Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government muzzles forest watchdog

Government muzzles forest watchdog

Government muzzles forest watchdog

Cambodia's new forest crimes monitor, SGS, will officially start its new role on February 1, but the multi-national company will act more as "accountants" of government forces rather than active investigators of illegal logging, said a senior SGS official.

Societe Generale de Surveillance was awarded the contract to be independent monitor of the government's forestry unit in November last year after the outspoken British-based environmental organization Global Witness was dismissed from the role.

The terms of reference SGS will work under are more narrowly defined than those of Global Witness, in what critics say is a watering down of the monitoring role. The new contract restricts when SGS can publicize concerns it has about illegal activities and requires government representatives to "facilitate" any field investigations made by the French-founded watchdog.

"Corruption within the FA [Forestry Administration] is well documented and the close relationship between Director-General Ty Sokhun and key players in the logging mafia are also well known," said Mike Davis, a spokesperson from Global Witness.

"It is fanciful to imagine that SGS will not come under severe pressure from their paymasters to turn a blind eye to these problems, which are underlying the continued decimation of Cambodia's forests," said Davis in a January 24 email.

Cambodia's forest coverage has been slashed from an estimated 73 per cent of the country in 1969 to 58 per cent in 1998, according to a Concern report. In 1995 the government awarded 32 forestry concessions covering over 6 million hectares of Cambodia, a scheme that was described as a "total system failure" by the Asian Development Bank in a 2000 review.

In late 1999 Global Witness became the independent monitor and reported widespread breaches of the moratorium on logging that took effect on January 1, 2002. It was dismissed late last year, but continues to investigate and campaign against illegal logging.

Under the new terms of reference, SGS will mostly assess reports of forest crimes it receives from the government, the forestry industry, NGOs, media and civil society, and compare them to the actions taken by the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting (FCMR) section of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (MAFF).

It will also accept anonymous reports of forest crimes from people or organizations not wishing to be openly critical of the government forestry unit.

"The Independent Monitor is not obliged to investigate any or all suspected forest crimes reported directly," states an SGS information flyer. "Rather, such reports will be forwarded on to the FCMR teams for investigation and the Independent Monitor will field audit a sample of the reported cases."

Any discrepancies between the forest crimes being reported and the subsequent investigations will be included in a quarterly report to the government which will have 30 days to take appropriate action. Only after this time can the incident be made public.

Under the previous contract Global Witness was able to "disseminate findings at any given time there is non-compliance... or the investigation is seriously flawed."

"Given that SGS, with its limited mandate for field inspections, will most likely not have verified it [FA investigations into reported crimes] either, the public remains in the dark, and the Forest Administration totally unaccountable," said Mike Davis.

Despite the criticism, SGS is optimistic it will be effective in giving "firm criticism if it is necessary."

"We're determined to make it work and I must say we're getting splendid co-operation with the forestry department," said a SGS spokesperson who could not be named for contractual reasons.

The spokesperson for the five person monitoring team said SGS will spend 20 per cent of its time in the field and conduct aerial investigations every three months. Once a year SGS plans to use satellite imagery to check for new logging roads or harvesting in a specific area where illegal activities have been reported. SGS's contract with the MAFF is for three years, with annual reappraisals.

A public meeting will be held by SGS on February 18 at the Intercontinental Hotel. Anyone wishing to report a forest crime or find out more can contact [email protected] or visit the main office at 368, street 163 Phnom Penh.

MOST VIEWED

  • With herd immunity likely in 2022, is Cambodia ready to reopen for tourism?

    The government aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the target population by June next year, giving it a head start among regional peers to reboot the sector but first, it has to do a few things to up its game A sign on a glass

  • Quarantine still a must for all arrivals, in next Covid chapter

    Since early May, an average of five to 10 Cambodian people have died from Covid-19 a day with many others testing positive amid the ongoing community outbreak. At the same time, however, hundreds of patients also recovered a day. The first Covid-19 case in Cambodia was

  • US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

    On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy

  • Jab drive heading to 5 provinces

    The government is set to vaccinate more than 1.2 million people in five provinces after finishing with Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal in an ongoing campaign administered by the ministries of Health and National Defence. The five provinces are Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampong Cham

  • New immigration bill targets illegal foreigners in Kingdom

    General Department of Immigration (GDI) officials are discussing revisions to the new draft law on immigration to prevent foreigners from entering Cambodia illegally and to supervise those living in the Kingdom more effectively. The revisions draw wide support among civil society organisations. GDI director-general Kirth

  • First commercial gold mine online

    Australian miner Renaissance Minerals (Cambodia) Ltd on June 21 began the commercial operation of its $120 million Okvau Gold Project in the northeastern province of Mondulkiri, becoming the Kingdom’s first gold producer. Located in the Okvau area in southwestern Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seima district, the