Thursday, October 30, 2014

A review of the ITS Global report (April 2013) "Uncivil Society: A review of activist NGOs in PNG."


Review of "ITS Global report (April 2013)  "Uncivil Society:  A review of activist NGOs in PNG."

The report has some useful information, but it misses the point and is a front for the logging industry.  It sets up a straw man dichotomy as the NGOs being opposed to development and job creation.


The report clearly reads like it has its own hidden agenda to support foreign corporations in PNG.  They ignore that such corporations are serving their own interests also, just as foreign NGOs serve their own interest.  I wonder where the funding for the investigation comes from when I read comments like:
"....arguably one of the most environmentally-responsible, forestry operators - the Rimbunan Hijau (PNG) Group."

"In the case of Bougainville, what was a localized political problem was conflated in the mind of the public outside of Papua New Guinea with the actions of large corporations operating in Melanesia.24" 

global anti-mining campaigns in PNG are facilitated by Western interests rather than local communities.26

More recently the campaigns have more broadly attacked the establishment of areas for agricultural development under the special agricultural business leases (SABLs) that have become a popular form of tenure in Papua New Guinea.

-- REALLY?  Rimbunan Hijau (RH) is environmentally responsible and Bougainville was just a localized political problem?  Local communities are not opposed to mining?  SABLs are a popular form of tenure?  Popular with whom??

The report quickly loses any credibility by being thinly veiled pro-corporation rather than being pro-PNG.

The report makes a big issue of local organizations who obtain funding from outside of PNG. This does not de facto create a problem.  There are few sources from within PNG that advocacy groups can obtain support.  Without some external funding there would be little opportunity for local groups to organize and be effective.  The result would be no independent scrutiny of corporations like RH; PNG society would only have government to oversee and monitor what corporations like RH do.  Would it really be in PNG's interest to abandon all independent oversight and only rely on publicly funded agencies to monitor foreign corporations?  It certainly would be in RH's benefit..

The report claims that the lions share of international funding only goes to conservation, not social or health development and cites a few examples like the Packard Foundation, ICCO and the Rainforest Foundation Norway.  It makes no mention of many donors that support health and social issues, combating AIDS, church-run health posts, schools and universities.   By cherry-picking examples like this, the report shows its bias.  This is truly unfortunate because there ARE criticisms to be made regarding conservation funding and how inefficient it is.  But the authors miss those valid criticisms in their effort to excoriate Western support of opposition to corporate logging, mining and agriculture.


The report acknowledges  " Most official aid overwhelmingly supports social and economic development needs. Most NGO funding is to further environmental objectives."  and goes on to cite the 579 million USD received as foreign aid in 2010.

This is counter to their earlier core argument that Western sources ignore social and economic development.  One might argue that NGO funding can be used to address needs that are not met through "official aid."  I would say this is one thing NGOs should be doing.  Thus I would not agree that the funding is misdirected simply because ALL funding should go to social economic development.   Do they really think that the additional small change (relative to 579 million USD) NGOs invested in 2010 would have made any tangible gains on top of the > half billion USD already going to social and economic development?  Clearly it is not that the report wants more funding for social or economic development, they want less funding for  conservation.

Instead of slamming the international donors who invest in something other than social and economic development, a legitimate evaluation of the situation would advocate for NGO funding to go to national NGOs who were empowered to identify THEIR priorities and how to address them.


Claiming all donor priorities should follow the Government of PNG state priorities  sounds good if not critically examined, but it ignores two important considerations:
1) Official PNG Development goals are also influenced by outside donor pressures; such as corporate interest.  Many are part of international conventions and were funded by multi-lateral donors.
2)  There are other interests in PNG, like local communities, women's groups, indigenous landowner rights groups, national conservation organizations, etc., that have a legitimate voice and independent objectives from those of the PNG government.  Even Provincial and local level governments have different priorities.  All funding should not be determined by a few grand over-arching national development documents.

The report shows an unprofessional bias with unsubstantiated conclusions like:
Research for this report estimates that since the year 2000 at least PGK 194 million (USD 82 million) has been disbursed in Papua New Guinea for NGO projects that work against the nation’s long-term development prospects and directly undermine PNG’s development objectives.

The authors offer no justification for how these funds work against the nation.  The underlying assumption is that any support to protect the environment is contra PNGs long term development interests. 


