Experts said Thursday that they agree with an Asian Development Bank-funded draft report that characterizes the commercial logging system in Cambodia as a failure, but ideas differ on how to reform the system.
“Total system failure and in need of holistic reform—and we agree with that assessment,” said Tom Dillon, representing the World Wide Fund for Nature and one of three experts brought in to analyze the report.
His comments came near the beginning of a two-day national workshop in Phnom Penh to discuss the draft report and develop an action plan.
Forest concessions cover nearly half of Cambodia’s 10.5 million hectares of forestland. Previous studies have indicated that commercially-valuable timber has been depleted at a rapid rate since concessions were first granted in 1994.
The ADB-funded review, conducted by the consulting firm Fraser Thomas, notes in its draft report that the current crisis is the “result of a total system failure, resulting from greed, corruption, incompetence and illegal acts that were so widespread and pervasive as to defy the assignment of primary blame.”
ADB team members said Thursday that the government, military, police, concessionaires, private business and business people from other countries all share blame. Among other things, they noted the practice of forestry department staff, who are charged with monitoring the concessions, of accepting fees for services—a conflict of interest. Forestry Director Ty Sokhun later Thursday denied staff have worked as subcontractors.
The draft report recommends terminating three concessions that are virtually logged out, and placing a moratorium on eight severely-depleted ones. Remaining concessionaires would be allowed to harvest trees for one more year, but would be required to submit new management plans and renegotiate contracts.
Some have urged tougher action. The watchdog Global Witness has called for a moratorium on all concessions and contract terminations of worst offenders.
“Right now Cambodia’s most valuable natural resource is still in the hands of the companies and the system castigated in the report, like a bank robber guarding a bank,” Global Witness said in a statement issued Wednesday. “If there is no moratorium, we predict the forests will be commercially logged out within three years.”
In prepared remarks, Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state of the Ministry of Agriculture, said any concessionaire that has seriously breached its contract and refuses to correct itself may face cancellation.
Some on Thursday afternoon also questioned whether there is enough attention being paid to the social and environmental aspects, such as conflicts over land use. Walter Kollert, chairman of the expert panel, noted there is little information in the ADB draft report on how local communities are affected.
Dillon said the panel of experts believes four key elements are needed to develop a sustainable forest management system: responsible governance; responsible concessionaires; cooperation in the forest sector; and government capacity to monitor concessions adequately.