The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo says it is canceling two illegal logging licenses following an investigation by the environmental action group Greenpeace.
The Greenpeace probe found that in September 2016, then-Environment Minister Robert Bopolo Mbongeza authorized the two logging concessions, which covered more than 4,000 square kilometers. One permit went to an adviser of President Joseph Kabila, and the other went to a parliamentarian from the ruling party.
But the DRC introduced a moratorium on logging concessions in 2002 in a bid to protect the world's second-largest remaining rainforest and the livelihoods of the 40 million people who depend on it. The forest covers much of northern DRC, as well as parts of five other countries in the Congo Basin.
Irene Wabiwa Betoko, forest campaign manager at Greenpeace Africa, told VOA that her organization discovered these two illegal awards and asked for a clarification from the government.
Atis Kabongo Kalonji, who was appointed environment minister in December as part of a DRC government reshuffle, insists his ministry is remedying the situation.
Kalonji told VOA on Wednesday that in response to Greenpeace's revelations, he could inform the Congolese public and the forestry operators that these licenses were now canceled. He said he would soon sign a ministerial order confirming the cancellations and would put in place a mechanism to prevent future violations.
Greenpeace says judicial action against offenders is necessary to stop recurring violations of the moratorium. A month before awarding the licenses in September 2016, Bopolo had canceled three other licenses that his predecessor awarded in 2015. Those, too, were uncovered by a Greenpeace investigation.
Greenpeace also is urging suspension of a new $200 million program to protect the rainforest, the Central African Forest Initiative, until the group can complete a comprehensive analysis of the activities being funded. Wabiwa said Greenpeace wanted to make sure donors' money would not add to the chaos that exists in the forestry sector. At the moment, she said, the necessary safeguards are not in place.
Kabongo told VOA that the DRC's international partners could rest assured his ministry would not permit illegality.