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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - GW exits as forest reform goes on

GW exits as forest reform goes on

One of the key features of the donor-funded experiment to protect the country's forests

came to an ignominious end on April 22 when the role of Global Witness (GW) as the

independent forest crimes monitor was terminated.

The NGO has not worked with the government since February when the Ministry of Agriculture,

Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) announced its intention to fire GW from its position.

And despite overtures from the Ministry of Environment, which also manages forest

estate, to cooperate with the NGO, GW said it had not yet committed to working alongside

a new government monitor.

GW spokesman Jon Buckrell told the Post by email the organization had not received

cooperation from the government in the past, and consequently felt GW's dismissal

would make little practical difference.

"Global Witness has never had a mandate from those politicians and officials

who could have put an end to illegal logging and corruption within the forest sector,"

Buckrell said.

The NGO will operate until June with funding from Danida, the Danish aid agency.

Buckrell did not confirm whether GW would remain after that.

Donor representatives said they were leaning hard on the government to appoint a

new monitor, with additional pressure from the stalled $15 million World Bank loan

disbursement, which is tied to forestry reform.

Chheng Kim Sun, the director of the forestry management office at the Department

of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW), said he hoped to open bidding for the position by

the end of April.

The shake-up in the forestry sector comes at a crucial time. The Post reported prior

to the 1998 election that liquidation of the country's forests was linked to the

demand for campaign cash. GW said there is evidence that is happening again.

"There's widespread illegal logging all over the country that's connected to

the election," said GW's Marcus Hardtke.

"What we have now is businessmen associated with sawmills sending people out

into the forest," Hardtke said. "Military officials in the protected areas

are organizing logging. In land concessions, people are [clearing timber] beyond

their boundaries and pretending it comes from inside."

The government also appears to be preparing to resume commercial cutting operations

on some of the 13 concessions under consideration. Forest management plans (FMPs)

for those concessions are scheduled to receive preliminary approval or rejection

by the end of April. However numerous NGOs and forestry experts have derided both

the plans and the public consultation process as a cynical exercise.

Dennis Cengel, an advisor to DFW, said the FMPs were still being examined by his

technical assistance team and would be sent to MAFF for final authorization. He said

more time would be needed before they were approved.

"There is no immediate reason for legal logging to take place," said Cengel.

"Not one of the management plans is far enough along to receive logging permits.

At the earliest it would be the next dry season [in November]."

Cengel said any plans not rejected outright would go back to the concessionaires

for more study. A more detailed FMP - including the controversial five-year, compartment-level

provision previously dropped by DFW - would still be required.

But GW said a review prepared by DFW suggested the process was further along than

that. Hardtke said a consultant review of DFW's report recommended two companies'

concessions be canceled, while three concessions had been approved by MAFF to be

logged as early as June.

"[DFW] and logging companies are preparing to get back into large-scale commercial

logging," he said.

But DFW's Kim Sun denied that.

"There is no sign yet on the resumption of logging," he said. "The

moratorium is still in place until forest concessions finish their [FMPs]."

The World Bank's resident forestry expert, Bill Magrath, agreed some illegal logging

was taking place, but said "in terms of legal operations" the government

had adhered to the forest reform process.

He said if procedures were followed, logging should not resume until November, but

could not guarantee the government would uphold its end of the deal.

"People have to worry about being like Chicken Little - that the sky has fallen,"

Magrath said. "[But] the sky hasn't fallen yet."

GW's Buckrell was less charitable about the reform process. He said politicians in

corrupt countries that lacked accountability regularly allowed their cronies to log

with impunity.

"Donor money is then given to the same individuals to address the problem, which

the loggers must find absolutely hilarious," he concluded.

Global Witness began working in Cambodia in January 1995. The NGO reported Khmer

Rouge deals with Thai logging companies and systematic illegal logging that dramatically

affected almost all of the country's forests. The reports led to the conviction of

only one logging company.



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