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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - World Bank distances itself from forestry debacle

World Bank distances itself from forestry debacle


The World Bank has scrambled to absolve itself of any responsibility over the ongoing

forestry reform program, amid a barrage of criticism directed its way over recent

events that threaten to undermine the entire process and negatively affect the lives

of millions of Cambodia's rural poor.

More than words: villagers look unimpressed as they listen to DFW head Ty Sokhun telling them they don't need the forest plans on November 11. They left with nothing but frustration.

The Bank's lead forestry advisor, Bill Magrath, told the Post on November 20 that

responsibility for the conduct of the process rested squarely on the government's

shoulders, and said the Bank was being unfairly blamed.

He said the Bank was also in the process of finalizing a letter to the opposition

Sam Rainsy Party explaining its involvement in the forestry process.

His comments came after a storm over the way the public consultation exercise for

the logging concession documents has been handled. The documents detail the management

plans and impact assessments for each logging concession in the country.

Magrath said the Bank's responsibility was limited to "delivering advice, resources

and a framework".

"There continues to be an obligation on the part of the government to make disclosure

[of the documents] at the provincial and commune level, and we are going to monitor

to make sure that takes place," said Magrath of the much-criticized disclosure

process.

"People who have problems with the 19 days, or with any other aspect of this

process should take their complaints ... in the first instance to the government."

His reference to "19 days" is over the Department of Forestry and Wildlife's

(DFW) decision taken in late October to limit the period of public consultation of

the complicated forestry documents to the period November 11-30.

Magrath said 19 days was "inadequate", but rejected the assertion that

the World Bank's reputation in Cambodia was on the line over the issue. He said the

only reputation at risk was the government's, which was responsible for distributing

the plans.

The decision by DFW head Ty Sokhun left forestry observers stunned. Sokhun then told

the Post on November 21 there had been a misunderstanding: the 19-day period only

applied to "NGOs and forestry experts". Villagers living inside the concessions

would get as long as necessary.

Sokhun made it clear though that those living outside concessions, but still dependent

on forest products, would not be included in this extended time period. The number

of people that includes is unclear, although the World Food Programme estimates that

3 million people live outside forests, but are dependent on them. Many, but not all,

will be affected by concessions.

Sokhun said requests for an extension of the time period for consultation were not

being considered as DFW "has our work to do", although he added that late

submissions might be allowed provided they "do not interfere" with the

decision process. NGOs said such a commitment was too vague to be of any use.

Sokhun admitted that, more than half way through the consultation period, he did

not know how many communes had received the documents. However he said his department

and the World Bank had agreed DFW would be unable to distribute the documents around

the country.

"In the law it states there is public participation, but it doesn't mean our

job is to distribute these documents. It does not exist in law," he said. "We

don't have the money to copy. The World Bank agreed DFW would be unable to distribute

the documents."

That exchange, said one NGO forestry observer, summed up what was going on: "Ty

Sokhun is trying to hide behind the Bank, and the Bank [is] trying to hide behind

the government."

Magrath stated that the Bank was happy to listen to people's complaints, and in fact

agreed with "90 percent" of the issues that critics raised, but said the

body never assumed responsibility for running government programs.

"We have known all along that the question of government commitment to this

process was in doubt," he said. "What the Bank would have to take responsibility

for is where there have been predictable risks, predictable problems that we did

not anticipate, or that we did not try to seek to mitigate."

When asked whether the episode was becoming an embarrassment for the Bank, Magrath

said it was anybody's privilege to feel that if they so chose.

"It is unfortunate that there were problems last week with the availability

of plans, that color maps were not available, that we didn't have inventories,"

Magrath conceded, referring to the debacle over distributing the forestry documents.

But Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness, the government's forest crimes monitoring partner,

said the fact that the Bank handed over responsibility to DFW each time that crucial

issues needed to be addressed, and without holding a clear position on basic principles,

was a "recipe for failure".

"It is about time World Bank forestry project staff lived up to their responsibility

under the new World Bank forest policy," Hardtke said. "Their actions are

in fact legitimizing negative developments, instead of reducing them."

Government approval of the logging companies' plans - a forest management plan (FMP)

and an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for each logging concession

- is required before logging can resume. It follows a ban on the harvesting of trees

in forest concessions that has been in place since January this year.

DFW's recent decisions left donors and forestry observers mystified. Some concluded

that the World Bank had agreed to limit what would be made available for the public

review, a suspicion that turned out to be true.

The World Bank admitted a deal was struck on October 17 between government ministries,

DFW, the World Bank, and the loggers' umbrella body, the Cambodia Timber Industry

Association (CTIA).

