Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Forestry Law passed after fiery debate

Forestry Law passed after fiery debate

Forestry Law passed after fiery debate

The National Assembly approved the new forestry law on July 30, but not before it

was strongly criticized by opposition legislators, and some MPs from the royalist

Funcinpec party. The government's forest monitoring partner, Global Witness, echoed

other forestry observers and said the law contained serious flaws.

The leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, said the new law would simply allow the

ruling Cambodian People's Party further opportunity to legitimize corruption in the

country's messy forestry sector.

"The contents of this law will not effectively protect the poor," said

Rainsy. "It will simply allow the CPP to make further profits from the country's

natural resource so that they can buy votes. The law was drawn up only to satisfy

donor countries and has nothing to do with conserving forests."

Minister Chan Sarun of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)

disagreed with that assessment, telling the NA after the vote that the new law would

allow the government to control logging and manage the forests for the nation.

"The 41 days spent debating the law is in response to the international community,

and will help protect the forests for Cambodia's people and thereby help reduce poverty,"

Sarun said, referring to the reliance many of the country's poverty-wracked rural

population have on forests.

Among the provisions in the new law, which needs to be promulgated before coming

into force, are that any person or legal entity that violates its provisions will

face imprisonment of between one and ten years and be fined up to 10 million riel.

Additionally all evidence would confiscated by the state.

And it was not only parliamentarians who had reservations - NGOs expressed their

concerns at the June donors' meeting. The NGO Statement criticized the dominant role

the law gives to MAFF.

That echoed an earlier report from environmental NGO Global Witness, which although

crediting the government for developing the new law, cautioned that the draft "gives

[MAFF's Department of Forestry and Wildlife] far too much discretionary power in

deciding how to deal with forest crimes".

"It doesn't provide enough checks and balances and there is too much power concentrated

in too few hands," GW country director Eva Galabru told the Post. "There

are also no criteria as to how decisions are made, nor how to justify them.

"In terms of sustainable forest management it is a bad law," she said.

"It contains the ability to reclassify forests almost at will, and [introduces]

another form of logging in the shape of annual logging permits: that means bidders

don't need a company or a concession, and the standards relating to that make no

mention of sustainability."

The debate at the National Assembly was often fiery, with criticisms of corruption

leveled against the CPP by the opposition as well as complaints from Funcinpec's

Nan Sy and Keo Ramy. Rainsy accused two of the government's highest-ranking officials

and several prominent businessmen of gaining from illegal logging.

That drew a strong response from the NA's vice-president, the CPP's Heng Samrin,

who threatened to expel the opposition lawmakers from the meeting if they continued

to talk about illegal logging. That topic, he said, was beyond the scope of the discussion.

"I am not a dictator, but please stop," Samrin told Rainsy. "You are

outside the topic that is being debated. We are here to debate the law, not the cutting

of logs."

Among the other provisions in the law are that full public participation is required

in all government decisions that have the potential to affect significantly the livelihoods

of individuals and communities in terms of their livelihoods.

It obligates the government to investigate, prevent and suppress the destruction

of forests, which observers said the government has proven unable or unwilling to

do in the past.

The law further stipulates that the permanent forest estate will be managed to improve

to the greatest possible extent the social, economic, environmental and cultural

heritage for the nation, based on the principle of sustainable forest management.

The CPP's Ek Sam Ol said the law contained sufficient measures to properly regulate

the country's forests, but said one aspect that could affect the poor remained unclear.

"We are concerned the law could impact the poor because the new law states that

transportation of wood [by companies] requires a license," he said, explaining

that the law does not state whether the poor need one too.

That, he warned, could offer local authorities the opportunity to extort money.

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