British-based environmental lobbyists Global Witness take issue with the
Government over its logging policies, and with international donors over their "solutions."
DESPITE his letter to the Post, "Timber trade to be strictly controlled: Tao
Seng Huor" (Phnom Penh Post April 19-May 2, 1996), Agriculture Minister Tao
Seng Huor's comments are inconsistent with statements made by First Prime Minister
Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and with reality.
Following Prince Ranariddh's reaction to news of the "million meter" deal,
where he in effect said that the Thais would allow timber from Khmer Rouge-controlled
zones to enter Thailand, can Tao Seng Huor explain why he is now so confident that
negotiations held with General Chavalit will lead to control over illegal exports
to Thailand? Prince Ranariddh, however, said that there will be control, presumably
as defined by Tao Seng Huor in his letter, to prevent "new" logs from being
exported. If there is sufficient control to do this, then there must also be sufficient
control to have not allowed any exports from Khmer Rouge areas in the first place.
His letter goes on to say that the deal was only a deal "in principle".
If this is the case, why has the Thai Interior Ministry contacted Thai customs offices
with copies of the agreements signed by the two Prime Ministers, to tell them to
expect the volumes of logs as described in the documents? As far as Thai Customs
are concerned, they expect volumes of log imports to Thailand to be as detailed in
the new "million meter" deal, signed by the two Prime Ministers.
The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has also made a serious error in negotiating
with the companies listed on the "permits". Not one of the companies involved
in the "million meter" deal (with the exception of the BLP Company - which
will be discussed later) has a "legitimate" concession, as defined by the
Ministry of Agriculture "Concession list", released to the press in December
1995. How could these companies have legitimate stockpiles of already felled timber,
when they never had legitimate concessions in the first place? After several investigations
along the Thai/Cambodian border, these companies are very familiar to Global Witness
and we know that they have been receiving RGC Certificates of Origin (COs) from someone
in Phnom Penh. Even if, by a stretch of the imagination, the provision of these COs
was legitimate in the past, there are inconsistencies between the volumes of logs
these companies have requested in the exports provided for under the new "million
meter" deal, and the original amounts provided for under the COs they received
- to give but one of many examples: Under the provision of their CO, the American-owned
company, Display Tech, was permitted to import into Thailand 20,000 cubic meters
of logs. They actually imported 12,330 cubic meters before April 30, 1995, and a
further 1,299 cubic meters during May (in direct violation of the RGC May 1 timber
export ban), leaving them 6,371 cubic meters remaining. Why have they now been given
a permit to export 25,000 cubic meters under the "million meter" deal -
5,000 cubic meters more than their original "entitlement"?
The BLP Company which operates across An Mah (An Seh) checkpoint, is the company
whose 22 Thai workers were killed in November 1994. As already stated, this is the
only company on the "million meter" deal which also features on the Ministry
of Agriculture Concession list. That original concession provided BLP with 200,000
cubic meters, of which the company cut approximately 100,000 cubic meters, and managed
to move 50,000 cubic meters into Thailand by the time their workers were killed.
The remainder was left in Cambodia. Since the murders, BLP has had no workers in
Cambodia, and yet the "million meter" deal provides them with 225,000 cubic
meters - more than their original concession. This company does not operate in a
Khmer Rouge controlled area.
Having recently returned from the Thai/Cambodian border, we can confirm that the
Thai timber companies, many of whom in late November 1995 were having some difficulty
in obtaining COs from Phnom Penh, are now thriving. Companies like Larry Bridges'
Display Tech, who had abandoned their rest area in November, now sport newly painted
gate and flag poles; others have had their rest areas bulldozed and are already to
receive logs. The "million meter" deal has even provided the means for
new companies, which did not exist in November 1995 to open up new rest areas - some
of them figure on the deal permit; others don't even do that. All of the companies
we talked to deal directly with the Khmer Rouge and are currently cutting fresh timber
- many within so-called protected areas.
The "Control" as envisaged by Agriculture Minister Tao Seng Huor has the
- How does the provision of a "dossier" (described in point one) from
the companies, enable the Forestry Department to determine that the wood in question
is "old" - or for that matter, its quality?
- If Prince Ranariddh is correct in his statement that it is not possible for RGC
officials to have reliable data concerning stockpiles of timber in Khmer Rouge held
areas, how will it be possible to verify the declarations from each company, as defined
under point two? Furthermore, how will it be possible for the "double control"
to be put in place on the border, as described in point four?
