Conservation corruption

Ambiguities over funds flowing into conservation in Colombia will heighten ESG concerns.

Colombia, one of the world’s megadiverse countries, has a significant ecological footprint which attracts global conservation interest. Money pours in from private foundations, high net worth individuals, government, and charities. However, it is not always the case that funds are used for their intended purpose nor where the money comes from. Until Colombia tightens up its regulatory and due diligence frameworks, ESG concerns may disincentivise further money flowing in.

An environmental activist in Bogotá highlighted concerns over transparency, “Accountability for conservation investment is exceptionally low and there is still a lot of uncertainty around where exactly funds go and where they have come from. It is not always clear how and where money will be invested. Given that the process of disbursing funds to specific organisations is complex, this can provide opportunities for corruption and malpractice.”

“Accountability for conservation investment is exceptionally low and there is still a lot of uncertainty around where exactly funds go and where they have come from.”

Environmental activist, Bogotá 

The way in which private donations are processed is overly complex. Poor transparency and opaque accountability are compounded by weak rule of law and corruption, even among NGO’s. President Iván Duque has claimed that his administration managed to reduce deforestation in the country by almost 20% during his first two years in office but during that time the number of illegal mining sites increased substantially – either monitors or the administration are getting their numbers wrong and funds intended to stop such activities, or at least monitor them, are ending up on the wrong side of the fence.

Whilst funds are often well-intentioned, they can be easily misappropriated and for companies keen to highlight their record on social and environmental challenges, the reputational risks entailed in conservation donations can be too high. Funds intended to combat activities including cultivating coca and illegal metal activities can be siphoned off to organisations and individuals directly or indirectly involved in such activities through murky supply chains.

Insight Crime, an investigative journalism organisation, claims that the country lacks capacity, resources and general political will to combat illegal activities in Colombia’s rainforests, and particularly in the Amazon region where most conservation efforts are focused.

Precedent is not encouraging. After providing USD 85 million since 2015, Norway, Germany and the UK recently renewed a pledge for USD 366 million to combat deforestation and degradation. Much of the original round of funding was siphoned off for projects where there was little accountability in terms of where and how funds were spent.

The environmental activist explained, “Authorities, who have undertaken military operations against forest clearing in national parks, have yet to dismantle the organized crime groups that are allegedly behind the large-scale deforestation – funds intended for conservation efforts can often make their way into the hands of criminal groups through cosy relationships with various officials.”

“Funds intended for conservation efforts can often make their way into the hands of criminal groups through cosy relationships with various officials.”

Environmental activist, Bogotá 

Colombia has a poor record when it comes to rooting out corruption in its public institutions. If the administration wishes to allay concerns about the opacity of conservation funds it will need to tighten up its regulatory and diligence frameworks and make sure that those who misappropriate funds are prosecuted with the full force of the law.

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