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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ADB report sparks talks on forest crisis

ADB report sparks talks on forest crisis

FORESTRY experts and logging concessionaires met in Phnom Penh on April 20 and 21

to examine reforms recommended by an Asian Development Bank-funded draft report on

sustainable forestry management in Cambodia.

The workshop, lead by a three-member international panel of forestry experts, discussed

the crisis facing Cambodian forestry as outlined in the strongly worded draft report.

The report said the poor management of Cambodia's forests represented a "total

systems failure", and recommended immediate reforms.

The panel heard from the workshop attendees who presented a wide range of opinions

on the accuracy of the report and suitability of its recommendations on reform of

the forestry sector.

The Chairman of the Cambodia Timber Industry Association (CITA), Henry Kong, said

the Concession Review report contained several "baseless allegations" that

were unfair to the concessionaires.

"It seems that it is politically and socially correct to treat concessionaires

as dispensable, convenient scapegoats for most of the ills of the industry,"

said Kong.

He complained that the industry was being unfairly blamed for forest crimes committed

in concessions by "illegal loggers, many of which are powerful entities within

the military and provincial authorities".

These illegal acts, said Kong, were out of the control of the concessionaires as

well as the central Government.

The review report was too quick to accept the reporting of the environmental watchdog

organization, Global Witness (GW), without conducting a thorough investigation of

the allegations, he said.

In addition, Kong was "quite amazed" that the review's consultants were

able to determine the remaining cutting periods in the concessions by "two-day

visits and some aerial observations".

David Mead, the Country Representative for Conservation International, supported

Kong's statement that powerful entities in the military were, at least in the past,

responsible for much of the illegal logging.

Mead said that in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces it was the responsibility of each

military division's Second-in-Command to raise money to supply his division - often

by logging.

"In your plan you must take the guns out of the forest so they are not holding

the concessionaires to ransom," Mead told the workshop.

Kong disagreed with Mead's recommendation that all armed units be withdrawn. "Most

concession areas still have bandits and Khmer Rouge remnants. We will agree to reducing

armed units employed by concessionaires but not a total withdrawal."

The Director General of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW), Ty Sokhun,

denied allegations in the draft report stating that DFW staff worked on behalf of

the concessionaires. "I have never seen or heard of this subcontracting,"

said Sokhun.

He acknowledged that DFW staff did use the support of the concessionaires for transport,

accommodation, and food when working in the field, but Sokhun said this did not result

in a conflict of interest.

Serguei Naumov, Managing Director of Casotim, a Russian-Cambodian joint venture for

wood processing, and Secretary to CTIA, said he fully agrees that sustainability

is non-negotiable.

But Naumov said the majority of the allegations against the concessionaires have

yet to be proven. "Surely concessionaires cannot be blamed for illegal logging

. Illegal logging could be more correctly defined as unlicensed or uncontrolled logging

by local or powerful people," he said.

"Many concessions were heavily depleted by locals and military before concessions

were given. [Casotim's concession] already had about 70% of its natural resources

harvested before our commencement in 1996.

"The concessionaires should not be chastised for their breaches of contract

because of the security situation in the field and unclear policy that prevented

our doing what we were supposed to do," said Naumov.

He also disagreed strongly with the draft report's recommendation that a moratorium

be placed on logging until new forest management plans have been put in place.

Naumov said: "Environmentally, I am doubtful of good results. I don't believe

a vacuum in [logging] operations and the supply of lumber to the local market will

remain. Surely, someone will try to obtain the products and supply [the] local population."

Kong concurred, but suggested a major scaling-back of logging. "I believe cutting

back the cut to 50 to 70 per cent, depending on the state of the concession, will

give us a better alternative," said Kong.

He said if concessions are canceled because the forest has already been depleted

then there must be acknowledgment that the depletion was caused mainly by uncontrolled

logging in the past.

"The Government had the responsibility to protect the concessions. So if depletion

is the case, the Government has failed. The question of compensation by the Government

arises," said Kong.