A letter referring to the meeting, and dated October 21, was written by CTIA chairman

Henry Kong to Ian Porter, the World Bank's country director for Cambodia, who is

based in Bangkok.

In the letter Kong states that the meeting was about "the Procedure for the

Public Disclosure of ESIA and FMP". CTIA members met again afterwards and "strongly

view that the decision to submit edited documents at the World Bank Public Information

Center (PIC) should remain unchanged".

Ty Sokhun told the Post that CTIA had pushed for a public review lasting all of two

days. More disturbing than that, however, was a paragraph in Kong's letter suggesting

that World Bank staff filter the feedback from the public consultation process. Ensuring

that only "constructive comments and reasonable demands reach the reviewing

bodies", he wrote, should expedite the review process.

Magrath said that request had been shot down.

"We wrote a letter back saying that was beyond our remit and the World Bank

would do nothing to interrupt access to government," he said. He confirmed the

October 17 meeting had been about editing what was made publicly available, but that

the only chapter removed was that on the economic viability of each concession.

Magrath hinted at intransigence on the part of government and loggers over disclosure

when he gave the reason behind the removal of the chapter, a document he agreed was

critical.

"This is part of a bargain that went on to get disclosure made in the first

place," he said. "I am not terribly enthusiastic about it, but it is not

uncommon [in many countries] that the information that related to private financial

aspects is withheld. There is a cost to that, and it does reduce the openness and

transparency and the ability of observers to address an important part [of the process].

Forestry observers have said they are appalled at the conduct of the public consultation

process so far. The 19-day public review period included two holidays - the Monday

following Independence Day, which fell on a Saturday, and the three-day Water Festival.

By November 30, the millions of Cambodians who are dependent on forests to survive

are meant to have given their inputs on the documents, by common consensus an impossible

task.

Magrath applauded Sokhun's comments to the Post that the villagers living inside

concessions - WFP estimates around 500,000 - would in fact get as much time as necessary.

"I haven't heard it [from him] specifically, but it is consistent with the other

things that have been said," Magrath said. "I am glad to hear him say that.

It is the right position to take."

However, Global Witness was less impressed, and said the millions dependent on forests

living outside the concessions would get short shrift from the process.

"Why is there a difference?" asked Hardtke. "If this is a right that

is granted to the people of Cambodia, then who is Mr Ty Sokhun to discriminate?"

Hardtke said it echoed the comment given that Sokhun would accept comments after

the November 30 deadline, as long as doing so did not affect the process.

"It is so vague that it amounts to nothing," he said. "And why give

such a short time period to [NGOs and forestry experts] if you want good comments?

I am not convinced."

Whatever the reality behind the morass of conflicting statements and public comments,

what is clear is that the government is in a hurry to get its hands on the remaining

$15 million tranche of the Structural Adjustment Credit (SAC) from the World Bank.

Although the legal language of the SAC does not specifically mention transparency

in the FMP and ESIA process, it does specify certain steps the government needs to

take to get the cash.

One was that the government draft and approve the new Forestry Law, which it did.

Another was to issue the prakas to regulate the concession review process. It is

the latter document that contains commitments to transparency. Delivery of the cash

has been delayed several times already, partly, as the Post learned in September,

to ensure transparency in the consultation process.

DFW's Ty Sokhun to villagers who wanted forest plans: "Don't worry. We will come to you."

It is not just NGOs that have expressed concern. The Working Group on Natural Resource

Management (WGNRM), which is chaired by the head of the Asian Development Bank, Urooj

Malik, wrote to the government on November 7.

His letter highlighted several recent moves by the government. One was the short

time period for public review; the other was the government's surprise decision to

drop one of the key forest management provisions - the need for concessionaires to

provide a five-year management plan. That was meant to be included along with a 25-year

plan and a one-year plan.

The combination of these decisions, Malik wrote, raised "serious questions about

the energy and diligence" with which the government was dealing with the process.

"Sadly, limiting the period for public comment, unnecessarily reduces the beneficial

impact of the disclosure policy and will weaken the participation of local communities

and civil society at this important juncture," stated the letter, which was

also signed by co-chair of the working group Jean-Claude Levasseur of the UN's Food

and Agricultural Organization.

Global Witness said that dropping the five-year compartment plan brought into play

an important legal point, which is that concessionaires must do their planning both

in accordance with the sub-decree on concession management and with the planning

guidelines.

Both documents state clearly that the five-year compartment level plan is a requirement.

Global Witness said that all but one of the FMPs had stated they would undertake

a compartment level plan. This meant that if the FMPs and ESIAs were approved in

their current form, concessionaires would be bound to deliver the mid-level plan,

despite Ty Sokhun's announcement in late October that such plans were unnecessary.

