Forestry experts have sharply criticized the government for undermining its own
conservation laws after two recent decisions that conflict with the donor-driven
forestry reform agenda.
Their comments came after Ty Sokhun,
director-general of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW), announced on
October 29 he had dropped a key provision contained in the reform
Logging companies have been banned from cutting trees since
January while their forest management plans (FMPs) are assessed. Each plan is
divided into three sections: the one-year annual coupe, the five-year
compartmental level, and the 25-year strategic level.
Sokhun decided the
companies need not submit the five-year plan. NGOs said this would re-open the
door to unsustainable logging, since that provision was meant to ensure
companies did not walk away from concessions after harvesting only the most
The DFW head also announced that the period for public
review of the FMPs would begin on November 11 and end on November 30. That
coincides with the annual Water Festival, effectively leaving only two weeks for
affected communities around the country to examine the complicated
In discussions with conservation groups in June this year, the
World Bank's senior regional forestry expert Bill Magrath, told them that a
two-week review period would be "grossly inadequate".
A report issued
last month by donor-funded advisors working with DFW recommended at least six
months for public comment.
NGOs said the window was an impossible
timeframe to review adequately the thousands of pages of detailed logging plans
that cover nearly a quarter of the country and will affect 3 million
"Our position is that the disclosure is not really a disclosure,"
said Andrew Cock, forest policy advisor with NGO Forum. "It amounts to nothing
because the period is so short and the DFW is taking no
He said it appeared the government did not want to go
another year without logging, and was doing whatever it could to resume
Sokhun dropped the bombshell to donors and NGOs at a
presentation by DFW on the country's new forestry law on October 29. He told
them that his department interpreted the law as not requiring any sort of
medium-term planning by logging concessionaires.
However, Dennis Cengel,
an advisor at DFW, disagreed with that assessment, which he said was only one
interpretation. Discussions, he said, were continuing.
"The argument that
DFW made at the presentation was that the Forestry Law doesn't allow for a
compartment level plan," said Cengel. "We believe that it does. Nothing in the
language doesn't allow it."
The law directs all logging agreements to
include Environmental and Social Impact Assessments, the volume and type of
timber products to be harvested, and a "description of obligations ... at the
coupe [annual] and bloc [25 year] levels.
But it makes no explicit
mention of the five-year level plans considered by many to be the most
"The strategy is useless without rigorous planning on the
compartment level," said Cock. "If the [logging companies] divide their
concessions into these five-year plans, it would show definitively that the
concessions are not viable."
The government's forest crime monitor,
Global Witness, said Sokhun's interpretation was plainly wrong. The Forestry Law
states that FMPs must include "other conditions set by the RGC or the Forest
Since the forest management sub-decree from 2000
requires concessionaires to prepare compartmental level plans, the decision was
simply a way to take what remains of the country's forests.
basically cleaning out the last bits of forest that have been severely
degraded," said Eva Galabru of Global Witness. "Basically, commercially,
Cambodia is all done.
Since the October 29 meeting, government officials
have suggested the November 30 deadline might be extended, but only for those
communities inside concession areas. The date will be enforced for everyone
else. DFW insists the plan is consistent with the principles of transparency
required by the Forestry Law.
"We have a very clear program to manage
forestry concessions," Sokhun told the Post. "Forestry reforms are even better
than they were before."
It remains to be seen how the World Bank will
respond to this latest crisis in the country's donor-driven forestry reform
program. It has twice this year delayed release of the final tranche of the
Structural Adjustment Credit (SAC) worth $15 million.
In May the World
Bank's regional head Ian Porter bluntly told the government the money would not
be handed over unless there was public disclosure of FMPs, among other
While some action has been taken on its demands, critics
charge that the situation has not changed - either on the ground or in the back
rooms of government ministries.
But the World Bank's Magrath maintained
that the Bank's drive for forestry reform had shown results.
Bank's initiative, I am quite sure we would still be talking about whether
disclosure would take place at all," Magrath said.
The Bank has now
scheduled release of the SAC for January 31, but that could yet change, said
Magrath, as delivery was contingent on the completion of the government's
"agreed program of actions".