Last year saw a slight increase in the number of crackdowns for forestry and fishery crimes, according to a new report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, though an observer maintained that actions was only being taken against small-time criminals.
In 2017, the ministry cracked down on 5,353 cases, compared to 5,140 in 2016. The report, released on Wednesday in a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Hun Sen, indicates that the majority were fishery crimes, with 3,925 cases, while there were 1,428 cases of forest, wildlife and land clearing crimes.
Of the fishery crimes, 3,723 fishing nets and other items were destroyed, while fines were issued in only 116 cases, with just 86 sent to court.
A higher proportion of forest crimes resulted in a fine (658 cases) and were sent to court (778 cases).
Agriculture Minister Ven Sakhon announced that relevant authorities were “actively” cracking down to combat “anarchic” logging and timber export, but did acknowledge that much could be improved.
“The collaboration between relevant authority officials is not smooth yet in stopping and cracking down on fishery, timber and forestland clearing crimes,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, meanwhile, advised the Ministry to demarcate wetland areas as soon as possible to reduce land grabs and forest loss.
“The Ministry must use all officials to investigate and crack down on fishery crimes and clearing and grabbing of wetland areas for private ownership in all ways,” he said.
Pen Bonnar, a senior land and natural resources investigator at the rights group Adhoc, said the number of cases reflected the fact that crimes are still rampant.
He said measures were typically only taken against small crimes – such as in cases where motorbikes or makeshift trucks were transporting wood – while crimes involving powerful players or officials were rarely punished.
“When they don't crack down on bigger cases, it gives a bad example and shows that the perpetrators are not afraid of the law, triggering some local officials to commit the crimes too,” he said.
Since 2015, Bonnar and local communities have filed 11 lawsuits against tycoons and local authorities for their involvement in logging and land grabbing. None of these have resulted in sentences yet.
During 2017, 34 companies and eight individuals were licensed to transport timber, ultimately being documented carrying 8,000 cubic metres of first-grade timber, 45,128 cubic metres of lower-grade timber and 2,648 cubic metres of sawn wood.