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Forestry reform faces review

Forestry reform faces review

A new donor-sponsored team will begin work in May to review the slow progress of

forestry reform and examine the selection of a new forestry monitor.

The

team involved in the six-month review, which will cost as much as $500,000, will

comprise ten external consultants, including specialists in ecology, forestry,

law enforcement, rural livelihoods, economics and community

forestry.

"The expected output is an action plan which everyone can

endorse," said one donor representative, who declined to be named. "It's about

how to move forward in a more coherent and conducive manner [than in]

2002."

The donor working group on natural resources management, which is

co-chaired by Asian Development Bank country head Urooj Malik, will meet in

early April to hammer out the agreement to re-evaluate the sector.

"The

idea is [to bring in] totally independent consultants," said the representative.

"None of them has a finger in the forestry sector. We want the consultants to

assist all stakeholders in Cambodia on how we can move forward."

The

government's commitment to forestry reform has long been in doubt, a situation

that has continued with further reports of persistent logging. That is despite

assurances from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) that a moratorium

on cutting and transporting logs is being enforced.

Malik told the

January donor conference there was a "mismatch between [government] rhetoric and

action" which had prompted donors to review their role in forestry

reform.

His comments came after a seriously flawed public comment period

lasting only 19 days. Donors were outraged when villagers waiting outside DFW

for management plans were reportedly beaten by police on December

5.

Michael Bird, program representative at Oxfam GB, said although

tensions had eased, many issues remained unresolved.

"We think the [FMPs]

are not the basis for managing the forestry sector in Cambodia and I don't know

anyone who thinks they are," Bird said. "There's clearly an assumption that the

plans will change dramatically or the concessions will get canceled."

The

director of the forest management office at DFW, Chheng Kim Sun, said FMPs which

"failed to fill in criteria" could be sent back to the logging companies. He did

not clarify whether that would address ecological and social impacts observers

say were ignored in the original drafts.

DFW has embarked on its own,

much criticized consultation process in provincial communities. Kim Sun said

meetings with villagers were continuing. Donors were informed it would end in

April, which would mean the FMPs would then be eligible for approval.

But

the donor review will not be charged with revising the FMPs.

"The team

will not review the management plans once again, but will be given access to all

the comments and analysis of what everyone else has done," said the

representative. From that, the team would issue its opinion.

The review

will also look at selecting a new forestry monitor to replace Global Witness

(GW). Although the government dropped its defamation lawsuit against GW country

head Eva Galabru in February, the NGO's future role is still not clear. Prime

Minister Hun Sen had set a deadline of April 21 for the NGO, widely seen as a

scapegoat for government inaction, to be stripped of its role.

But the

likelihood of finding a replacement by then is low, and donors said they would

press the government to retain GW. The World Bank said the disbursement of the

remaining $15 million tranche under the Structural Adjustment Credit (SAC) was

dependent on the existence of an official independent forestry

monitor.

Galabru said she was not committed to retaining the job and

expressed doubts about the government's willingness to let GW perform its role.

She said DFW had ignored six reports of illegal logging submitted by the NGO in

the last month alone.

"If [the donor community] wants the work of the

independent monitor to be effective, then they need to rethink everything

they've done," Galabru said.

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