Hun Sen Declares Major Forestry Shakeup

In what he characterized as a shakeup aimed at curtailing the autocratic whims of the forestry and fisheries administrations, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Thursday that he was placing both bodies under the authority of provincial governments.

The premier delivered a speech canvassing a wide range of environmental issues in which he also said those holding remaining forest concessions—which date back to the 1990s and were placed under moratorium in 2001—must hand them back or have them forcibly reclaimed by the state.

“Previously, the forestry and fisheries administrations were not under the sub-national authorities,” Mr. Hun Sen said in closing remarks at the Agriculture Ministry’s annual meeting.

“They are an empire that does not listen to anybody…in provincial departments of agriculture, there are no forestry and fisheries administrations there, only agronomy, animal health, [and] others.”

Placing both administrations under the authority of provincial governments would end a cycle of blame and bring coherent structure to their operations, the premier said. “Now, put it under only one [body], and if you have anything [to discuss], talk to the provincial governors who are the chairmen of provincial authorities directly,” he said.

The move comes amid broader changes to the ways government bodies overseeing forestry and land issues interact. Thirteen protected forests were transferred from the Agriculture Ministry’s portfolio to the Environment Ministry’s, while 73 economic land concessions were placed under the oversight of the former body in a sub-decree issued by Mr. Hun Sen late last month.

In an apparent cleaning of house, Mr. Hun Sen on Thursday said it was time for 12 companies controlling long-dormant forest concessions of the 1990s—also known as logging or timber concessions—to be handed back to the government.

“Now, companies can volunteer to write letters to give back [forest concessions]…to the government, but for those who do not give it back, we would take it back,” he said.

Chheng Kim Sun, director of the Forestry Administration, explained that since the 2001 moratorium, which also required existing forest concessionaires to submit sustainable management plans, none of them had been active.

“In order to terminate the binding [contracts]—and waiting for them is also useless—the government asked them to volunteer to terminate the contracts,” he said.

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