The government’s new forestry monitor gave the Forestry Administration a generally positive review in its second report, released Friday, despite widespread criticism by donors and environmental groups of rampant corruption within the Administration.
Societe Generale de Surveillance “found that the cases of forest crime verified by SGS had been adequately handled by the Forestry Administration,” according to the new report, which covered monitoring efforts between April 1 and June 30.
Its conclusion is in stark contrast to recent statements by the World Bank and environmental NGOs, which blame corruption within the government and the Forestry Administration for hurting efforts to stop illegal logging.
The SGS report included several high-profile cases of forest crime, including an incident in which military police traveling in the convoy of Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema shot at Kompong Cham provincial police and forestry officials when those officials tried to stop a truck loaded with illegally cut luxury timber.
It chastised the Forestry Administration for being slow to respond to incidents involving high-ranking officials. But, it said: “When Forestry Administration attention has been directed toward specific reports of forest crime, [the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting] section has responded with field inspections and suppression actions.”
SGS said it did not receive a report on the Administration’s investigation into the shooting involving Kep Chuktema’s convoy until June 29, though the incident occurred March 11.
“Allegations of forest crime should be investigated promptly and independent of the identity of the perpetrators,” the report said.
However, it did not provide an evaluation of the Administration’s investigation into Kep Chuktema’s convoy, nor did it conclude who was at fault, saying only that the Administration “concluded that the incident occurred through a series of misunderstandings. The [Forestry Administration’s] report contained no mention of further actions being considered.”
SGS also recounted efforts to follow up on media reports that 800 cubic meters of confiscated luxury timber, worth several hundred thousand dollars, disappeared from the Siem Reap provincial forestry office in late January and early February.
SGS said it was unable to confirm or deny the reports because the confiscated material was not adequately labeled.
“In an inspection of evidential material carried out in Siem Reap…SGS was unable to identify the absence of any evidential material,” the report said.
Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness, the former independent forestry monitor, criticized the SGS investigation, saying it relied too heavily reports by the Forestry Administration. “There is no new information, nothing about the prevalence of forest crime, no independent detection of forest crime and no substantial follow-up on forest crimes and reporting,” he said Sunday.
In its report, SGS stated that there is public confusion over the difference between SGS’ role and that of Global Witness during its tenure as independent monitor. It said Global Witness had a wider-reaching mandate that allowed it to work outside of the government. The role of SGS, however, “is to assist the Government in vetting and improving the performance of its agencies.”
Global Witness served as independent monitor until the middle of last year, when its contract expired. At the time, the government accused the organization of trying to embarrass it.
Hardtke said SGS’ mandate allowed SGS less autonomy in investigations, but he still criticized the new monitor for failing to tackle difficult issues, especially government corruption.
Global Witness and other environmental groups have stated that forestry officials are complicit in many forest crimes.
In statements released this month, the World Bank, whose loan provides funding for SGS, also criticized corruption within the Forestry Administration, and emphasized the need for an independent monitor to address the problem.
“We also recognize that without improved governance—including more transparency, an enforceable legal framework, and improved monitoring and oversight—we are not likely to overcome the obstacles posed by corruption and lack of capacity,” Peter Stephens, the Bank’s regional communications manager, said in a statement issued Tuesday about the Bank’s forestry policy.
Bank representatives could not be reached Sunday for comment on the latest SGS report, though they were among many critics of the last report, the first public account of SGS monitoring, when it was released in late May.
“In terms of the SGS report, we have real concerns about the first report and the interpretation of the [terms of reference] it reflects,” Kimberly Versak, the Bank’s external affairs officer, wrote in an e-mail. She said the Bank thought the next report would reflect improved monitoring.
When the May report was released, NGOs working in forestry warned that SGS’ monitoring was flawed.
At the time, David Mead, former country manager of Conservation International, said SGS had not reported the true extent of forest crimes. Mike Bird, country program manager for Oxfam Great Britain, had called the last report “ineffective” and said some of SGS’ findings were “partial and misleading.”
He questioned the value of SGS’ work in light of the $425,000 price tag for its first year of monitoring.
Reached Sunday, Mead and Bird said they could not comment on SGS’ latest report, because they had not seen it.