Interior Minister Sar Kheng has issued a letter calling on all municipal and provincial administrations to file reports to his office on the state of their efforts to combat the illegal exploitation of natural resources, including forests and fisheries.
The letter, dated July 4 and obtained by the Post yesterday, requires the officials to file the reports, which must also cover legitimate resource exploitation, by July 20.
“Please evaluate the activity of logging and fishery crimes across provinces and areas where it is happening,” the letter says. “Provinces with border checkpoints and [transportation] corridors are requested to report the transporting of logs, both legally and illegally, as well as the measures the authorities are taking [in response].”
In a story just last week in the Post, numerous sources detailed a large bribery network abetting the movement of illegally logged timber in Ratanakkiri province. The reporter personally witnessed bribes exchanging hands between traders and police.
The Kheng letter follows an April 24 Council of Ministers directive requesting that guidelines on the management, sustainable use and preservation of protected natural resources be drawn up. The reports are expected to lead to a set of recommendations being passed on to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But Chhim Savuth, director of the NGO the Natural Resource Protection Group, questioned the motives behind the issuance of the letter, suggesting that it might be little more than a public relations exercise.
“If the government really wants to prevent forest crimes, it would not be difficult, because the logs are transported by huge trucks and they cannot be hidden like drugs. But those officers do not dare act, because those who do this kind of business are senior government officers,” he said.
Forestry Administration director Chheng Kimsun and deputy director Ung Samath could not be reached.
A recent report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries pointed to more than 80,000 hectares of land that have been “reforested” from 2008 to 2012.
However, several studies last year showed deforestation on a huge scale, with one paper finding that more than a third of the country’s forests have been lost since 1973.