Government and World Bank officials are satisfied with the work of the government’s independent forestry watchdog, saying it is benefiting the country as a whole.
Environmental groups, however, continue to question whether Societe Generale de Surveillance is doing enough to fight forest crime in the country, saying it hasn’t made any effort to dig below the surface of illegal logging.
Nisha Agrawal, World Bank country manager, wrote in an e-mail message on Sept 8 that despite initial problems, “SGS has been getting better and better at their job.
“Organizations such as SGS that are working with the government to build their capacity to tackle these challenges are very important,” she added.
During a presentation last week, SGS officials outlined what they had accomplished since the government awarded them a three-year contract that started in December 2003.
SGS project manager Robert Tennent said the Swiss company initially interpreted its contract very strictly, limiting field trips to a minimum and relying on Forestry Administration and Environment Ministry reports to conduct its work.
“Now we are more and more going out and finding forest crime,” he said.
“This is not done per se to go out and find forest crime, but to find out and gauge how much forestry crime is there.”
The company has one clear purpose through its contract, Tennent said.
“We are not forest crime fighters. We are advisers to the government. It is not our role to question, it is to advise and assist.”
Hong Narit, Agriculture Ministry cabinet chief, said the government has been “more or less satisfied” with SGS and dismissed criticism.
“We can say that those terms of reference were agreed upon with all the concerned parties, including the World Bank,” he said.
But Seng Teak, World Wildlife Fund program director, said the company’s reports “do not dig into the issues,” while Mike Davis of Global Witness questioned why SGS does not try to find who is behind illegal logging, adding that Cambodian taxpayers will eventually have to foot the bill for what he said he felt was a waste of money.