THE Government of Cambodia recently enacted an Environmental Protection and Resource
Management Law that will impact on private investors throughout the Kingdom. The
extent to which investors are likely to be affected by the new environmental law
will depend, to a large degree, on the sub-decrees that will be issued. These will,
hopefully, further clarify this law and define specific guidelines. In the meantime,
businesses need to be aware that environmental protection measures are starting to
be put in place and other ministries, in addition to the Ministry of Environment,
are likely to be inspecting and requiring various reports or monitoring the activities
of those projects with which they have been previously associated.
The Ministry of Environment is a fairly new ministry, having been established first
by royal decree in October 1994 and in January 1996 it received a legislative mandate.
Even before its official establishment as a ministry, the Ministry of Environment
began work on an environmental protection law. Its early goal was to develop a comprehensive
law, with specified procedures for environmental impact assessment, and to establish
new institutions with specific responsibility for aspects of environmental management.
At some point the Ministry decided to simplify its approach to this draft law in
the interests of focusing its energies on a more narrow topic - that of making the
Ministry the agency primarily responsible for environmental management and to clarify
institutional roles and responsibilities.
Unfortunately, the new law does not clarify many of these institutional issues. The
roles and responsibilities of various ministries are not clearly defined, leaving
the investor with no certainty as to which ministry will oversee its particular environmental
Chapter 3 of the Environmental Protection and Resource Management Law requires that
environmental impact assessments be prepared for public and private activities and
that these be evaluated by the Ministry of Environment prior to submission to the
Royal Government. This chapter goes on to state that assessments will also be conducted
for already existing activities. The exact nature and format of these assessments
is unspecified and a future sub-decree will define the parameters of these assessments.
Additionally, the law specifies that this sub-decree (or another one) will define
which projects, by nature, size, activity or other characteristic, will be required
to prepare an environmental impact assessment. However, a different provision in
the law seems to contradict this by requiring that all projects and activities have
an environmental impact assessment. Hopefully, this variance in application will
Since this chapter specifically calls for environmental impact assessments for investment
projects, future investors can expect submission of this document to be an additional
requirement when seeking investor status and investment incentives at the Cambodian
The Ministry of Environment is given only a research and advisory role in the area
of natural resource management. The law, which requires that the Ministry of Environment
work with "concerned ministries" with regard to resource sustainability,
will require the investor to work even more closely with ministries other than the
Ministry of Environment with regard to environmental issues. For example, a palm
oil plantation that required approval from the Ministry of Agriculture will most
likely be contacted by this same ministry, rather than the Ministry of Environment,
with regard to natural resource management in the palm oil project.
The same regard for "concerned ministries" is demonstrated in the environmental
protection provisions of the new law. These provisions require the Ministry of Environment
to collaborate with these same "concerned ministries" to inventory the
sources, nature and quantities of pollutants and toxic and hazardous wastes. Again,
the exact manner in which this will be done is left to a future sub-decree which
will, presumably, include more specific information on ministry authority to prevent,
reduce and control pollution.
Another area in which the Ministry of Environment is mandated to collaborate with
concerned ministries is in imposing monitoring, record-keeping and reporting requirements
on pollution sources, including "natural resource development activity."
However, there are no standards to monitor and inspect against in order to verify
compliance, so it is unclear to what extent the Ministry of Environment will attempt
enforcement of this provision prior to a sub-decree clarifying these matters.
The law gives the Ministry of Environment the authority, again in collaboration with
concerned ministries, to conduct inspections if it finds that an activity is "adversely
affecting the environment." There are no definitions of "adversely affect"
and these inspections are supposed to be regulated by a future sub-decree. It is
unknown to what extent the Ministry may begin conducting inspections prior to such
specific guidelines. It is a specific violation of the law if any person obstructs
or refuses to allow inspection officials to conduct such an inspection. The law subjects
the first time offender to a fine of between 500,000 and one million Riels (about
US$185 to US$370) with the specific amount negotiated between the offender and the
Ministry of Environment. In the event of repeated offenses, a larger fine may be
imposed by a court which may also subject the offender to specified terms of imprisonment.
A specific treasury account to "finance environmental protection and the conservation
of natural resources" is to be established but procedures for the fund's operation
or criteria for selecting projects to be funded have not been specified in the law.
- Roberta Thami is an attorney associated with international law firm Dirksen
Flipse Doran & Le.