“Improving Connectivity in the Central Forest Spine Landscape”, or IC-CFS, is a GEF-funded (Global Environment Facility) project with the objective of “Sustainable land and forest management in the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Landscape secures the critical wildlife habitats, conserves biodiversity and maintains continuous flow of multiple ecosystem services” (2014-2020) in Peninsular Malaysia – specifically, in the forest landscapes of Belum-Temenggor (354.6 kha; Perak), Endau-Rompin (238.9 kha; Pahang-Johor), and Greater Taman Negara-Main Range Ecological Corridor (100 kha, Pahang-Perak). Basically, the IC-CFS was launched to support Malaysia’s CFS initiative to boost its chance of success.
The Implementing Entity/Responsible Partner named is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), while the Executing Entity/Implementing Partner is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE). Refer to the Project Document screenshot below for its value:
What will IC-CFS achieve?
“The IC-CFS project will a) strengthen the institutional capacity of the federal and state governments and other relevant agencies to implement the CFSMP and the NTCAP in these landscapes so that connectivity between forest complexes can be enhanced and law enforcement against wildlife and forestry crime can be intensified; b) build upon current land management plans in the three landscapes to ensure that biodiversity and ecosystem service values are accounted for and that all planned land uses are sustainable; and c) set up sustainable financing mechanisms for the conservation of the CFS, for example by implementing Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, in order to mainstream biodiversity into development plans. The successful completion of the IC-CFS project in these landscapes will enhance and strengthen current efforts to implement the CFSMP and NTCAP and will provide an example for best practice for sustainable landscape management elsewhere in Malaysia and beyond.
4. The project will realise synergetic impacts from Biodiversity (BD), Land Degradation (LD) and Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) investments through capacity building for biodiversity and ecosystem monitoring and law enforcement; sustainable landscape management; and the diversification and increased sustainability of financing sources for conservation management.”
Music to my green ears, no?
How is the IC-CFS doing?
The IC-CFS’s project organization structure (flow chart below from Project Document) had the makes of a well-represented taskforce, with the Project Steering Committee (PSC) containing Federal Government representatives (NRE, JPSM), UNDP, relevant government agencies, and NGOs!! For the Malaysia of 2014, this was extremely significant! Alas, unlike the 14th Malaysian General Elections, we did not effectively convert the opportunity: by 2017, the halfway-point of the 6-year project (2014-2020), only ~20% of the USD$10m grant have been utilized – this was why the GEF requested for an ‘Independent Rapid Review’ of the project by a third-party consultant to assess whether the IC-CFS should continue or be shut down.
The Independent Rapid Review (IRR): Issues Faced
Stakeholder consultations facilitated by a third-party consultant took place in the second-half of 2017 as a part of the IRR and proposed formation of an Adaptive Management Advisory Panel (more on that later). The main issues are summarized (according to the consultant) below:
Disengagement of stakeholders who could no longer contribute to/felt excluded from making key decisions.
failed attempts at inventing own SOP
6-12m wait for equipment procurement)
contract staff reimbursement (months)
Severe underspending due to administrative roadblocks.
For years, lacked a full-time Project Manager, technical leadership & capacity
PSC too bloated to make decisions effectively
Personnel supposedly hired for IC-CFS were in fact, existing government officials with other portfolios and no true mandate/incentive to execute CFS-related objectives
Project management unit lacked direction and achieved little even though funds were available.
Parallel efforts by different implementation partners instead of a coordinated team-effort, further breeding mistrust
Federal-State government interface issues: mismatch in priorities and expectations
Duplicate (read: waste) efforts and lack of synergy between related partners.
NGOs excluded in implementation despite their technical expertise & inclusion in PSC
Private sector, research institutes & universities not engaged
Available skilled-capacity (NGOs) not utilized by the under-capacitated Project Implementors – further mistrust between NGO & government agencies.
Refer to 1-5.
Adaptive Management Advisory Panel
An Adaptive Management Advisory Panel was suggested to deal with the above issues, though it is unclear if it should report to the PSC or higher authority (ie. should it be like the “Council of Elders” or the “Institutional Reform Committee” of New Malaysia?). Proposed characteristics necessary for the Panel include:
Technical Advisory role
Composed of 1 Chairperson, 3 gov. representatives (Forestry, FRIM, PERHILITAN), 2 National NGOs, 2 International NGOs, 2 others (private sector, research bodies/universities) – up to 10 members.
As of today, the final result of this IRR has not been announced. The Central Forest Spine, its animals and stakeholders watch in trepidation as the fate of its USD$10m-aid threatens to slip from its grasp all because we couldn't get our sh*t together
*Big thank you to our informant for insider information for the IRR.