Draft amendments to the laws on Forest, Fisheries and Natural Protected Areas may be prepared for a final review in early April, according to a senior Ministry of Interior official.

Ngan Chamroeun – ministry secretary of state and head of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development Secretariat – said working groups held meetings on March 14 to discuss the changes to the three laws. The teams had agreed on key provisions related to the division of responsibilities – which would pave the way for the transfer of fisheries and forestry management functions to sub-national administrations.

“Final drafts should be completed in early April. We will arrange for a final review by technical consultants before interior minister Sar Kheng coordinates a meeting between the heads of the three [relevant] institutions.

“Once approved, they will be submitted to the Council of Jurists and the Inter-Ministerial Council and the Council of Ministers. Finally, they will be sent to the National Assembly,” he said.

According to an announcement by the Ministry of Environment on March 15, the working groups had already reached agreement on articles 3, 5, 6 and 7.

Article 3 states that the law applies to all fishery resources, both naturally occurring, processed and aquaculture in Cambodia, as well as fishing outside of the national jurisdiction in accordance with the law of coastal states or pursuant to international conventions or instruments or agreements to which Cambodia is a party.

Article 5 dictates that the management, conservation and development of fishery resources falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, except for the management, conservation and development of fishery resources within protected areas, which shall be under the jurisdiction of the environment ministry, in accordance with the law on protected areas. The government may define specific roles and responsibilities to ministries and institutions related to the fisheries sector.

Article 6 stipulates that the agriculture ministry manages the conservation and development of fishery resources within its jurisdiction in accordance with the national fisheries policy, the framework of the fisheries strategic plan, the national fisheries management plan and provisions of this Act.

The ministry will establish expert units in charge of fisheries, whose organisation and functioning will be determined by sub-decree.

Article 7 states that the government or agriculture ministry may transfer certain functions and responsibilities of the management, conservation and development of fishery resources to sub-national administrations.

According to announcement, the working groups agreed to provide further input to the secretariat before March 22. Follow-up meetings are scheduled for March 24-25.

Pen Bonnar – the local community empowerment officer at the NGO Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association – previously told The Post that the laws and their draft amendments were sufficient but did not clearly define roles. Defining each institution’s role in the judicial process related to the enforcement of these laws is crucial. Laws are only effective if the perpetrators are punished.

“In the past, the system appeared to protect powerful people when they exploited the environment. It appeared that the laws were enforced only against the small and the weak, with only the average businessmen occasionally charged to preserve appearances. This meant that there was anarchy taking place in protected areas – widespread deforestation, land grabbing and the filling of lakes occurred regularly,” he said.

Bonnar said amending the law will not be effective if nobody is responsible for its implementation.