In yet another change in policy, the Forestry Administration will allow the public to purchase copies of 25-year forest concession management plans, officials said Monday, though critics allege that the process to obtain copies is difficult and intimidating.
Forestry Administration’s public affairs Deputy Director Than Sarath initially said the plans, which detail how companies will log tracts of land under their control, would be available to the public to read or copy starting May 10.
But the release, required by law, was subsequently delayed because of budget and planning problems. Public affairs Director Huot Bunnary, at the time, declared the plans could be read but not copied because timber companies had complained.
Administration officials met with representatives of logging companies last week to sort out the dispute, Than Sarath said Monday, and as a result the companies have agreed to allow the plans to be copied.
Those who want copies must go to the public affairs office and fill out a detailed form giving personal details, including name, address, telephone, and identification card number and must attach a photograph of themselves. They also must sign a statement in Khmer promising not to use the documents to affect politics, disturb social order or the reputation and human rights of others, otherwise they will be held responsible before the law.
Mike Davis of Global Witness praised the administration for making the plans available, but said the process “seems intended to intimidate” those most desiring access to the plans—community members living near concessions.
In 2002, villagers who picketed the Ministry of Agriculture after original versions of the plans were released were attacked by police brandishing clubs and electric batons.
Than Sarath said the signed statements were intended to protect the Forestry Administration if the plans are used in a disruptive way. “If the reader has ideas for improvement of the plans, that is OK,” he said. “But if they translate it to the political, it is not the Forestry Administration’s responsibility.”