A six-month report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries showed a dramatic drop in the amount of illegal timber seized, despite there being a much smaller drop in the number of logging cases as compared to the same period last year.
While the number of forestry crimes, which also includes some wildlife cases, dropped from 846 in the first six months of 2016 to 615 this year, the amount of timber seized fell by close to 85 percent, with the ministry reporting only 1,747 cubic metres of illegal timber, compared to 11,420 cubic metres from last year.
However, the ministry saw a substantial increase in royalties from the forestry products, which more than doubled, from around $2 million to $4.2 million, a rise ministry spokesman Lor Reaksmey attributed to increased processing of forestry products, especially permitted timber products.
With the illegal logging seizures, Reaksmey claimed that the anti-logging task force formed last year under the leadership of Military Police head Sao Sokha had caused the drop in cases, especially in the northeastern provinces.
“Forestry crimes or state land clearing has considerably decreased in comparison with the past,” Reaksmey said.
However, Pen Bonnar – a senior observer for Adhoc, who recently filed a court complaint over land clearing in Ratanakkiri – said forestry crimes had not dipped and that law enforcement had grown lax, attributing this to collusion between timber traders and local officials.
“The authorities have no real will to intercept [them] and they just take it for granted. It is caused by the systematic collusion and that leads to the loss of millions of dollars from the national income,” he said.