The government will not make public all information related to land concessions and
contracts in accordance with donors' requests, Prime Minister Hun Sen said during
a closed-door meeting Thursday.
International donors and government officials attended the event, held at the Council
of Ministers, to discuss failures in reforming Cambodia's natural resources management.
They expressed concern that the government had made little progress toward achieving
several performance monitoring indicators agreed on at last December's Consultative
Immediate disclosure of all contracts related to state-owned public assets has been
one of the most highlighted indicators. This information has not yet been released
to the public.
"We've considered [disclosure] a litmus test of political will, because it's
so easy to do," said Mike Davis, of forestry watchdog Global Witness. "We're
not asking the government to develop a space exploration program."
During Thursday's opening statements, Fumiaki Takahashi, Japanese Ambassador, stressed
the importance of disclosing contracts and concessions.
But Hun Sen countered that many such documents contain sensitive financial information
and full disclosure might scare off potential investors.
"What kind of investors do they want?" Davis asked. "Most of the ones
that come to Cambodia now are fly-by-nights not looking to make serious investments.
Though he said the government would withhold financial details, Hun Sen promised
officials would disclose company names, concession locations, the size of concessions
and the length of concessions.
"This has been a somewhat thorny issue," said a spokesman for the German
Embassy. "It looks like if donors continue to demand full disclosure, they will
Davis charged that semi-disclosure was a disservice to the Cambodian public.
"If you set a target and both sides agree to it, it should be fulfilled,"
he said. "Nothing short of full public disclosure - including revenues and details
of contracts - will lead to progress."
If there is any validity to the government's claim, Davis continued, it should be
fully examined and further defined.
"You can't just wipe this away by saying 'financial issues are sensitive,'"
he said. "What are companies paying the government? What does the government
earn? Who is all this benefiting?"
Transparency is particularly important in light of current disputes between Phnong
people and Wuzhishan LS Group in Mondolkiri province, said Megan MacInnes, coordinator
of an NGO working group in Mondolkiri. The ongoing conflict has centered around the
Chinese company's activities on traditional Phnong farmland, spirit forests and cemeteries.
"Sometimes the problems in Mondolkiri have come from insufficient disclosure
and consultation," MacInnes said. "It would make things a lot clearer for
Hun Sen addressed the situation in Mondolkiri at Thursday's meeting, saying the government
had ordered Wuzishan to suspend operations on disputed land. Company representatives
must meet with relevant ministries before they can continue, he said.
The Prime Minister also ordered that Mondolkiri's governor investigate which lands
are truly significant to the Phnong people.
Throughout the rest of Thursday's meeting "concerns of donors were well-taken
care of," the German Embassy spokesman said.
Hun Sen promised that a subdecree on economic land concessions would be adopted as
soon as possible. He also stressed that no amendment would be made to a clause in
the Land Law limiting concession size to 10,000 hectares.
Donors applauded the Prime Minister's commitment to the populace, said the Embassy
spokesman. In spelling out future criteria for granting concessions, Hun Sen said
in debates between citizens and economic forces, local people should always take
"It is clear that the interest of the people is of paramount importance to him,"
the Embassy spokesman said.
The meeting subsequently highlighted the interests of donors and their countries,
"Donors made it clear that, as representatives of donor countries, they must
make sure that the money spent is implemented for the agreed objective," he
said. "It was made clear that the monitoring indicators were extremely important."
Donors and officials had originally scheduled two meetings to discuss reform benchmarks'
progress mid-year. But at the first event, held June 14, the government announced
the second meeting with Hun Sen would be a smaller gathering.
NGOs and donors insisted the follow-up meeting focus on natural resources, which
was the area where they had seen the least progress.
Though donors in December linked future funding to completion of reform benchmarks,
they shied away from saying if semi-disclosure would affect support.
"We will wait and see how this disclosure is interpreted," the Embassy
spokesman said. "As always, the Devil's in the details."