In a policy reversal, representatives of the ADB's Sustainable Forest Management
Project (SFMP) are considering advising the government to cancel existing
contracts with logging concessionaires unable or unwilling to comply with
sustainable forestry practices.
However, the SFMP is being criticized by
the environmental watchdog Global Witness for perceived ambiguities in the new
The SFMP is tasked with the drafting of a forestry law, the
preparation of "community forest" guidelines, as well as a controversial forest
concession review which has been extended until the middle of March to include
inspections of concession areas inaccessible during initial inspections in late
The SFMP team leader, Orhan Baykal, said cancelling contracts was
an option despite the legal implications.
"We might find that in
instances of grave violation of law and practice we can suggest taking the risk
of being sued later and say to the government 'get rid of this concession,'" he
However this decision has been greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm
from Global Witness, which since 1994 has monitored the illegal logging
activities of forest concessions and the environmental havoc they've wreaked on
In a report to be released today, Global Witness criticizes
the SFMP for raising the possibility of legal action on the one hand or
renegotiation of contracts on the other without stating a preference.
essence, this passage simply illustrates that there are two options, but does
not suggest what the policy is regarding ... terminations," the GW report
"Quotes by [SFMP personnel] in the media [imply] that
recommendations to cancel are unlikely and ... also [imply] that they are
favoring other alternatives, rather than cancellation."
In a Feb 24
interview with the Post, Baykal said the SFMP was constrained in what it could
recommend to the Government.
"Under current government agreements
regulating concessions, not a single clause can be used to take a
[concessionaire] to court," he said.
"[Global Witness] expects us to come
up with [recommendations to cancel concession contracts], but that's not up to
us ... this is not a criminal investigation."
Global Witness maintains
that nothing less than a cancellation of contracts of concessionaires with a
proven record of "forest crimes" will safeguard Cambodia's resources.
recommending termination the ADB will give the [Cambodian government] the
rationale and the excuse to cancel certain concessions," the report
"By failing to make such recommendations, the ADB will have
unwittingly contributed to the maintenance and indeed the preservation of
Global Witness also accuses the SFMP of overstating
the legal risks faced by the government in canceling concession
"First, breaches of contract come under civil law, which
requires lower burdens of proof than criminal law. Secondly, GW's information
consists of film, photographs, documentation and the testimony of loggers,
officials and eyewitness statements, ... sufficient evidence to back
recommendations to terminate concessions," the report says.
Baykal suggests that resolving the difficulties caused by "problem concessions"
is well on the way to being solved without legal action.
"Only three out
of 29 concessions are currently allowed to cut," Baykal noted.
addition, Baykal described the Department of Forestry and Wildlife's new
requirements that concessions complete both a 100% inventory of planned cutting
areas for 2000-2001 as well as pay all outstanding minimum government royalties
by March 1 in order to receive new cutting permits as instrumental in weeding
out "problem concessionaires."
"Some concessions will find out that
[sustainable forest management] is just not worth it and may sell their
concession to those better equipped," he said.
Not enough, according to
Global Witness, who insist that a definitive SFMP recommendation for the
cancellation of concession contracts is essential to motivate the government to
prevent further destruction of Cambodia's forests.
termination is an uncompromising decision ... [but] it is apparent to most
observers that the survival of Cambodia's forests depends in large part on
curtailing the activities of certain concessionaires."