In an unprecedented show of forestry law enforcement, the Ministry of Environment
is taking the Green Elite Company to court for continuing to clear forest without
an approved Environmental Impact Assessment.
This is a full policy swing from March 2004, when the government illegally allowed
Green Elite to clear-cut 18,200 hectares in the Botum Sakor National Park, Koh Kong
Soon after receiving the government's stamp of approval, the company began clearing
patches of Melaleuca forest for eucalyptus and acacia plantations in the southwest's
The Ministry of Environment suspended Green Elite's operations in May 2004, pending
an EIA from the company, but the company allegedly continued to cut.
Green Elite submitted an EIA in October 2004, but this move came too late, and the
government confirmed December 29 that it was preparing a case against Green Elite's
A Ministry of Environment official said Wednesday that he expected to have the Ministry's
case ready for court proceedings early next year.
"Green Elite was operating before submitting an Impact Assessment to the Ministry
of Environment, and continued to operate after it was suspended for this," said
the senior official, who declined to be named.
Article 4 of the 2002 Forestry Law says "an Environmental and Social Impact
Assessment shall be prepared for any major forest ecosystem related activity that
may cause adverse impact on society and environment."
Aerial photographs from forestry watchdog Global Witness showed woodchip processing
Green Elite is a subsidiary of Indonesian-based Asia Pulp and Paper, one of the largest
pulp and paper companies in the world.
Green Elite applied to the government last April for an additional 300,000 hectares
of land in Kampot and Koh Kong provinces, but the request has yet to be decided.
Arian Ardie, Asia Pulp and Paper's director of sustainability, said he was unaware
the Ministry of Environment had decided to take them to court.
Responding to the Ministry's accusation that Green Elite had continued to operate
in the national park after being suspended, Ardie said that to the best of his knowledge,
operations had ceased at the time of suspension.
Mike Davis from Global Witness - the government's former independent forestry monitor
- said he endorses the government's actions for "getting [Green Elite] on the
EIA", but said he is more concerned with other forest crime violations made
by the company and members of the government.
"We would argue there is a bigger issue at stake here," he said. "You
can't just go into a national park and start ripping down a forest, whatever kind
of documents you have got, or whoever signed them.
"It's an overall culture of how state assets, particularly management of natural
resources, works here - senior officials treating state assets as their own private
property and regarding their own actions as above the law," he added.
Davis said it was likely that increased pressure from NGOs, public outcry and the
December 2004 Consultative Group meeting pushed the government into action.
"There has been an issue of cumulative pressure on the government for about
nine months now. The CG meeting may have played a part as it picked up on the underlying
theme of mismanagement of natural resources," he said.
Robert Tennent, director of the government's current independent forestry monitor,
SGS, said he had not heard anything official from the Ministry of Environment about
Green Elite's activities.
"We are getting reports from the [Environment] Ministry," he said, "but
it will be some way down the line before we hear from them I think.
"I am meeting [Green Elite] in two weeks time. I don't know much about them,
but they are concerned about their image and want to come and inspect operations
to make sure nothing untoward [happens]," Tennent said.
Ardie confirmed a team from APP, as well as an unnamed international organization,
are planning to visit Cambodia in January to assess proposed plantation areas.
"We are committed to purchasing only high conservation value forest and operating
legally according to the Cambodian Law," he said.
Ardie said high conservation value forests are assessed by international organizations
to determine what activities would least impact the areas environmentally and socially.
"We are going to be doing this assessment, and that's really what our next step
is as far as our Cambodian negotiations go," he said. "We are the only
company in Asia in the plantation sector using and applying this [method]."
Global Witness, conservation NGO WildAid and the United Nations Cambodia Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been closely monitoring Green Elite's
In 1998, the government granted a Taiwanese-owned company named Green Rich a 60,200-hectare
economic land concession, comprising three protected areas in Koh Kong province.
The government reduced the concession to 18,200 hectares in June 2003, confining
the company to the northern part of Botum Sakor National Park.
The national park, according to WildAid, contains forests and wetlands that provide
key watershed for the entire west of Cambodia.
During 1998 and 2004, there was minimal forestry activity in the concession area.
The Green Rich Company allegedly went bankrupt, selling their concession to Green
Elite in the beginning of 2004.
WildAid reported that Green Elite brought in logging equipment and workers to the
northern part of Botum Sakor National Park in mid-March 2004.
"Upon arrival, the workers started clearing large patches of Melaleuca forest,
despite the company lacking all the legally required permits and without having conducted
any of the environmental assessments mandated by law," the report said.
Davis said the company's method of clear-cutting is highly destructive, leaving a
minimal chance of regeneration.
"Cutting everything is terminal for the forest," he said. "There's
no going back."
A Human rights issue
A report prepared in November by Peter Leuprecht, Cambodian special representative
for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said the government's policies on concessions
"Economic land concessions are not meeting the promise that formed their rationale,
namely to stimulate private enterprise, contribute to the state revenue, reduce rural
property, and generate jobs for local people," said the report.
Davis agreed and said the question that rarely gets asked is "what possible
benefit does this have for the country?"
"In this [Green Elite] case, it seems there is no benefit at all for the government
budget because of waiving royalties, tax exemptions for APP," and remote province
investments, he said.
Davis said there could be significant economic costs in terms of environmental damage.
"There are underlying environmental services in terms of watershed management,
breeding grounds for fish, and it would make the area a write-off as far as tourism
is concerned," Davis said.
WildAid played a major role in monitoring working conditions at the Green Elite operation.
The workers were brought in from Kampot, but were told they owed the company for
their travel and food expenses - building up debt the workers were unable to pay
WildAid reported workers had complained of deplorable living and working conditions,
and in particular a lack of food.
In May 2004, human rights workers and police rescued workers from the concession
"[This is] in clear violation of labor law and a possible violation of the provisions
on human trafficking," said the WildAid report.
A Legal Issue
The government's approval of Green Elite's 18,200-hectare concession clearly violates
article 59 of the 2001 Land Law, which says land concessions must not exceed 10,000
Other concessions approved by the government top 170,000 hectares.
Article 3 of the 1994 Declaration on the Protection of Natural Areas prohibits deforestation
for land use in protected natural areas.
Davis said these breaches are examples of the damage the Cambodian government is
doing to its good governance promises.
"The more these illegal deals are done and the more they are allowed to happen,
the more the rule of law is undermined and, ultimately, this has a cost either in
economic returns, development or poverty reduction," Davis said.
Davis said the government should be congratulated for canceling a land concession
that has been mismanaged, but more needs to be done to bring transparency to these
kinds of issues.