The 13th meeting of the Joint Implementation Committee on the FLEGT Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) between the Republic of the Congo and the European Union was held in Brazzaville on 02-03 June 2021.
The participants were provided with an update on the progress made in implementing the country’s Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS) and rolling out the initial modules of the TLAS computerised interface (SIVL).
Through missions carried out by the CLFT (i.e. the government body in charge of timber legality verification), 15 timber companies in southern Congo and 6 in the northern part of the country were trained on the Tax module in 2020. In early 2021, 17 companies in the South were trained on the Legality module. While companies in the North are yet to be fully trained on the latter, some of them benefited in April 2021 from an SIVL-focused workshop delivered by the Agriculture & Forest division of UNICONGO, a major industry association in Congo.
So far, all the relevant administrations at the local level (including, chiefly, the Departmental Directorates of the Forestry administration – DDEFs) have taken part in the training sessions. However, bringing all timber companies to the table has proved to be challenging. Other hurdles include the resistance of some companies to making information available in the system; and, in some cases, the limited IT literacy of trainees.
The Tax module of the SIVL will be commissioned in September 2021, under the oversight of the Inter-ministerial Working Group that was established in May this year with a view to bridging the gap until the Inter-ministerial Committee for the mobilisation of funds and monitoring of the TLAS has become fully operational. The interfacing of the SIVL with the government’s one-stop tax payment service on the one hand, and the various systems in use among timber companies on the other hand, remains to be ensured.
Work is ongoing to address the Corrective Action Requests raised by the Independent Auditor of the System during the previous phase of the audit (2018-2019), including a number of corrective actions on compliance at the level of the DDEFs. The next phase of the Independent Audit is expected to be launched in the second half of 2021.
Strategic support is being provided by the UK for the organisational restructuring of the DDEFs. The UK is also supporting the ongoing legal reform process. Further to the promulgation of the new Forest Code in 2020, a preparatory legal study was carried out, and a multi-stakeholder working group for the development of the implementing regulations is to be set up under the aegis of the Ministry of Forest Economy. This multi-stakeholder approach is in line with the commitments made by Congo as part of the Central African Forest Initiative, and active contributions both from civil society and the private sector are expected.
An overview of the EU/UK-funded Citizen Voices for Change (CV4C) regional project on Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) was presented at the JIC. Over its lifetime (2017-2020), CV4C supported the activities of the mandated IFM, and successfully promoted the development and endorsement of an external (non-mandated) monitoring system. Both monitoring systems have secured EU and UK funding for the years to come.
The participants were also provided with preliminary information on the EU’s upcoming support programme for VPA implementation, to be mobilised through AFD in eight countries including Congo over 2021-2025.
The aide-memoire of the 13th JIC meeting is yet to be made available on the FLEGT VPA website.