A forestry official with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) who is usually tight-lipped acknowledged last week that his agency has struggled to combat illegal logging, blaming a shortage of manpower and entrenched opportunistic logging by villagers – explanations that were laughed off in some quarters yesterday.
In an interview last Tuesday at the Forests Asia Summit, organised by the Center for International Forestry Research in Jakarta, MAFF Secretary of State Ty Sokhun also played down accusations that authorities are slow to respond to – and are even the targets of – complaints of illegal logging,
The real difficulty in fighting logging, he continued, was that the forests simply covered too much ground for his roughly 1,000 “forest experts” to patrol.
“How many hectares does the forest span and where are [the loggers]?” Sokhun asked. “We cannot deploy forces to protect one tree around the clock.”
Sokhun maintained that measures to help villagers make money from forests would encourage them to turn from logging to conservation, but Ouch Leng, director of the Cambodian Human Rights Task Force, said that it was actually the villagers who were leading the fight against illegal loggers in spite of government inaction.
“I think that the forestry officials should fire their staffs and let villagers do the work,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker-elect Son Chhay was quick to agree, blaming mass logging on large-scale operations, and calling Sokhun’s assertion that officials were quick to respond to reports of illegal logging “completely rubbish”.
Chhay also questioned why Sokhun hadn’t publicly sought more resources if he was undermanned, and noted that when Sokhun was director of the Forestry Administration – a position he was fired from in 2010 for his ineffectiveness – he was himself accused of being complicit in illegal logging.
Indeed, a 2007 report from Global Witness said that Sokhun’s father-in-law, Khun Thong, was a major player in the Kingdom’s top logging syndicate, and that the FA under Sokhun “played a key role in facilitating” the syndicate’s activities.