Between 30,000 and 40,000 thousand cubic metres of illegal timber confiscated by an anti-logging taskforce in recent months will be handed over to the Education Ministry to build and repair schools, Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday.
The premier made the announcement in a speech on the last day of the ministry’s annual conference.
He also used the opportunity to publicise the government’s decision to make the Prey Lang forest a protected area – part of a series of moves that will see control of five conservation areas shifted from the Agriculture Ministry to Environment Ministry.
Speaking about the timber – seized from various economic land concessions, warehouses and trucks as part of a nationwide logging crackdown led by military police chief Sao Sokha since January – the premier said the decision followed a complaint by Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron that he was short on construction materials for provincial schools.
“I would like to announce that all confiscated wood will be delivered to the Ministry of Education for constructing school doors, windows, tables, chairs and houses for teachers,” Hun Sen said, before warning the Ministry of Economy and Finance not to dock the education budget in response.
The announcement appears to rule out the wood going to timber tycoon Try Pheap, who has exclusive legal rights to buy timber seized by authorities.
Calling the decision “sensible”, Meas Ny, an independent social researcher, said he was curious to see how much of the lumber would turn up at schools, given the demand from “high-level officials”.
“If there are 100 logs, only 10 might show up and 90 will be shared or lost somewhere along the way,” Ny said.
The announcement to make Prey Lang a “protected area” was welcomed, albeit sceptically, by Prey Lang Community Network member Phai Bunleang, one of many forest patrollers who have long battled rampant illegal logging there.
Bunleang estimated about 60 per cent of the forest, which spans five provinces, had been lost over the past 25 years.
According to Environment Minister Say Sam Al, Prey Lang is one of five areas, previously managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to be transferred to his purview. The other four include the Southern Cardamoms Corridor, Prey Preah Roka, Prey Simphan and Prey Vansay.
The “protected” designation will act as a holding pattern while the ministry works to classify them as national parks or wildlife sanctuaries, he said.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton