The government’s collection of only about $5 million in logging revenue so far this year is lower than in previous years, despite high harvest levels and international pressure to increase revenue.
And while the government’s plan to collect $19 million in 1999 seems realistic, it may be hard to achieve since the fees and monitoring system are not yet in place, an environmental watchdog said Thursday.
In the first 10 months of 1998, the government collected less than $5 million in logging taxes, according to a Finance Ministry draft budget, despite a havest of several hundred million dollars worth of trees. In 1997, the government collected $12.7 million.
“It doesn’t surprise me that in 1998, the government just collected $5 million, since most of the timber revenue was…used for military and the elections,” Patrick Alley, a co-director of the environmental watchdog Global Witness, said Thursday in a telephone interview from London.
The International Monetary Fund canceled $60 million in loans in 1996 and 1997 in part because of collection problems in the logging industry.
New Agriculture Minister Chhea Song, who oversees the forest industry, defended the government’s performance and its projections for next year.
“In 1998, there is lower income because the political situation was not stable. And some companies have not operated their concessions,” he said Thursday.
In 1999, Chea Song said, the government will seek to increase the tax on trees cut by concessionaires from $14 to $54 per cubic meter. It will also allow only about 400,000 cubic meters of trees to be harvested, he said.
World Bank-funded technical assistance teams estimated that more than 4 million cubic meters of trees were harvested in the last dry season, more than 90 percent of it illegally. They said no more than 500,000 cubic meters should be cut in a year if sustainability is to be achieved.