The government’s deadline for logging companies to submit long-term cutting plans passed quietly Monday, overshadowed by controversy over the government’s refusal to release the plans and evidence that affected villagers are not being consulted.
Thirteen of 14 logging companies that hold concessions have submitted so-called Sustainable Forest Management Plans, said Yann Petrucci, adviser to the Department of Forestry and Wildlife. He declined to name the laggard company, saying that a last-minute submission may not have arrived in his office.
In the coming months, forestry officials will visit logging sites and communities and check satellite imagery to check the reports, he said.
The government imposed a moratorium on logging in forest concessions in January pending submission of the plans. The plans include detailed inventories of trees and other natural resources, mapping of areas where logging is forbidden, and 25-year cutting plans designed to give cut areas time to regrow.
As part of an accompanying environmental and social impact assessment, companies are supposed to consult with villages in the concessions. But many villagers in affected areas “don’t know about it,” said Russell Peterson of NGO Forum, which has helped to organize the communities.
Representatives from 42 villages in four provinces submitted letters to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries asking to see plans submitted for their areas, but the ministry “did not accept their letters,” Peterson said.
Donors have also tried to see the plans. The government agreed to donor demands for “public disclosure and opportunity for independent experts” from donors to comment on the plans “prior to finalization of Government review” at the donor Consultative Group meeting this June.
But in August, a joint donor committee urged Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun to release the plans. Chan Sarun responded in a letter this month that the Forestry Department would release the plans after it agrees on “evaluation procedures” for the plans. He said that would be done by the end of October.
The government has set up a Dec 31 deadline for deciding whether to accept or reject the plans.
“There’s very little time for input by villagers or civil society,” said Eva Galabru of logging watchdog Global Witness. “We’re already up to October.”
The lack of disclosure is the primary reason the World Bank has held up release of a scheduled $15 million loan to the government for general budgetary support, said William Magrath, lead natural resource economist at the bank’s Cambodia office.
An irony in the process is that the World Bank loaned the government nearly $5 million for review and enforcement of the plans. But the World Bank is among the donors clamoring for access.
Consultants whose salaries are paid for by the World Bank loan are government employees nonetheless and must abide by government directives, Magrath said.
Dennis Kong, chairman of the Cambodia Timber Forestry Association, insisted that companies are consulting with affected communities. He said that sustainable logging will only be profitable in Cambodia if the government is willing to lower royalty rates.
But a recent report by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute claims that there is not enough timber left in most concessions to make sustainable logging profitable. Global Witness is arguing for cancellation of all concessions because of unsustainability or illegal activities by companies.
“The way the government is hiding the plan is a clear indication the whole process is completely flawed,” said Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness. “The government knows they would never be able to implement sustainable practices if all the information was out there. Not with the current players.”
Petrucci said reliable full inventories of forest cover and timber resources are still not available, making broad generalizations about profitability difficult.
Forestry department director Ty Sokun is in Europe and will not return for several days, officials said.