After reviewing the draft report and the written and verbal recommendations presented

at the workshop, the expert panel planned to release their recommendations on April

28.

In an interview with the Post, a panel member gave a panel-approved summary of the

following key recommendations to the report writers, the concessionaires, and the

Government.

*The panel felt the report should clarify that the legal and performance-compliance

components of the analysis were not used by the project team to make recommendations

on the cancellations of concessions.

It is only the amount of remaining timber on the ground that is an indicator of the

future sustainability of a concession.

The panel noted that many workshop participants felt that environmental and social

values were not given enough emphasis in the report.

*The panel feels the final report should make clear that the report used as its base

of reference Government subdecrees and World Bank forest harvesting guidelines that

deal extensively on environmental, conservation and social issues.

The report would be greatly improved if it briefly and clearly stated what is expected

from the concessionaires' forest management plans.

*The panel recommends the forest concession review's project team work with the DFW

to develop action plans and to highlight priority and risks for the Government so

it can make informed decisions.

The report also needs to deal with issues of capacity within the DFW and make recommendations

of how that capacity can be strengthened.

It should also make recommendations as to how overcapacity in the industry can be

brought into line with sustainable forest management (SFM) and recommendations for

action that should be taken by the stakeholders and the Government.

The DFW should notify concessionaires within two months on the required standards

for the development of SFM plans and guidelines. The standards should include the

requirement of an environmental and social impact assessment.

Specific time-bound performance milestones to develop an SFM plan should be set and

the maximum time limit for the completion of the plan should be one year. Concessionaires

should be encouraged to begin developing these plans immediately.

Assurance should be given that concessionaires be allowed to continue to operate

provided that performance milestones are met and the management plans meet SFM standards.

* The panel recommends that the DFW inform three concessionaires whose licenses-to-operate

the draft report recommended the Government cancel, that they will not be issued

a cutting permit until they develop SFM plans. If they do develop these plans, then

they should be allowed to continue to operate.

For all other concessions, the Government should implement a one-year partial moratorium

consistent with a 75 per cent cutting reduction as recommended by the Cambodian Timber

Industry Association (CTIA).

Concessionaires who do not meet performance milestones within one month after receiving

notification from the DFW that they have lapsed in their commitment should have their

concessions canceled.

The report should offer clear guidance as to the appropriate process of establishing

royalties consistent with future management plans.

The Government should welcome CTIA's offer to hire an outside firm to provide the

basis to develop royalty formulas that are consistent with both SFM and sustainable

business development.

*The panel also recommends that current royalty rates should be reduced on a interim

basis consistent with regional norms and until management plans are in place. But

this reduction should be subject to the implementation of CTIA's offer to reduce

the existing allowable cut up to 75 per cent until SFM plans are in place with royalty

formulas based on them.

There should not be blanket royalty rates but instead, the rates should be based

in part on the cost of extracting timber from a particular forest unit.

*The panel recommend that the Forest Crime Monitoring Unit (FCMU) be supported and

expanded. The FCMU should also follow up on charges made by Global Witness since

1995.

The panel does not support the use of military units against forest crimes. It is

inappropriate for military units to play any part in forest management and unless

they are in concession for national defense reasons, these units should be relocated.

*The panel recommends the Government quickly enact new forestry and land laws.

Local communities must have access to forest resources as is the right under law

as well as customary use. This use must be taken into consideration under SFM plans.

The report recommends that the DFW should be the primary agency responsible for forest

resources. And the DFW should take care to avoid a conflict of interest between themselves

and the concessionaires.

*Finally, the panel recommended the Government acknowledge the stakeholders' willingness

to move forward under the principles of SFM.

"It remains for the sovereign Government to set the pace of change. The pace

must be fast if the country is not to suffer irredeemable loss to a priceless heritage

and to the resource base on which so much of its peoples' present and future livelihood

depends," said the panel.

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