After a number of false starts to curb rapid deforestation, Prime Minister Hun Sen last January called on RCAF Commander-in-Chief Ke Kim Yan to stamp out illegal logging within three months.
By the deadline’s end, the government declared to donors that the crackdown—dramatically enhanced by paratroopers swooping into problem spots—was 90 percent successful. A watchdog gave a much lower mark, and, without independent verification, there was no way of knowing for sure.
Now, the government, with donor help, is about to embark on a program designed to independently monitor Cambodia’s forests and help institutionalize the government’s crackdown on illegal logging.
“The project will help control the illegal activities, which we already have” started to stamp out, said Forestry Director Ty Sokhun.
The critical piece of the so-called forest crime monitoring and reporting program will be an independent monitor that, among other things, will inspect commercial logging operations, check key border crossing routes and review government reports to validate purported achievements. The monitor would report directly to the Council of Ministers, the government’s central decision-making entity.
In addition, the program calls for equipping and training local officials in the art and science of tracking and controlling illegal activities.
In essence, the program will be an intelligence-gathering operation but will not serve as a police force. The program is to establish a system for detecting, recording and reporting forest crime, assessing those responsible for illegal activity and suggesting action by authorities.
The British government has pledged $600,000 and AusAid $150,000 to launch a program estimated to cost roughly $2 million over the next three years. The donor money will be held by the UN Development Program Trust Fund and administered by the Food and Agriculture Organization. The program is expected to start as early as this month, officials said.
British Ambassador George Edgar noted that the program stems in part from extreme donor concern after World Bank-funded reports in 1998 concluded that Cambodia’s forests would essentially be logged out within five years if rampant illegal logging were allowed to continue.
“We recognize that Cambodia’s forest resources are an enormously important natural resource,” Edgar said Monday. “We and other donors felt it was important to help the government” curb the illegal activity.
Bill Costello, director of AusAid, said the program is important because it will institutionalize the government-articulated crackdown.
“The government says it wants to crack down on illegal logging and anarchic forces. It’s one thing to say so, another to put a system in place to do so,” Costello said. “Monitoring is the first part of the equation…the next phase is putting in place the legislative and regulatory framework.”
Separately, a new forestry law, a concession-management subdecree and a community forestry subdecree are being drafted. The new forestry law is expected to contain some tough penalties for damage to Cambodia’s forests.
The independent monitor for the forest crime program will be put out to bid. But the London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness is perhaps the only outfit with the expertise in Cambodia to do the job and is expected to be selected.
Patrick Alley, a Global Witness director, said by e-mail that the group would refrain from comment until the monitor is formally selected. But Alley previously has said that the independent monitor would be an “essential ingredient” in ensuring that the Department of Forestry and the Ministry of Environment provide complete and accurate reports on logging activities.
Global Witness this year characterized the government crackdown as only about “50 percent successful,” claiming big commercial logging companies had yet to be reined in. An Asian Development Bank-funded project is reviewing concession operations.
Ith Nody, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, noted that another benefit of the program will be to strengthen skills at the provincial level.
“The important thing is that we are building up the local authorities’ capacities,” he said. In addition to training, local officials will get mapping, communications and transportation equipment.
Conservation Director Chay Samith of the Ministry of Environment said last week that he supported the idea of the forest crime monitoring program, but didn’t elaborate.
In January, the government declared that the Ministry of Environment would monitor the forestry department’s efforts over the entire country. But in recent drafts of forest legislation, the Ministry of Environment has been confined largely to a role of overseeing protected areas.