Reading Stephen O'Connell's "Forestry management total failure" I couldn't
help but feel a sense of peripheral deja vu.
It was in the Summer of 1996 that I found myself at the Government Palace attending
a pre-Consultative Group meeting in which the then Minister of Agriculture, Forestry
and Fisheries, Tao Seng Huor, was asked by international donors to produce a final
and complete list of logging concession companies (the reporting for which a deadline
had been set by the Ministry the previous week). A report by the World Bank on this
matter had outlined sustainable logging policies which showed that Cambodia could
in fact garner substantial revenues from the sector, with appropriate forestry management.
In what can only be described as a moment that will live in infamy, the Minister
showed up to the meeting without the list. After throwing around some vague figures
and ranges, he was embarrassed (really shamed) by his counterpart at the Ministry
of Economy and Finance and by then Secretary of State Sun Chanthol into calling (cellular
phone in hand and while sitting at the table) an aide who, 20 you-could-have-heard-a-bead-of-sweat-drop
minutes later, arrived and produced the list. An incredible climax (the real numbers
were nowhere near the original ones he gave), it was a severe loss of face for the
Minister and for every Cambodian in that room, including myself.
How disappointing, and yet somehow fitting, it should be that four years later, Cambodia's
forestry management remains a "total failure". As the French say: Plus
ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Let's just hope that by 2004 we'll still have
some forests left to manage (or should I say, mismanage?).
Sophal Ear, Washington, DC