Corruption in timber production and trade: an analysis based on case studies in the Tarai of Nepal

Corruption in natural resource governance is a global issue. Based on case studies, this research explores how various actors interpret, define and practice corruption at different stages of timber trade chain from the Tarai forests of Nepal. The results suggest that timber governance in Nepal’s Tarai is characterised by systemic, institutionalised and decentralised corruption, in which multiple corrupt practices occur as common phenomena. Bribery was the primary corrupt practice; it was deeply engrained in timber trade chains from all forest governance and management regimes.

While some instances of bribery did not involve illegal forest activities (IFAs), others involved IFAs, resulted in unsustainable production of timber and reduced revenues to government and communities. Corruption occurred through the nexus of forest officials and local political and economic elites, who perceived some forms of corruption and IFAs as acceptable behaviours, and rationalised them in various terms.  Such perception and rationalisations have ultimately facilitated corruption to perpetuate. Similarly, the ‘loopholes’ in transparency and accountability mechanisms of the legal-institutional arrangements, corruption-friendly management and regulatory measures, and poor law enforcement provided corrupt actors with opportunities for engaging in corruption at low risks.

Paralleling the situation in the country generally, anti-corruption efforts in the timber sector have been largely ineffective and inefficient in controlling corruption. The findings suggest that a “big push” involving all major social, political and economic institutions is needed to tackle corruption in timber production and trade from Nepal’s Tarai.

About the speaker

Before I started my PhD, I worked for more than 12 years in the forestry sector of Nepal, initially as a development activist in the rural communities and later as a researcher. I was engaged in community forestry, biodiversity conservation and climate change related research projects. Currently, I am affiliated with the Department of Forest Research and Survey, where I am going to lead a few research projects related to forest governance and agro-forestry. I did my Master of Environmental Management and Development in 2008 (ANU) and Bachelor’s Degree in Forestry Science in 2000 (Tribhuvan University).