Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina has told the Forestry Administration (FA) to optimise law enforcement and strike a balance between legitimate timber extraction and forest conservation, to best improve habitat for wildlife and enhance biodiversity, while ensuring sustainable incomes for benefactors of the trade.

Tina was speaking at the FA’s presentation on anti-money laundering outcomes at the ministry headquarters on December 13.

“Anti-money laundering work in the forestry and fisheries sectors is an important task that law enforcement officials need to pay attention to,” he said.

The minister said the crime presents an obstacle to the country’s development, adding that anti-money laundering work must be done with a high sense of responsibility and focusing mainly on the national interest.

San Mala, an environmental activist at the Prey Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary, said on December 14 that Tina’s instructions were correct, but that the ministry should establish a special mechanism to monitor local law enforcement officials aimed at ensuring the accuracy of their reports and preventing any systematic collusion with traders.

In order to improve efficiency and address the actual need for timber for domestic use, or to ensure that timber exports are in the national interest, Mala said the ministry and all relevant authorities should be open and transparent with the public, civil society organisations and citizens.

“If they are removing natural resources for developing the country without openness and transparency, it will become a disaster for our nation,” he said.

Orn Chan Socheat, acting director of the FA’s Stung Treng cantonment, said on December 14 that his officials had yet to convene a meeting following the minister’s recommendations.

However, he said he would cooperate with law enforcement, authorities and provincial leaders to promote the prevention of large-scale forest crimes, though he claimed that there was no large-scale offences in his province but small cases like people felling trees to build their houses or pig cages.

“If people use timber for household use in their locality, then we need to manage it accordingly. At the same time, we need to strengthen the enforcement against large-scale forestry crimes and oversight of timber trade,” he said.

At the meeting to disseminate the anti-money laundering outcomes in Phnom Penh on June 29, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng urged the agriculture ministry and other ministries and institutions to pay attention and take action on anti-money laundering, terrorism financing, and financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in order to help Cambodia get off of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list.

“Forestry and fisheries crimes, corruption and other offences – all of these can be used to collect money for terrorism or to make lethal weapons, which requires all institutions to work hard to prevent it,” he said.