The ambitious environmental code Cambodia plans to adopt by the end of this year would require cooperation among a group of ministries, but current efforts to get each on board have met difficulties.
The more than 400-page code, which was discussed yesterday at a consultative workshop, aims to promote sustainable development through protection and restoration of the environment. It also assigns greater management control of natural resources to the local level.
Brian Rohan, legal adviser at the Vishnu Law Group, said that since many of Cambodia’s environmental laws were created 10 to 20 years ago, changes like the effects of climate change and availability of sustainable energy have arisen.
The environmental code would update and modernise Cambodia’s outdated environmental framework, and would be “inter-ministerial”, meaning a handful would need to interact together.
Doing so, Rohan said, would help the country live up to its international environmental pledges, and to its commitment to a sustainable development agenda.
“We need to have a legal framework that is the foundation for that coordination. This code is becoming that legal foundation,” he said.
Nonetheless, according to Rohan the Ministry of Agriculture, which is a key ministry in part because it encompasses the Forestry Administration, has barely participated in the process of drafting the code.
“It’s essential that they engage in this process,” he said.
There have been other hiccups along the way, including objections by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, about a year ago, to some sections of the code.
“They raised a number of concerns of liability issues and provisions of the code they thought might restrict investment in mining of minerals,” he said.
Victor Jona, a spokesman for the Mines Ministry, did not respond to questions by press time, and the Ministry of Agriculture could not be reached.
Rohan said the code requires “ministries that have not typically seen themselves as having an environmental aspect to their agenda” to begin to recognise the environmental implication of their portfolio.
“For some ministries, it may seem [like] a struggle if the code is compelling them to do more things, or do things in a different way,” he said.
Khut Chandara, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said his ministry had sent a copy of the latest draft to all ministries, accompanied by a letter to all the ministers asking for their feedback.
“After we get comments, our team might point out what ministries might have some concerns,” he said, adding that meetings are planned with the ministries next month after receiving the feedback.
Conservationist Marcus Hardtke said he was not surprised that the new code had encountered resistance.
“There has always been competition between state agencies, between ministries, even between different departments within the same ministry,” he said.
Minister of Environment Say Sam Al told officials from provincial departments of environment, as well as from other relevant ministries, that the purpose of the code was to change people’s “mind set”.
He said there will be penalties for those “who don’t implement the code”.
“Whether the law is good, it depends on all of you,” he said.