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Is Rimbunan Hijau Ending Its Plunder of PNG Forests?

April 14, 2021

For more than 25 years Rimbunan Hijau has dominated the logging industry in Papua New Guinea; so much so that the name ‘RH’ has become ‘popularly synonymous not just with the problems of the logging sector but with corruption and anti- Chinese sentiments in general’. [1]

At it’s peak, RH was responsible for more than 50% of PNG’s annual log exports, much more if anecdotal reports of hidden company ownerships are true, but in recent years the official figures have been declining.

In 2020, Rimbunan Hijau exported just 240,000 cubic metres of logs – less than 10% of PNG’s total by volume.

Indeed, in the second six-months of 2020, RH exported logs from just three concession areas; Andru Johana, Huhu plantation and Wawoi Guavi. At its peak, RH was operating in more than 25 different forest areas.

Rimbunan Hijau is a Malaysian company established in Sibu in 1976. Originally it was involved in the domestic logging industry in Sarawak, but a dwindling supply of harvestable logs, fuelled by a government decision to phase out log exports, forced it to look overseas. The name Rimbunan Hijau was first registered in PNG in 1987, and, according to Gabriel and Wood, by 1989, RH was already well established; having bought up ‘numerous’ other logging companies including the Wawoi Guavi Timber Company.

RH’s arrival in PNG coincided with the seminal Commission Of Inquiry into Aspects of the Forestry Industry, which found extensive abuses in the sector, including widespread corruption and mismanagement. In his final report, published in 1989, the Commissioner, Justice Barnett, described foreign logging companies as ‘roaming the countryside with the self-assurance of robber barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws and policy in order to gain access to, rip out, and export… valuable timber.