Nine months after the government fired its forestry crime monitor, Global Witness,
a Swiss firm, Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS),
is set to become Cambodia's new monitor. But SGS will face rampant illegal logging
threatening to consume the final remnants of the country's forests.
The World Bank (WB), which has withheld a $15 million Structural Adjustment Credit
(SAC) for two years due to the government's failure to reform the forestry sector,
is now pushing for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to sign a
contract by November 21.
That would fulfill a final condition for the release of the SAC money badly needed
by the government, which is looking to close a budget deficit.
Critics have questioned whether releasing the SAC funds influenced the WB to allow
the government to sign off on a new, apparently weaker, monitor. Details of the new
Terms of Reference (TOR), regarded as a retreat from government accountability and
transparency when reported in June, have not yet been announced.
As it was written, the new TOR backed off from the confrontational and investigative
style used by Global Witness in favor of what was described by World Bank's forestry
specialist Bill Magrath as a "private auditor".
Much of the work will focus on verifying and analyzing figures rather than field
investigations. Civil society, such as organizations like Global Witness, is expected
to fill that role, said Magrath. The forestry crime NGO continues to operate in Cambodia
without government sanction as an official monitor.
The previous TOR were stripped of many of their binding provisions. That raised the
possibility of creating a rubber stamp for illegal logging, rather than a credible
For example, a clause requiring that the monitor be free of "direction, control
or influence of any ministry that will be audited or reviewed" was removed.
It also dropped a mandatory six-month assessment of the government's compliance with
its obligations. The random unannounced spot checks that routinely turned up evidence
of illegal logging under Global Witness were also eliminated from the new TOR.
A storm of criticism followed the new terms, but the World Bank maintains many of
these concerns have now been addressed.
"All of the issues that were raised ...have been attended to in the form of
minor changes in the TOR [as well as] conditions of the contract," said Magrath.
"The government has agreed to provide information and accept information disclosure
on terms that are essentially identical or better than that which Global Witness
was working under."
He did not elaborate further.
However, Magrath acknowledged that SGS would operate under a significantly more constrained
mandate than that of its predecessor, funded by the Danish government and the UN
Food and Agriculture Organization.
"It's a narrower scope," he said. "What Global Witness was doing was
broader. But Global Witness made up its own job description; it did a lot of things
in excess of its narrowly defined independent monitor function. SGS is only doing
a strict part of the TOR."
SGS, one of the world's largest monitoring and certification firms, has not yet commented
publicly on the contract. The World Bank, which is funding the position, said the
one-year contract is worth $425,000.
SGS plans to send its forestry supervisor in the Asia-Pacific region to Cambodia
on December 1. The company is expected to close a deal with the government that week,
according to a forestry expert involved with SGS.
"We're ready to start within a week's notice," he said.