Forest

In these latter days Georgian media outlets and the official website of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Georgia are disseminating information on the planned or already launched important changes in the forest sector. It is extremely alarming, when the representatives of the Ministry claim that the population will have an opportunity to extract an unlimited amount of timber, while a 49-year lease will be determined as the form of forest use. The only justification, which Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Alexander Khetaguri has unveiled through media outlets, is that “presently 1.8 million ha of forests need to be privatized.” The following statement made by the Minister is especially alarming: “In case of discovery of mineral water, deposit or other previously unknown minerals, a leaseholder will have the right to produce and process it in the leased forest,” as it will become possible, quite simply and without any prior ecological research, to replace forest cutting by another activity, which will be more destructive for the ecosystem. It indicates that the new Ministry perceives forests as the means of receiving quick fiscal effect without even discussing the necessity of their conservation and sustainable use.

The Ministry approves such important amendments to the forest legislation, which can have a strong impact on natural environment, non-transparently, hastily and without any public participation. Unfortunately, several months have already passed since the new Ministry was created, but the Ministry failed to find time to meet with the non-governmental organizations, scientific institutions and other stakeholders working over the issues of environment protection and sustainable use of natural resources.

Let us remind the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources that it is the Ministry’s direct obligation to protect human rights specified in article 37 of the Georgian Constitution, as well as to meet the requirements of the Aarhus Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe.

The last year’s non-systemic changes that was basically triggered by non-professionalism of decision makers, conflict of interests, nepotism and protectionism, led the country’s forest sector to the state of collapse: institutional system is extremely weak; monitoring and control actually do not exist; legislation is controversial; large scale non-systemic cutting is in place that has nothing to do with sustainable use. A series of hasty and non-transparent reforms serves overshadowing the real reasons. We are afraid that the press statements made by Minister Khetaguri about introducing forest lease from this summer, is the continuation of this tendency.

Based on the above mentioned, we demand that:
• The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources should immediately hold a public meeting, where it should submit its own vision and plans on Georgia’s forest sector to the interested society; it should also provide the establishment and use of mechanisms of duly and effective public participation in the process of making important decisions, in line with the international commitments undertaken by Georgia; 
• The Chamber of Control of Georgia should investigate the last year’s developments in Georgia’s forest sector with the focus of the issues of violations and conflict of interests in the process of licensing; 
• We address the President of Georgia to monitor the issue of forest sector reform and to instruct the government to plan the measures on fulfilling the political statements made by the Georgian President from the UN rostrums in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancun (2010).

Georgian Green Network

Georgian Green Network is Informal association of civil society organizations and experts dedicated to protecting environment, promoting sustainable development and fostering principles of environmental and social justice in Georgia

Network members:
Association Green Alternative
Association of Disabled Women and Mothers of Disabled Children – DEA
Association for Civil Society Development of Georgia
Association Bethlehem
Argomedia
Center for Regional Initiatives – Bright Future 
Club of Environmentalists
Community Development Association 
Community Union Sadmeli
Journalists’ Independent Union
Kutaisi Information Center 
Meokhi – 2010
Newspaper Samkhretis Karibche 
Stepantsmida
Svaneti Tourism Center
Union of Teachers – Education and Universe
Young Conservationists Group