In what is the government’s latest pledge to hold tycoons and foreign investors to account for their business practices, the Ministry of Environment will begin assessing existing and proposed economic land concessions (ELCs), cancelling or rejecting those that have negative social or environment impacts, a document obtained yesterday says.
The ministry will create a working group to oversee the country’s myriad ELCs, studying and offering advice on existing concessions and developing environmental impact assessments on proposed projects, says the document, signed by Environment Minister Say Sam Al and dated July 10.
“[The working group] will suggest to project owners in writing that they address the social and environmental affects spelled out in the evaluations,” the document reads, adding that the group will have the power to revoke licenses or reject applications.
In April, rights group Licadho estimated that land disputes had affected some 500,000 people across the country.
Despite a moratorium on new ELCs issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen in May 2012 and a subsequent land-titling scheme, new disputes have continued to be reported.
All the while, allegations of illegal logging in and around ELCs have flooded in from various parts of the country.
But Ministry of Interior spokesman Sao Sopheap said yesterday that the working group would provide “many positives”.
“[It] will contribute to cutting down the negative social and environmental effects of [ELCs], which have caused conflict between development firms and people,” he said.
Chan Soveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said he welcomed more stringent oversight of ELCs but was less convinced that the working group would stem the flow of land disputes.
“If the evaluation process is not transparent, people will continue to protest daily,” he said. “If studies are conducted thoroughly, it could result in a decrease in disputes.”
The challenge would be making the process transparent and ensuring that companies adhere to orders from the ministry, he said.