If the concessionaires failed to comply with what was in their approved FMPs, they

would be guilty of a Class 2 offense under the Forestry Law, which stipulates between

one and five years in jail, or a fine of 10-100 million riel.

The quality of the plans concessionaires had submitted was also much criticized.

All the observers the Post spoke to, including the World Bank, agreed they were inadequate,

though descriptions varied over quite how bad they were.

The WB's Magrath described the ESIAs he had read as "weak", and admitted

they would not past muster in other countries. He added that he had only seen a few

of them as he had been out of the country.

"One of my concerns is that the level of consultation was very weak and in some

places superficial - that's a genuine concern," he said. "It's not desirable

and it's not appropriate.

"A properly prepared [plan] would be based on some level of discussion with

local people," Magrath continued. "Now, exactly to what extent that has

been realized in any or all of the strategic management plans is an open question."

Others who have examined the documents more closely felt the answer was clear enough.

Andrew Cock of NGO Forum said the plans provided little information about how and

where logging operations would occur, and how the rights of local communities would

be protected.

"The flaws run so deep and there are so many of them that it is difficult to

know where to begin," he said. He added that the World Bank had exhibited "arrogance"

in its attitude that it had the right to access all parts of the FMPs and ESIAs,

while the Cambodian public had in practice very little right to see even the edited

versions.

DFW's Ty Sokhun said he had no comment to make about the quality of the plans, as

his team had not sent him its assessments.

But another civil servant, Tea Chup, director of the Environmental Impact Assessment

Department at the Ministry of Environment (MoE), agreed the ESIAs were inadequate.

Despite that, he said, ten had been "fully supported" by the ministry and

passed to DFW.

"They are not good, because the reports do not include the participation [of

the local people]," said Chup. However, he added, the MoE had only approved

ESIAs at the 25-year strategic level. The companies would have to submit documents

for the shorter-term levels around January 2003, and these would include public participation.

Global Witness said there was much in the ESIAs that was "factually incorrect

and very questionable". One of the most disturbing aspects regarded clauses

to ensure that concessionaires alone had the right to access the forests, and wanted

the legal authority to enforce that provision.

The NGO said that Everbright, Cherndar Plywood, Mieng Ly Heng, and Samling - which

is run by Henry Kong of the CTIA - had stipulated in their plans that local communities

be restricted in their access to the concession areas. Any such request, it said,

was illegal under Article 15 of the new Forestry Law.

Article 15 states that while concessionaires have the right to harvest trees within

their concessions, they must not interfere with customary user rights on communal

property, nor with customary access and user rights "practiced by a community

residing within, or adjacent to a forest concession".

If these conditions were allowed to remain in the plan, said Global Witness, millions

of Cambodians who rely on the forests to survive would be plunged into deeper poverty.

"If these management plans become a reality, forestry reform in Cambodia has

failed and the Bank's name will be written all over it," said Hardtke.

Another issue was that some concessionaires had clearly overestimated the number

of trees within their concessions to make them appear commercially viable.

Hardtke said that echoed problems in the World Bank funded demobilization program,

where large numbers of 'ghost' soldiers were uncovered.

"The companies pretend to have timber resources that don't exist anymore,"

he said. "So will the World Bank end up with having ghost soldiers cutting down

ghost trees?"

The NGO also examined the plans of Timas, Colexim, Samrong, Kingwood, Superwood,

and TPP. Their documents were "so vague it's difficult to tell what their plans

are".

Pheapimex, it noted, had not included anything on community forests, while concessionaire

Youry Saco regarded the only community forest areas as "village and agricultural

land; grass land and bamboo areas".

Magrath would not directly address the assertion that permitting a process to go

forward that could damage the lives of millions of rural poor was contradictory to

the World Bank's over-riding goal of alleviating poverty. The responsibility, he

said again, was the government's.

He said the government had to ensure each concession system was "reined in and

limited so it is focused on those areas where there is a minimum of competition and

conflict with the needs of the poorest of the poor".

He added that the Bank was talking to the government about addressing such concerns,

saying it would be "a crying shame" if the process did not work.

"It [will be] a disaster to the forest and the people of Cambodia if it doesn't

work," Magrath said, "but the responsibility for this lies squarely with

the government."

Mike Bird from Oxfam said at least three months was needed for a reasonable disclosure

process. The current time period was insufficient to respond to "a fait accompli".

"All Oxfam asks is that DFW implement its own law [on disclosure], and that

the World Bank makes sure its money is used to enforce the law," said Bird.

"This isn't it."

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