Discussions on Cambodia’s draft forestry law halted Friday after the National Assembly failed to reach a quorum following a mid-morning break.
Some lawmakers revealed their ignorance about the draft law during debates earlier in the morning as they asked seemingly unrelated questions about forests and trees, prompting National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh to chastise them.
“I noticed that your excellencies did not read the law and asked random questions,” Ranariddh said. “I request your excellencies to read this law on Saturday and Sunday.”
The law, drafted six years ago to strengthen existing laws protecting and managing Cambodia’s threatened forests, has been criticized by environmentalists for what they say are its inherent conflicts with existing laws, vague wording and assignment of power to a central forest management office that they claim will be immune from oversight.
Responding to some of the criticism, CPP parliamentarian Ek Sam Ol urged people to stop complaining and start looking for solutions.
“Don’t put the fault about forestry on each other,” he said.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun defended the government’s forest practices, pointing to programs that have planted acacia and eucalyptus trees. The softwood trees grow quickly and their leaves make good fertilizer, he said.
He said the government is also searching for alternative fuels—coal and gas, primarily—to ease the pressure on wood, the most popular material to burn for energy in rural Cambodia.
Chan Sarun also defended the government’s policy on handing out forest concessions, which he said is not only for revenue but also helps to protect the forest as private owners seek to protect their investments.
Chan Sarun said the government only gives the private companies the right to log on the land, and the decisions should not prevent local people from harvesting vines, resins and honey from bees.
In reality, says the government-appointed forestry monitor Global Witness, local people are sometimes prevented from going into the forest by military or police officials hired by the forest concessionaire. Some local people also lose their resin trees to the loggers, the group claims.