Without approval from donors, the government would break one of its key agreements with donor countries if it proceeds with plans to log more than 10,000 cubic meters worth of wood for the new National Assembly building, a donor representative said Tuesday.
Such a move would violate the government’s promise to continue its moratorium on logging until the end of 2005 and could impact how much aid the country will see in the future, said Mogens Laumand Christensen, chairman of the donor’s Technical Working Group on Forestry and Environment.
Christensen said the government first raised the need for wood for the new Assembly building at December’s Consultative Group meeting in Phnom Penh.
“At the CG meeting it was raised at certain point in time they would need wood,” he said.
A plan has not been brought forward, however, and the government’s logging moratorium is still in effect for all of 2005, Christensen said.
“The government…has to send a proposal to the [Technical Working Group] to cut the trees,” he said.
Construction on the roughly $20 million Assembly building began in early 2003.
You Kanvimean, deputy director of the Ratanakkiri forestry administration, said on Monday that a new logging concession will be established in the province’s Voeun Sai, O’Chum and Taveng districts to supply the massive timber haul.
Steve Schonberger, senior operations manager at the World Bank, which has been working with the government on forestry issues since 2000, said donors are waiting on clarification from the government.
“All the donors have requested more detail. We have asked them to clarify,” he said.
Mike Davis of forestry NGO Global Witness said he believed the project was illegal because it contravenes the logging moratorium, which was put in place in December 2001, and contravenes the Forestry Law, which forbids the harvesting of rare tree species, including luxury wood.
“It’s against the law on a number of fronts,” Davis said Tuesday.
However, Robert Tennent, forestry project manager for the government’s forestry monitor, Societe Generale de Surveillance, said that while he did not know the specifics of the order, he did not believe the project would be illegal.
“I would presume that this would possibly be an exception,” he said.
Tennent said it was understandable that the government wanted to decorate the new Assembly building with native luxury wood, and that 10,000 cubic meters of timber may not be a lot if used to cover the building’s walls.
SGS would be examining the matter to ensure everything was legal, he added.
Huot Radsady, general manager of Heng Brothers Co Ltd, which has been awarded the concession to supply the wood, said he did not know when cutting would begin.
“The Ministry of Agriculture is working hard to study the trees and make environmental impact assessments and is defining how many trees should be cut to fulfill the demand,” he said, adding work had been hampered by rain.
Huot Radsady, who refused to disclose the terms of the concession and contract with the government, said there were some concerns from local residents in Ratanakkiri but that those concerns had been smoothed over.
“Officials from the provincial office went to them and explained the project clearly,” he said. “They did not know our activities are going to supply the new National Assembly building with wood legally.”
Attempts to contact Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and CPP parliamentarian Cheam Yeap, chairman of the Assembly committee heading the construction project, were unsuccessful Monday and Tuesday.