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Cloudy future for logging concessions

Cloudy future for logging concessions

In a policy reversal, representatives of the ADB's Sustainable Forest Management

Project (SFMP) are considering advising the government to cancel existing

contracts with logging concessionaires unable or unwilling to comply with

sustainable forestry practices.

However, the SFMP is being criticized by

the environmental watchdog Global Witness for perceived ambiguities in the new

policy.

The SFMP is tasked with the drafting of a forestry law, the

preparation of "community forest" guidelines, as well as a controversial forest

concession review which has been extended until the middle of March to include

inspections of concession areas inaccessible during initial inspections in late

1999.

The SFMP team leader, Orhan Baykal, said cancelling contracts was

an option despite the legal implications.

"We might find that in

instances of grave violation of law and practice we can suggest taking the risk

of being sued later and say to the government 'get rid of this concession,'" he

said.

However this decision has been greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm

from Global Witness, which since 1994 has monitored the illegal logging

activities of forest concessions and the environmental havoc they've wreaked on

the Kingdom.

In a report to be released today, Global Witness criticizes

the SFMP for raising the possibility of legal action on the one hand or

renegotiation of contracts on the other without stating a preference.

"In

essence, this passage simply illustrates that there are two options, but does

not suggest what the policy is regarding ... terminations," the GW report

says.

"Quotes by [SFMP personnel] in the media [imply] that

recommendations to cancel are unlikely and ... also [imply] that they are

favoring other alternatives, rather than cancellation."

In a Feb 24

interview with the Post, Baykal said the SFMP was constrained in what it could

recommend to the Government.

"Under current government agreements

regulating concessions, not a single clause can be used to take a

[concessionaire] to court," he said.

"[Global Witness] expects us to come

up with [recommendations to cancel concession contracts], but that's not up to

us ... this is not a criminal investigation."

Global Witness maintains

that nothing less than a cancellation of contracts of concessionaires with a

proven record of "forest crimes" will safeguard Cambodia's resources.

"By

recommending termination the ADB will give the [Cambodian government] the

rationale and the excuse to cancel certain concessions," the report

says.

"By failing to make such recommendations, the ADB will have

unwittingly contributed to the maintenance and indeed the preservation of

corrupt activities."

Global Witness also accuses the SFMP of overstating

the legal risks faced by the government in canceling concession

contracts.

"First, breaches of contract come under civil law, which

requires lower burdens of proof than criminal law. Secondly, GW's information

consists of film, photographs, documentation and the testimony of loggers,

officials and eyewitness statements, ... sufficient evidence to back

recommendations to terminate concessions," the report says.

However,

Baykal suggests that resolving the difficulties caused by "problem concessions"

is well on the way to being solved without legal action.

"Only three out

of 29 concessions are currently allowed to cut," Baykal noted.

In

addition, Baykal described the Department of Forestry and Wildlife's new

requirements that concessions complete both a 100% inventory of planned cutting

areas for 2000-2001 as well as pay all outstanding minimum government royalties

by March 1 in order to receive new cutting permits as instrumental in weeding

out "problem concessionaires."

"Some concessions will find out that

[sustainable forest management] is just not worth it and may sell their

concession to those better equipped," he said.

Not enough, according to

Global Witness, who insist that a definitive SFMP recommendation for the

cancellation of concession contracts is essential to motivate the government to

prevent further destruction of Cambodia's forests.

"To recommend

termination is an uncompromising decision ... [but] it is apparent to most

observers that the survival of Cambodia's forests depends in large part on

curtailing the activities of certain concessionaires."

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