amenities like schools and hospitals and carry out other development projects like electricity and the provision of potable water.

Today, their children cannot study well in school because the community cannot pay part-time teachers nor renovate the dilapidating community school, Luc Ndebe lamented.

Like Manga’a-Ndokok village community, many indigenous communities in the forest areas in Cameroon are suffering the same fate, lack of financial empowerment to carry out development projects to fight against poverty. Other development stakeholders in grass root communities say they are also feeling the pinch of the decision.

The coordinator of RECTRAD, an organization of traditional rulers engaged in protection of the environment and sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Africa, His Royal Majesty Mvondo Bruno says the suppression has discouraged many indigenous people from conserving biodiversity. He says the forest communities are paying the price of a confused forest management policy in Cameroon.

 Development activists say the suppression of the 10% of annual forest royalties destined to local communities on grounds that the indigenous communities are not legal entities is uncalled for, describing the decision as a breach of Cameroon’s 1994 land tenure law that recognises the role of traditional authorities and local cummunities in land management.

“If the argument is that communities are not legal entities, then communities in mining areas will likely be deprived of their quota of taxes. That is money that is used to fund local projects of the communities and if they are deprived of, they have been deprived of their right to livelihood as stipulated in the 1994 land tenure law,” said Samuel Nguiffo, director of the Center for Environment, CED in Yaounde.

Samuel Nguiffo described the cancelation of the 10% annual forest royalties to communities as injustice and unjustified denial of landownership benefits by the government that cannot respect it own laws.

The law provides that local communities in forest exploitation zones be given a share of taxes paid by logging companies. But today, the percentage goes but to officials of taxation and local council Samuel Nguiffo says, calling on those who made the laws to return to the drawing board and decide who gets which percentage of annual forest revenue.

But there are increasing efforts to stem the tide in many countries especially in Africa. A  February 3,2016 report by Rights and Resource Initiative, shows that six weeks after COP 2015 in Paris, new research finds forest peoples losing ground in key nations—despite proof of their role as best guardians—while other countries are poised to deliver on commitments
The report calls on those governments and private sector working to acknowledge the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities who themselves are a driving force of change to work with the  new array of tools, institutions, and strategies launched in 2015.

It says the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility is running pilot projects in Panama, Peru, Indonesia, Mali, Liberia, and Cameroon to better help indigenous communities understand their rights.

A post Paris report( by Nnah Ndobe  Samuel, Ingénieur Agro-Socio-Economist in Cameroon points out that the Paris agreement does recognizes indigenous peoples’ rights, calling for “knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change” to be strengthened.

It said financial support to that effect were announced by Norwegian government  during the COP with $100 million (US) available for initiatives respecting the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples, while Sweden committed 11.5 million EUR to the tenure facility initiative, aimed at facilitating land and forest tenure for local communities and indigenous peoples in four countries, including Cameroon.

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