Groups Divided on Gov’t Forestry Watchdog

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.


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