In remarks opening the Ministry of Environment’s annual progress meeting on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin exhorted the three ministries dealing with protected areas and economic land concessions to cooperate—or risk causing the CPP to lose upcoming elections.
“When the Ministry of Environment fails, I fail,” said Mr. Chhin, addressing a packed hall of environment officials, as well as their counterparts from the ministries of agriculture and land management.
The ministries should “work together to do this job,” he said, referring to efforts to protect more of Cambodia’s land and ensure that companies with economic land concessions are actually contributing to the economy.
“When you lose the commune council elections and the national elections—you lose your job,” he warned officials after explaining the importance of following through on land reforms.
The speech comes at a moment when both the ministries of environment and agriculture are pushing through draft laws that could give them sweeping, conflicting power over Cambodia’s land.
The Environmental Code, expected to be signed by Environment Minister Say Sam Al by the end of the month, would designate nearly 40 percent of Cambodia’s land as protected areas or “conservation corridors”—corridors of land connecting protected areas to allow for species migration, according to Brian Rohan, a lawyer involved in its drafting.
Meanwhile, the new draft Agricultural Land Law, discussed at a public workshop this week, gives the Agriculture Ministry broad powers to reclassify any land in Cambodia as “agricultural land,” as well as to lease land to private companies under terms similar to economic land concessions, according to Sek Sophorn, a human rights lawyer involved in the consultation.
Mr. Chhin, who chairs the Authority for Land Dispute Resolution, emphasized on Wednesday the importance of cooperation and “honesty” between the ministries, while acknowledging a lack of clarity around their mandates.
“The Ministry of Environment was established later than the Ministry of Agriculture,” he said. “But the balance of duty and obligation between the two is not clear.”