Let us inform you that

High level workshop between representatives of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Nature Resources and donor organizations on Georgian Forest Sector issues was held on May 29, 2007 at the hotel “Sympathy”. The position of the Ministry was presented by the Minister, David Tkeshelashvili and head of Forestry Department, Zviad Cheishvili.

Meeting was also attended by the representatives of several environmental NGOs.

Initially, the Memorandum on Cooperation between the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Forestry Department was signed. 
As the Minister declared, the year 2007 is announced as the year of forest; correspondingly, Government of Georgia undertakes forest sector reform. Mr. Tkeshelashvili said that reform already has positive results that are reflected in reduction of illegal logging, increase of salaries and etc. 
In the presentation of head of the Forestry Department, Z. Cheishvili, the new structure of the Forestry Department was presented. It was considered as an achievement that now each forester (ranger) will control 4,000 ha of forest instead of 1,900 ha. As a result, the number of rangers decreased and the salaries of rangers increased up to 400 GEL and that of forestry heads (35 altogether) up to 1,100 GEL. It was mentioned that the Department has no fuel and communications problems any more, centralization of the finances and staff was made, statistical forest inventory form was developed, the delivery of local forest to local governmental bodies is in the process of development, etc.

As the Ministry declared, all leaseholders will be obliged to act in accordance with the principles of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). As for the national standards, they will be developed for September 2007. At the same time, the Ministry will develop and submit to the Parliament the Forest Code for approval. Comment: It is interesting how the leaseholders will work and implement FSC standards when the Ministry has not yet developed relevant national standards.

The vision of the Ministry on Georgian forest sector management and principles have been dissolved in listing of the ministry’s achievements and, at last, left quite unclear impression. Principally, entire forest sector reform was reduced to the presentation of the reorganization of Forestry Department administration, transfer of local forest to the self-government bodies, long-term licenses on forest use. Unfortunately, nothing was mentioned about potential of these actions to be profitable from the economical and financial point of view as well as how the forest monitoring will be conducted.
Nana Janashia (Caucasus Environmental NGO Network – CENN): “We welcome reforms and agree that there is urgent need in reforming the forest sector. It has to be mentioned that from this meeting we expected to hear the vision of the Ministry on forest sector reform, objectives and action plan, however, unfortunately, on participants’ questions Ministry representatives gave so called “political” answers. These answers could not explain why the Government of Georgia is in hurry and launches the forest sector reform neglecting internationally accepted principles and scheme that will be agreed with the stakeholders and the Georgian society.”

David Tkeshelashvili answered that reforms in this sector were significantly overdue and the government is absolutely sure that this model of the reform is right despite how the processes will be proceeded. In addition, the Government currently has political responsibility and, hence, exactly knows what funds are needed from various donors.

Manana Kochladze (Association Green Alterative): “It is revolting when the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources develops such important document as forestry policy without any consultations. The ministry has spend al lot of grant money supported by OSCE (Aarhus Center) for development and commenting of forestry policy document development process of which was launched on March, 2006. The draft document was disseminated for revision even in the regions in March. In May, on the web page of the Ministry appears another version of the forest policy that has nothing similar with the previously developed document. In addition, it is already several months that the Ministry ignores the demand of NGOs regarding forestry policy. In democratic countries, such actions can not be called as politically responsible.”
Despite the fact that the Ministry plans to undertake some actions with donor funds, no donor has expressed its willingness to assist Georgian government in realization of this model. In their speeches, international development agencies and donors (EBRD, IFC, GTZ, FAO) underlined the role of sustainable forestry for the sector and country’s development. Furthermore, the importance of public participation in the development of forest policy and legislative acts was stressed. The World Bank mentioned that since 2003, WB has been funding the Forest Development Project in Georgia, and stressed that it is necessary to “…better understand the rationale behind the decision of a forest concession (lease) system. A clear economic and financial calculation is needed. There are other forms of forest management arrangements which also could be of interest and more suitable. In particular, given the partially low value of the forests, concessions might not be profitable at all. And nothing is worse than a non-profitable concession. There might be a need, at last for large tracts of the forests, to use other management systems than concessions or leases (contractual management of forests, selling standing trees, etc.). It is important that the forest administration is able to respond to these management needs as well and does not build its structures around concessions (leases) only.” The WB also stressed that “the role of the State is important. Those who set the rules and policies (forest administration) should not be in charge with concession (lease) management (selection, day-to-day administrative issues, monitoring of procedures) and both should be separated from forest police, control, etc.” and “a baseline National Forest Inventory is a key instrument in state management of a forest concession (lease) system.” The realization of inventory by the license possessor is inadmissible.

The official position of WB is attached.

While the meeting was taking place inside the hotel, the protest action of environmental NGOs was held in front of the hotel “Sympathy”. The main aim of this action was once again the society the negative character of the processes taking place in Georgian forestry sector that threaten Georgian forests, non-efficiency and inadequateness of the ongoing “reform”. According to experts and scientists, this trend could cause total deforestation and all corresponding negative results in the nearest future (10-15 years). Participants of the protest action applied to the donor organizations to consider all these facts and not to finance the decision of the Government that may cause worsening of forest ecosystem conditions.

The main demands of the action were as follows:

• To halt the large-scale, unsystematic and inconsiderate exploration of Georgian forest resources;
• Government should make emphasis on protection and conservation of the forests;
• Government should increase the transparency and public participation in the processes taking place in the forestry sector.

Participants mentioned that donor organizations’ funds should be used for implementation of effective and adequate reform in the forest sector and the money should not be spent only on purchase of vehicles, equipment, new offices and repair works, as it is demanded by the representatives of the Forest Department.