AUTHORITIES plan to continue crackdowns on illegal logging, the newly appointed head of the Forestry Administration said Tuesday.
However, observers say it remains unclear what new direction, if any, Cheng Kimsun plans to take to achieve his goals.
“We need to follow the policies of the government,” Cheng Kimsun told reporters Tuesday during a forestry policy conference in Phnom Penh that brought together officials from Asia and the European Union.
He declined to comment at length when asked about forestry policies he planned to implement, suggesting reporters review excerpts from his opening address to conference delegates.
Cheng Kimsun, who served as deputy under former Forestry Administration director Ty Sokun, was thrust into his new role unexpectedly last month after Prime Minister Hun Sen removed Ty Sokun, saying he had failed to end Cambodia’s persistent illegal logging trade.
Koen Everaert, the natural resources management and climate change attaché for the European Union, said Tuesday that his colleagues have “taken note” of the change at the top of the administration.
His colleagues have also met with Cheng Kimsun, he said.
“The message we received in that meeting was that while he was still new [and] his policies were not determined, it appeared he would continue to support the National Forestry Programme,” Everaert said, referring to the administration’s long-term strategy for forest conservation, which is under development.
“From the initial meeting it did not appear there would be huge changes.”
Other observers have said they are optimistic Cheng Kimsun will do well in his new role.
“I think he is the right person. His knowledge is very good,” said Conservation International Country Director Bunra Seng, who noted that Cheng
Kimsun previously acted as a primary point of contact for NGOs.
But others have countered that a change at the top of the Forestry Administration is not nearly enough to end what they see as rampant corruption in the timber trade.
Watchdog group Global Witness has been a harsh critic of government corruption, particularly in the forestry sector.
A 2007 report on the logging trade said that the Forestry Administration under Ty Sokun “played a key role in facilitating ... illegal logging and other criminal activities.”
“I think it will be very difficult for one individual within a system like this one, that Hun Sen controls, to change the system,” campaigner George Boden said Tuesday.