It is interesting that the Minister refutes the figure of 331,000 cubic meters
of already cut timber, when this is the figure given by the Forestry Department's
own inventory, carried out to determine the volume of timber as of April 30, 1995
for the very purpose of conducting the auction to deal with the problem of already
felled timber. It is also interesting to note that only 50,000 cubic meters of the
logs on the inventory are in a location which would allow for them to be exported
Global Witness estimates of potential timber trade revenue is based on a figure of
US$35 per cubic meter. We have used this figure because it is the figure that numerous
timber company managers have told us that they pay to the RGC - this does not include
further payments for the "greasing of palms" which come on top of this
basic payment. However, using the World Bank estimate of $14 per cubic meter, and
estimates of volumes of timber exported to Thailand in 1995 (based on Global Witness
direct observations and Thai import statistics), the Finance Ministry of the RGC
should have received $12,513,970 in 1995. If in fact $35 per meter was paid, the
Finance Ministry should have received $31,284,925 from those same exports. If the
latter is correct, where has all the money gone? It should not be forgotten that
both of these payment levels are ludicrously low for timber with a world market value
from $350 up to $1,000, depending on the species.
The "million meter" deal is yet another example of extreme short sightedness
by the RGC. By signing these "permits" the two Prime Ministers have, in
effect, authorized a breach of Cambodia's cutting and export bans and are acting
as proxy fund-raisers for the Khmer Rouge. Rather than putting in place "administrative
procedures", which "are the guarantees for the high respect of the law
and of the environment" as stressed by Tao Seng Huor, the RGC have conveniently
forgotten their much vaunted December 1995 "logging rethink" and continued
their sell-off of Cambodia's forests - a process conducted in complete secrecy and
at the expense of Cambodia's people and environment.
The signing of the "million meter" deal has implications for the RGC at
the up-coming Consultative Group (CG) meeting in Tokyo. The RGC failed to provide
full information about timber concessions to the World Bank/FAO/UNDP team which visited
Phnom Penh in November/December 1995 - their report had been finalized and was already
at the press when news of the "million meter" deal broke.
The World Bank/FAO/UNDP report Executive Summary, "Text of report damning the
RGC's logging policies," (Phnom Penh Post, April 19 - May 2, 1996) is fatally
flawed, not least because of recent events, in several areas:
- Estimates of 11 million hectares of forest remaining in Cambodia, presumably
relate to figures given in the UNDP/FAO Land Cover Atlas 1985/87 - 1992/93. This
document, while useful, should not be considered the definitive arbiter of Cambodia's
remaining forests - there are numerous errors and inconsistencies which have not
been ironed out through a thorough on-the-ground survey. In addition, the use of
data from 1992/93 as a baseline in 1996, when it is well known that large scale deforestation
has occurred since then, is simply irresponsible.
- The document appears to continue to advocate an export based timber industry
in Cambodia, at the current time. Such a policy is ill-advised, given the circumstances
under which the trade is currently managed. Given that RGC forest policy lacks transparency
and open discussion, that large tracts of forest are controlled by armed groups and
that the illegal timber trade continues unabated, it is unwise to expect to be able
to control "controlled" exports, especially as it has already proven impossible
to enforce a total ban. Illegal exports will continue to be laundered through any
such new "legal" exports, with little or no benefit to the Ministry of
Instead of putting time, effort and finances into studying the potential of a
log export-driven economy in Cambodia, which as already discussed will prove disastrous
for Cambodia's people, environment and future development (not to mention further
financing the civil war), members of the CG including the World Bank and the IMF,
should constructively consider the merits of "positive conditionality."
This should be managed such that the RGC and the CG members agree to mutually acceptable
targets relating to specific areas of forest policy and management. Once agreed,
future aid disbursements to Cambodia should be "benchmarked" to the satisfactory
achievement of these targets.
Global Witness do not believe that the Donor Community should impose unrealistic
conditions upon the RGC, but should work in partnership with them to preserve the
country's valuable natural resources. Global Witness unreservedly supports the continuation
of financial assistance to Cambodia, but believes that it should be linked to conditions
which encourage responsible government by the RGC. In the past, members of ICORC,
and now the CG, appear to be salving their conscience by pledging large amounts of
aid to Cambodia, without facing up to the problems of corruption and lack of transparency.
Until the RGC uphold the basic precepts of the country's Constitution, members of
the CG must take their responsibilities seriously, or become accessories to Cambodia's
current democratic, economic and environmental decline. The RGC and members of the
CG owe that much to those who ultimately foot the bill - the taxpayers around the
world who expect the money they give for Cambodia's reconstruction not be undermined
by Government policy - but most of all, they owe that to Cambodia's population, who
expect better after 26 years of conflict and all the promises of the massive international
investment that was UNTAC.