Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Civil society groups secure pledges from PM Hun Sen at forestry forum

Civil society groups secure pledges from PM Hun Sen at forestry forum

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks yesterday at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh during a protection and conservation of natural resources forum.
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks yesterday at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh during a protection and conservation of natural resources forum. Heng Chivoan

Civil society groups secure pledges from PM Hun Sen at forestry forum

Billed as a Cambodian first, the invitation of 500 civil society and community representatives to a forum on environmental issues with Prime Minister Hun Sen proved largely a platform for the premier to hold forth on policy and politics, with many observers bemoaning the sidelining of community voices.

“We consider this an enlarged cabinet meeting and decisions taken today have the effect of cabinet decisions . . . otherwise the value of today is just sweet talk,” Hun Sen said near the start of a five-hour soliloquy on environmental policy that left little room for contributions from the audience.

NGO Forum director Tek Vannara, the first to speak from the floor, requested that the town-hall-style meeting be repeated every three months. Hun Sen met him part way, decreeing that it should become an annual event, starting next March.

“Whether the meeting agrees with me or not, if we are waiting 12 months, it is too much,” the prime minister said in setting a date seven months out, adding that quarterly meetings should also be organised between stakeholders and relevant ministries.

Hun Sen went on to chastise the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) for having “one head and three tails”.

“That is one of the reasons we can’t protect our forests and fisheries,” he said, going on to demand that the ministry fold provincial Forestry Administration and Fisheries Administration offices under a singular Agriculture Ministry office.

Activist monk But Buntenh, who was also granted microphone time, requested ministerial assistance in procuring saplings for his tree-planting projects and questioned why he had been detained while distributing T-shirts with environmentalist slogans.

Hun Sen instructed MAFF to provide saplings from its nurseries to any civil society group wishing to plant them and promised to look into why it is the monk was arrested before then jokingly offering to cook him lunch.

Next up was Conservation International country manager Seng Bunra, who requested more rangers be assigned to protect the Kingdom’s protected forests. “Please, increase the number of rangers in line with our 6 million hectares of parkland,” he said.

His request was immediately granted to applause, with Hun Sen decreeing that budgets should be re-jigged to allow the recruitment of 300 new rangers by next year.

The only member of an affected community able to speak followed. Mou Nenh of Oddar Meanchey-based NGO Solidarity Forest requested that the government provide funds for sustainable forest management to communes located near woodland. That request was granted, too.

“There will be budget allocated for communities to care for forests. Let’s say we give 100 million riel ($24,391),” Hun Sen said.

But many observers were dismayed to see just one forest community member speak at the forum.

“We spent $13,000 bringing 200 people to the conference today,” said Winrock country director Curtis Hundley. “I was disappointed the community didn’t have a larger voice, I would hope that in future forums they would have a greater voice – they took days out of their lives to come down because they think this is important.”

His sentiment was echoed by Danmission country director Ernst Jurgensen and WWF country director Chhith Sam Ath.

“I don’t think the community had enough chance to represent their opinion,” Sam Ath said. “I didn’t use my opportunity to talk because I wanted to hear more from communities rather than me talking.”

By far the lengthiest audience contribution came from social media celebrity Thy Sovantha, who referred to the prime minister as “grandpa” and was designated “granddaughter” in return. She requested an 18-kilometre road for Koh Kong's Areng Valley to help communities get their produce to market. She got her road.

Chheuy Odom Reaksmey, son of slain forest activist Chut Wutty, questioned what Sovantha was doing at the forum at all.

“If the government is willing, they should have done this five or six years ago, not waiting until the forest is almost lost, and the government should work with real activists, not like Thy Sovantha, who is very new to the issue. She knows nothing about the forests, she doesn’t even know that government officials are involved in logging,” Reaksmey said.

A previous version of this article stated that Thy Sovantha requested that a road be built in Mondulkiri’s O’Raing district. In fact, she requested it for Koh Kong's Areng Valley. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.

MOST VIEWED

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Crumbling prices, rent ruffle condo segment

    The prolonged decline in international arrivals to Cambodia intensified by renewed Covid-19 fears has driven down condominium sales prices and rental rates in Phnom Penh, a research report said. CBRE Cambodia, the local affiliate of US commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures

  • More than 10,000 workers suspended

    More than 10,000 workers at 18 factories in Svay Rieng province have been suspended because of Covid-19, said provincial deputy governor Ros Pharith. Home to 11 special economic zones, Pharith said Svay Rieng has not been spared as the pandemic takes a toll on the global economy. “There

  • Nod given for school exams

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport announced that State-run higher educational institutions can hold examinations to end the academic year, while private schools can organise grade 9 and grade 12 examinations at their premises for two days. However, private institutions have to take measures to prevent

  • Kingdom’s exports to US mushroom 25.94% in first five months to $2.4B

    Though Cambodia’s exports to other countries have been stalled amid the evolving Covid-19 environment, the Kingdom’s shipments to the US were worth 25.94 per cent more in the first five months of this year than they were in the year-ago period. Bilateral trade between

  • Oz lauds Kingdom’s passage of money laundering laws

    In a press release published by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday, the country applauded Cambodia’s stance on transnational crimes as well as its promulgation of an anti-money laundering law and a law on combating proliferation financing. The praise came after King

  • Lotus face masks designed to cover globe

    A French designer in Cambodia has produced ecological face masks from lotus fibre to supply local and international markets with an eye on preserving ancestral techniques and supporting Cambodian women in rural communities. During a trip to Asia, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, was