VPA annex on public information
An annex on public information describes the documents and information stakeholders think should be made publicly available to strengthen governance in the forest sector and enable monitoring of implementation of a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA).
Transparency and access to information about a country's forest sector are important to national stakeholders and to international markets, which need to understand the systems a country has in place. VPAs create an opportunity for countries that already make information about the forest sector public to demonstrate this transparency to domestic and international audiences.
In some VPA partner countries, civil society organisations with roles as independent observers have taken the lead on public information in VPA negotiations because access to information is critical to their work as observers.
In Indonesia, for instance, the VPA annex on public information builds on the requirements of independent observers as well as the country's freedom of information act.
Content of the annex
There are often two main classes of information in VPA annexes on public information signed to date. First, information to be published as it becomes available, such as legal documents, procedures or institutional arrangements for governing the forest sector. Second, information to be published regularly, such as data and reports of forest activities.
However, additional sets of information to be disclosed may be included if parties to a VPA wish.
In VPAs signed to date, the lists of information in annexes on public information often include:
Legal information. Including, but not limited to, the texts of relevant laws and regulations that relate to a country's forest sector. For instance, the forest law, forest code, tax code and aspects of the regulatory framework referred to in the legality definition.
Information on procedures for allocating forests, such as information relating to:
- Tender procedures and notice of calls for tenders relating to permit allocations
- Documents related to competitive bidding
- Lists and maps of valid concessions with names of beneficiary individuals and/or companies
- Social agreements between forest communities and permit/contract holders
Information on forest planning, such as environmental assessment reports, land-use planning documents, maps, lists and total area of concessions.
Information on production, such as volumes of timber felled and processed by species, concession and company.
Information on processing, such as lists and locations of approved processors.
Information on imports and exports, such as volume of timber by species, company and destination country, and information on timber in transit.
Information on the legality assurance system.
- A full description of the system
- Procedures for FLEGT licensing
- Inspection reports
- Reports of independent observers
- Information on FLEGT licences issued
- Cases of non-compliance with the FLEGT licensing scheme
- Actions taken to resolve non-compliance
Information on the independent audit, such as auditor's terms of reference, summaries of reports and procedures for challenging audits.
Information on the payment of forest taxes and fees, such as rents, felling taxes, reforestation fees and any other charges.
Information on law enforcement, such as information on violations, arrests, penalties and convictions.
Information on institutional structures and government procedures, such as the composition and function of national implementation structures.
Annexes on public information also describe channels for making information public. Channels can include:
- Active channels of communication through which the country will provide information. Examples include stakeholder meetings, published and distributed reports or media announcements
- Passive channels of communication, through which the country makes information available, such as websites, document centres or responses to freedom of information requests
How Ghana's VPA differs
Ghana's VPA, being the first signed, has no annex on public information. However, the annex on the timber legality assurance system identifies data that will be publicly available. Also, in the main VPA text, Article 20, on reporting and public disclosure, states that the Joint Monitoring and Review Mechanism shall record Ghana's efforts towards transparency. The article refers to:
- Transparency around harvest rights
- Areas designated for harvesting
- Harvesting schedules
- Timber rights' fees and harvest related payments
- Information on social responsibility agreements and crop damage compensation awards