E NVIRONMENTAL activists Global Witness embarked on a whirlwind lobbying tour this
week of European capitals and Washington DC in the run-up to the Consultative Group
for Cambodia (CG) meeting next week in Paris.
The two key points discussed were dismay at the opening of seven border crossings
with Thailand before the results of a World Bank study are complete and fears that
illegal logging is fueling a parallel budget to equip and feed poorly controlled
Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) units.
Patrick Alley and Charmaine Gooch arrived in Washington Monday to speak with representatives
of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Congress and the US State
Simon Taylor, meanwhile, met with representatives of the governments of France, Germany,
The Netherlands and European Union leaders, and was due to meet with British officials.
They plan to re-group for a pre-GC meeting of foreign donors in Paris on Monday June
30. The subsequent July 1-2 CG will consider Cambodia's request for pledges of $1.45
billion in international aid from donors for the next three years.
While the Global Witness lobbyists say they will laud the efforts of some Cambodian
ministries to put controls on logging activities, they promise to criticize the two
Prime Ministers and elements of the RCAF for blocking the efforts of the Finance
and Agriculture ministries.
The watchdog group alleges that a massive parallel budget funds what they deem "private
armies" which de-stabilize the country and hinder economic development.
"The opportunity for a central power to control the situation is becoming less
and less, particularly in the run-up to the elections," said Taylor. "We
will make the case that if donors are concerned about reducing conflict, they should
reduce the possibilities of conflict-makers."
He said that despite some systemic improvements to try to control the logging "free-for-all",
Global Witness believes the bulk of the money from timber exports does not go into
Cambodia's national budget.
Based on World Bank estimates of world-market timber prices, about $116m worth of
logs and timber was exported or sold within Cambodia between January 1996-April 1997.
Cambodia sells its timber for about 20 percent of the world market rates, representing
a huge loss to the government. Furthermore, much of the money that is collected from
timber sales does not go into the national budget, Global Witness claims.
"During that period [Jan 1996-Apr 1997] about $14 million made its way into
the government coffers. They can't argue that money is going into the Finance Ministry,
because the figure is peanuts," said Taylor.
At the CG, Global Witness will argue that the effects of the situation run counter
to development, plunder the country's resource base and result in increased human-rights
abuses. "Forestry officials can't do their job anywhere. We will argue to the
CG that independent RCAF groups are popping up because of the income," said
Taylor. "There are well-armed and financed groups all over the place."
Alley and Gooch lobbied the World Bank to ensure that studies, yet to be completed,
of how to come up with "an effective monitoring and control system for the exploitation
of forestry resources" be made public.
They pressed individual and multilateral donors to call on the country's leaders
to cooperate with the World Bank-funded companies who will do the studies, and follow
Donors have to "demand real action, not just words and laws, from the Prime
Ministers, and they have to face up to the fact that they need to use aid as a lever,"
"Why should foreign taxpayers pay for half of Cambodia's $650 million annual
budget, when the country's own leadership are presiding over the destruction of their
most valuable natural resource, depriving the economy of the equivalent of 18% of
the total budget in the last 17 months?"