The report is critical of EU funding to CI for the YUS Indigenous Forest Reserve.  They stop with this as if it is wrong.  What needs to be done is to explore whether that funding was well spent.  The fact that the EU supports local activities and organizations in and of itself is not wrong.  They claim the EU "channels significant amounts of money into groups such as WWF and local NGO, the Research and Conservation Foundation."  From personal investment with the Research and Conservation Foundation, I know that the funding provided over many years while "significant" has not been enough to cover even basic core expenses.  This organization is staffed by highly dedicated PNG nationals who work for next to no pay.  The report deliberately portrays national organizations like RCF, CELCOR and the Bismarck Ramu Group as pawns of western donors.  This is insulting.

The authors should not attack national NGOs simply because they get funding from outside PNG.  If this logic were extended, then many hospitals, development projects, etc. should not happen either.

The report goes into great length criticizing any national or international interest in monitoring or regulating forestry.  It considers this an international conspiracy to hold PNG down.  It makes no mention of the many potentially damaging outcomes of unregulated logging, or that short-term gains from logging can damage PNG's long-term interests.  As such, the report is so lopsided and clearly supportive of the logging industry, it loses all credibility.

"Forestry is a major employer in PNG and a key provider of social services and infrastructure in remote rural areas."

The same lopsided approach goes to the reports treatment of mining.  It considers opposition to the Ok Tedi mine a foreign-driven attack.  It does not mention the environmental disaster the mine created for everyone downstream.

The report starts to get even more tedious on page 29 where it provides  "Case Studies"  that pretend to examine CELCOR, BRG, PNG EcoForestry Forum,  and Act Now!, even singling out their key leaders like  Kenn Mondiai and Damien Ase.  The report accuses these fine people and organizations of  acting against the interests of PNG because they get funding from outside PNG.  I found this one of the more objectionable parts of the report.  These people and organizations are Papua New Guinean and have every right to oppose things like the Madang Nickel Mine and SABLs. 

By page 39 the report finally gets to more detailed examination of the International NGOs and donors in PNG.  People who know me or have read my book and blogs know that I am very critical of the NGOs and how they operate and their widespread failures.  If anywhere in this sham report, this is where I might find common ground.

But again, it is just a diatribe with some dates and figures cherry-picked to make it sound like research.  Statements like

WWF is a conservation organisation that prioritises expansion of conservation areas over health, education and other social outcomes.

Greenpeace launched a campaign against RH based on allegations of illegal logging and worker abuse by the company at its Wawoi Guavi concessions in Gulf Province. The allegations were never proven.

The NGO[Greenpeace]  makes no attempt to address long-term social and economic problems, including health and education, faced by developing countries such as PNG.

..the foundation [Packard} almost exclusively supports operations which ignore social and economic development priorities.

The ICCO Pacific program ignores its own commitment to addressing ‘fair economic development’ by almost exclusively funding environmental initiatives in the region including eco-forestry projects,...

The RFN [Rainforest Foundation Norway]  does not fund initiatives in PNG that address poverty, health, education and the need for improved infrastructure. Funding is instead directed to local groups including EFF, CELCOR and BRG to support initiatives which block and disrupt PNG’s resource industries and stall economic development.

There is a belief within the environmental movement that Papua New Guinea should be ‘saved’ from the supposed evils of industrialisation.

Good environmental management needs to be paid for, and this can only happen after economic development.

This [conservation] would deprive PNG’s citizens of humanity’s better achievements: modern healthcare, broad education and liberation from poverty.


The report (finally) ends its rants with a summary entitled "It's a small world:  PNG's anti-development community"

They've characterized any NGO or donor that is not funding their view of economic development as anti-development.  This is the same tedious (but often effective) argument corporations everywhere use to fight any controls, regulation or oversight of their activities.  The conclusion singles out a few PNG conservationists by name,  Kenn Mondiai, Damien Ase, Sam Moko, John Chitoa, Effrey Dademo, and Thomas Paka, for a personal attack.  It practically calls them dupes of western anti-development puppet masters.  One has to wonder where the personal attacks are coming from.  It certainly appears that the authors of this report are corporate interests striking back at their critics.

In conclusion, this report was prepared by a Melbourne based consulting firm, International Trade Strategies, Ltd.  The authors do not reveal their names, nor does the report state who paid the consultants.  Their clients, per website, are major corporations in the Asia Pacific region.  So presumably this report was funded by a corporation with interests in PNG.  The organization funds a Forestry and Development newsletter on line that appears to be fully dedicated to attacks on conservation organizations and policies.  One of their online documents is a short description of all the fine things Rimbunan Hijau has provided PNG.  I am sure the figures in it could not have been provided by any source other than Rimbunan Hijau.   I find it particularly ironic that an entire report lambasting NGOs for who funds them does not itself even reveal who funded the report!