THE government has confirmed that negotiations with all Cambodia's logging
concessionaires have begun, despite the fact that none of the companies has met
recommendations on forest management and sustainable logging drawn up by the
government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Negotiations began last
Monday (September 10), shortly after the appointment of the new Minister for the
Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF), Chan Sarun, and are
scheduled to finish September 29.
Some observers voiced alarm at the news
and said they were worried that the new contracts would now be "set in stone".
One suspected that the rush to get the contracts signed was the government
trying to circumvent the deadline for meeting its targets on logging reform.
The reforms are necessary for the release of international funding under
the Structural Adjustment Credit.
The renegotiations follow an extensive
review of the industry by the ADB in April, 2000 in which the bank strongly
condemned the conduct of the country's logging concessionaires.
Malik, ADB's country representative, said the bank had recommended
concessionaires provide a document containing an Environmental and Social Impact
Assessment (ESIA) and a Forestry Management Plan (FMP) before they were allowed
back to their concessions. However, none has yet finalized the document and most
have done nothing.
"Those [renegotiation] contracts have to be finalized
by the end of November," Malik said. "The ESIAs and FMPs are to be drawn up by
the end of September and the negotiations finished by the end of
Bruce McKenney, forest policy advisor with WWF Cambodia, said
that all those that had not submitted management plans by September 30 were
meant to have their concessions canceled outright. He said he found the conduct
of the process strange.
"We are trying to understand the logic on how you
renegotiate a contract without the information from the management plan. It
seems somewhat odd to have a renegotiation about concessions before you know
what is in them," he said.
"How can you decide the value of the
concession?" he asked. "Wouldn't you need to know about items such as an
inventory of trees, the effect on the community, and the like?"
Witness coordinator, Eva Galabru, said that the way the process was being run
conflicted with repeated assurances given by the government that the September
2001 deadline would stand. By the time the contracts were to have been
renegotiated, all the management plans and ESIAs were to have been submitted,
publicly reviewed and approved.
"We are very disappointed. The best way
to proceed would be to cancel everything and restart with an open, transparent
bidding process for areas that have been identified as suitable for commercial
timber extraction," said Galabru.
The Department of Forestry and Wildlife
(DFW), part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), is
conducting the negotiations. Dennis Cengel, an advisor to the department, said
this was the first step in the renegotiation process. He said the reason NGOs
were unaware of the renegotiations was down to time constraints.
process happened so fast that there hasn't been the time to communicate this as
fast as possible," he said. "However, we will try to improve communications with
NGOs and make an effort to keep them informed."
He added that the donor
working group, the DFW's "first outreach", should also have informed NGOs. WWF's
McKenney said he had found out about the renegotiation meetings only by
"We're pretty concerned about that, but it's typical," he said.
"Normally if we are invited we only hear about it the day before.'
said the deadline for submitting management plans was September 30, and that
those companies that did not comply would not be allowed to cut. However, there
would be a window of two to three months allowing inadequate management plans to
WWF's McKenney added: "We are also concerned about how
enforcement of those companies not allowed to cut will be enforced. There are
apparently a number of concessionaires who already have cutting permits for next
In the past the conduct of logging
companies in Cambodia
has been woeful. When the ADB conducted its review, it found that nine of the 20
concessionaires were not operating. It was unable to locate another, which left
ten in the study. The results were grim.
The bank rated as
'unacceptable' the performance of nine of these. Six received the worst possible
'black' rating, while three were placed in the 'red' category. The only one that
received the mediocre 'green' rating was GAT International, which holds the
distinction of being the only concessionaire to have been sentenced in a court
of law for illegal logging.
The ADB report stated that forest management
plans were "completely inadequate as a tool to ensure sustainable yield and
sustainable forest management". It said the plans were "neither responsive to
the requirements of the environmental laws nor to acceptable technical and
managerial standards nor to the socio-economic policies of the
Three companies were stripped of their concessions by the Prime
Minister on the back of the ADB report; its clear recommendation was for new
forest management plans. The DFW confirmed that all 17 remaining companies have
applied for renewal of their concessions.
"[Of these 17] I believe three
are at a very advanced stage of finalizing their sustainable management plans,
and either four or five are showing due diligence and may be ready. That leaves
[around ten] concessions where we have not seen much on the table," he
Malik said six of these would likely not meet the conditions for
renewal, which under donor recommendations should lead to their outright
cancellation. The position of the remainder was uncertain. He said he hoped that
despite the lack of independent observers during the current contract renewals,
it would be transparent.
"The Prime Minister made a very bold decision to
cancel three concessions when we came out with the results of the review, and I
think the leadership should demonstrate its commitment to forestry sector reform
by canceling [those who do not comply]," he said.
Cengel explained that
the companies still had until the end of the month to meet the conditions laid
down by the ADB. He said donors were in agreement with the process, and
explained that contracts were conditional on companies meeting these
The current negotiations, he added, were for renewal of the
concessions; the licenses for logging would wait until the government was
satisfied with the companies' management plans.
Cengel said the ministry
and the department were committed to the ADB recommendations of transparency and
sustainable forest management and had invited interested donors to review the
concession application process.
"To ensure transparency we invited donor
observers to these concessionaire renegotiations. We will also invite donor
observers and interested NGOs to the review of the management plans [after Sept
30]," he said.