How a VPA can increase accountability
Why accountability matters
To be accountable, governments, companies and individuals must do what they have promised to do. They must take responsibility for their actions and be prepared to answer for the results. Accountability contributes to good forest governance in several ways:
- It benefits national interests by improving procedures and systems for allocating forest resources, and collecting taxes and other revenues
- It increases the legitimacy of state institutions
- It allows communities affected by logging operations to raise grievances with companies or the authorities
- It makes the sector fairer for legally-operating companies by reducing opportunities for illegal logging, and by identifying and punishing illegal activities
- It imposes checks and balances on state power
A lack of accountability, in contrast, enables illegal logging to thrive. The lack of accountability can diminish the rule of law and can weaken the state if people lose faith in the ability of institutions to perform as they should.
How a VPA can increase accountability
A Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) helps to clarify and document the roles and responsibilities of forest sector stakeholders and the procedures they should follow. A VPA increases the legitimacy of the state with respect to its responsibilities for forests. A VPA also provides non-state stakeholders with the means to hold those in power to account if the state fails in its duties.
Accountability depends on aspects of good governance, such as transparency, clarity and the capacity to hold power to account. Each aspect reinforces the others. VPA processes can contribute to improving accountability in several ways:
Participation. First, the VPA process itself requires the participation of stakeholders. Participation ensures a degree of openness and provides opportunities for people to voice their concerns. The participatory consultation process creates a space for stakeholders to understand their respective roles, rights and responsibilities, and builds capacity to demand accountability. Accountability depends, in part, on the capacity and willingness of stakeholders to participate in negotiations and legal reforms. See the section of VPA Unpacked on how a VPA can increase participation.
Strengthening legal clarity and law enforcement. A timber legality assurance system sets out what private-sector stakeholders must do to demonstrate legality in order to trade. The system gathers evidence to verify legality. It also makes clear the role of those checking compliance, and the procedures to follow if non-compliances are found. Independent audits of a timber legality assurance system further check that companies and government agencies are doing what they are required to do. The robustness of the timber legality assurance system, therefore, strengthens accountability across the sector and enables enforcement agencies to impose sanctions on law breakers. See the section of VPA Unpacked on how a VPA can increase legislative and institutional clarity.
Grievance mechanisms. VPAs set out mechanisms to resolve complaints and conflict. For instance, all VPAs make provision for stakeholders to raise issues with joint implementation committees by writing to both the EU and authorities in the VPA partner country. Joint implementation committees discuss matters raised at meetings. Some VPAs also make special reference to whistle-blowers.
Other VPA outputs
The text and annexes of a VPA may enhance accountability in other ways, such as by:
- Requiring information be made public (see How a VPA can increase transparency)
- Including benefit-sharing agreements in the VPA text
- Outlining transparency commitments and planned legal reforms
- Publishing a roadmap for implementation that enables stakeholders to track progress towards goals
- Stating that complaints about the independent auditor may be made to the joint implementation committee
- Allowing VPAs to recognise the role of independent observers, usually civil society organisations
Read more in the section of VPA Unpacked on Independent observation
Example. Liberian communities hold government to account
The Liberian national forestry reform law (2006) contains provisions establishing communities’ rights to a share of certain revenue streams from the forest sector. For example, communities are entitled to 30% of the Land Rental Fees paid by logging companies, as well as fees per cubic metre of timber harvested within their community.
By 2013, however, none of the communities had received a share of the Land Rental Fees, despite raising the issue in various fora. After Liberia ratified the VPA in 2013, community representatives on the Joint Implementation Committee raised their concerns. The government agreed to redistribute the community share of funds to the National Benefit Sharing Trust, as foreseen in the national forestry reform law. The Government of Liberia has now paid the first US$1 million into the trust.
This first transfer of Land Rental Fees to the trust is widely seen as an important success for the VPA. When the trust is operational, communities will be able apply for money to help fund community projects. The trust’s board is chaired by an NGO coalition and its members include representatives of communities and government.
Related sections of VPA Unpacked
Bollen, A. and Ozinga, S. 2013. Improving Forest Governance. A Comparison of FLEGT VPAs and Their Impact. FERN. 50pp. [Download PDF]
Duffield, L. and Ozinga, S. 2014. Making Forestry Fairer. A Practical Guide For Civil Society Organisations Taking Part in VPA Negotiations. FERN. 68pp. [Download PDF]
Faure, N. and Lesniewska, F. 2012. Implementing VPAs: Outlining Approaches for Civil Society's Participation in VPA-related Law Reforms. Ghana Regional Workshop: Experiences from the FLEGT/VPA process in West and Central African countries. ClientEarth. [Download PDF]