The environmental watchdog Global Witness said it “welcomes” the findings contained in a World Bank-funded forestry reform report, but questioned some of the proposed solutions.
The London-based group noted that the report issued May 22 confirms its own conclusions that Cambodia’s forests will be “seriously depleted” within five years given current logging rates.
But Global Witness last week expressed serious doubt that the government has the political will to stop the illegal activity.
The group also said the report places too much trust in an industry association and over-estimates what the government could collect in taxes from a sustainable industry. “The bottom line is that Cambodia’s leadership and military are the key to solving the logging problem,” Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director, said in a statement.
Four consultant groups, funded by the World Bank and working for the government, have been studying Cambodia’s forestry industry. A final draft report was issued May 22 at a forestry forum in Phnom Penh.
Current harvesting rates are quadruple a sustainable level, the group said, with illegal logging occurring under the protection of “powerful people and the military.” Similar conclusions had been stated earlier this year.
Recommendations include replacing the current “inconsistent” and “unenforceable” forestry law with a new one that provides objective standards for legal logging and adequate penalties to deter illegal cutting.
At the forum, government officials including First Prime Minister Ung Huot expressed support for reform. Ung Huot even issued an order to fight illegal logging.
But substantive action isn’t expected before the elections, and Global Witness doubts the first premier’s sincerity.
In the group’s statement, Alley repeated earlier allegations that Ung Huot has signed documents permitting illegal timber exports. Members of Ung Huot’s cabinet previously have denied knowledge of such approvals.
Alley also noted that the report endorses an industry association that includes alleged illegal loggers. “Whilst we appreciate that the cooperation of the timber industry is essential, until these companies cease criminal activity how can they be entrusted with a role crucial to the future of Cambodia’s forests?” Alley asked.
The forestry reform report also estimates that the government could earn $100 million a year in legal revenue. Global Witness said that the figure is more likely to be $37.5 million when based on a more sustainable level of cutting.
In fact, Alley said, “what is obvious is that until the necessary monitoring and concession management systems are in place, all concession activity should stop. There should be no cutting, no exports, nothing.”