The government and Global Witness signed an agreement Tuesday on new reporting procedures, four months after the independent forestry monitor was nearly thrown out of the country for releasing a scathing report on illegal logging just ahead of a donor meeting.
The reporting protocol gives government officials 15 days to review and comment on Global Witness reports before they are released to the public and stipulates which ministries and donors must receive copies. Government responses must accompany any Global Witness report released to the public.
Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Global Witness in January of trying to embarrass the government by releasing its report before the donor meeting. Government officials said Global Witness should have given the government a chance to review the report and respond before it was given to the media.
Hun Sen relented on his threat to kick Global Witness out of Cambodia, but the watchdog’s activities were hampered by flagging cooperation with the government as the two sides negotiated new operating procedures.
“We never stopped working, our work just became more difficult,” Global Witness Coordinator Eva Galabru said. She said Global Witness staff have had a hard time conducting investigations and gathering information from government ministries.
“For four months, the project just came to a standstill,” said Patrick Lyng, chief technical advisor for the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting project, which is partnered with Global Witness. During that time, Lyng said, there were indications that illegal activities increased.
Urooj Malik, Asian Development Bank resident representative, said the main issue in the recent negotiations was determining a procedure for Global Witness to release reports on ongoing illegal logging activity and, at the same time, work as a partner with the Cambodian government.
The government and Global Witness also “have the obligation to supply supporting documentation to the highest extent possible,” according to the new protocol. Information requested in writing about illegal activities, contracts and permits must be supplied within 10 days. In the past, terms of some logging-concession contracts were kept secret.
But the clause is also aimed at Global Witness. Hun Sen accused the group in January of making statements without supporting evidence, including allegations that government officials were involved in illegal logging.
The protocol allows Global Witness to release individual forest crime reports, so long as the government has been consulted and given adequate time to respond. Global Witness is given more latitude to release reports to donors or the public if it believes there has been a coverup of forest crimes.
Chan Tong Yves, acting minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Global Witness will decide its own future in Cambodia. “If Global Witness abides by the protocol, the work will move ahead,” he said.
Galabru said future success of the group will “depend on the goodwill of the parties involved.”
Since the end of 1999, Global Witness has served as independent monitor in the Forest Crime Monitoring and Reporting project, which has been extended through May of 2003. Though the group has issued several biting reports, January was the first time the government threatened the group with expulsion.
The International Monetary Fund stressed at the time that for the IMF to continue to extend loans to Cambodia, Global Witness had to remain as an independent forestry monitor.
In a letter to the government in February, Global Witness apologized for publishing its report “without prior consultation with Cambodian authorities.”