Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government asks for expert help in logging

Government asks for expert help in logging

Government asks for expert help in logging

FINANCE Minister Keat Chhon has invited the World Bank, the FAO and the UNDP to provide

technical experts to help enforce the Government's logging policies.

Bank sources confirmed Chhon's June 28 written request and indicated their keeness

to help.

Agriculture and Forestry Ministry Tao Seng Huor spent the previous week patching

together a six-point forest management plan which was presented to donors at a special

meeting on July 1.

Seng Huor was under pressure, both from within and outside the Government, to get

something palatable in front of skeptical donors before the full aid meeting in Tokyo

that ended July 12. Seng Huor was in charge of the secret "one million meter"

timber deal that prompted an implicit threat from the IMF to pull out of Cambodia.

He only made it back to Phnom Penh the day before the July 1 meeting "after

discussing all this with the Thais," said one donor.

Analysts say the Government's policy contains little new, and much that has been

tried and failed in the past. The plan says that the export of wood cut before April

1995 will still be "controlled"; the Government will put together a "definitive

list" of companies who want to take out this wood; all logging revenues will

go to Treasury; a Forestry Code will be prepared; and Cambodia's neighbors approached

to help stop the illegal export of timber.

In the long term, the Government has promised to implement "sound and sustainable"

practices in line with a recent World Bank/FAO/UNDP report - in short to make money

logging its forests in a "sustainable" and "environmentally sound"

way.

Donors were "upbeat" about the long-term plan "but realize that so

many things can go wrong in the short term," said one.

A senior official from one multilateral agency said: "Everyone is very, very

cautious." Another said that the plan was little more than "window dressing."

"How can you monitor the export of logs? How can you tell if a particular tree

has been cut down before April [1995]? How can you assess the logs in a Khmer Rouge

area?

"No-one has got a strong grip on the situation. Regardless of what plan you

implement, that won't make it automatically right or successful.

"[Keat Chhon] is dealing with very strong interests here," he said.

"Tao Seng Huor came back from Bangkok saying he has full cooperation from the

Thais. But at the border different people are in charge. Regardless of what they

say in Bangkok, people on both sides of the border can implement a very different

policy."

One senior donor said about the logging issue: "Even if [the Government] is

laying everything on the table in a very transparent manner - and they're not - it's

going to be very difficult to make it work."

British-based environmentalists Global Witness, who have lobbied for changes to Cambodian

logging practices that Chhon himself describes as "anarchic", consider

the new policies as little more than posturing before the donors' meeting.

Global Witness said that though some of Chhon's comments were encouraging, it was

worried that the World Bank/FAO/UNDP forestry report the Government intended following

was flawed and used out-of-date information.

At least one other senior donor agreed, saying: "The house is burning. [This

report] calls for Cambodia to train more firefighters."

Global Witness said it was not convinced that there was genuine cooperation by Thailand

and the Thai military to support Cambodia's policies. "They continue to facilitate

the activities of timber companies which illegally trade with the Khmer Rouge,"

they said.

"In reality, these deals [to the Thai timber companies] are non-transparent

and are defacto concessions," Global Witness said.

"Rather than contributing revenue for Cambodia's development, they are a major

threat to Cambodia's environment, agricultural production and development. They are

a policy of awarding illegal activities with further gain, and will not benefit the

Cambodian people. Furthermore, they are also indicative of a willingness by Cambodia's

two Prime Ministers to act as proxy fund-raisers for their battlefield enemies, the

Khmer Rouge."

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