Forestry officials announced Tuesday that they will allow public review of logging companies’ cutting plans, though donors and logging watchdogs say the review period will be too short to allow sufficient comment on the complex plans.
Forestry officials said they will deposit the plans at the World Bank in Phnom Penh by Nov 11, said William Magrath, lead natural resource economist at the bank’s Cambodia office. The bank is the major funder of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife, chartered with policing the country’s forests.
The World Bank had been withholding a $15 million loan to the government for general operating expenses while the government hesitated to release the plans. With the government’s agreement to release the plans, the so-called Structural Adjustment Credit should be released by the end of the year, Magrath said.
The plans will be kept in the office’s Public Information Center, Magrath said. Officials said provincial forestry departments and agriculture bureaus will release the reports later in the month, Magrath said.
The forestry officials announced the plans in a meeting with donors Tuesday morning. Forestry chief Ty Sokun could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The public review period will end Nov 30, meeting participants said. That gives the public and donors 19 days to review the plans and make suggestions to the Department of Forestry and Wildlife.
Government officials indicated, however, that they may accept comments after the Nov 30 deadline if the government’s review process is not complete by then, Magrath said. In June, the government told donors it would terminate logging concessions with companies that have submitted inadequate plans by Dec 30, Magrath said.
Dubbed Sustainable Forest Management Plans, the plans include detailed inventories of trees and natural resources, new logging road routes and 25-year cutting plans designed to give cut areas time to regrow.
The public version of the plans will not include economic information seen as proprietary, including revenue estimates and road-building costs, Magrath said.
Many of the plans are heavy tomes exceeding 100 pages, full of technical data and jargon. Donors had originally suggested giving the public and experts at least two months to review the plans.
“I think the behavior of the department on this issue…is a disgrace,” said Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness, the government’s designated watchdog on forestry issues. “Donor pressure has forced them to make these plans public, and still the process is not really clear.”
Forestry officials have been under pressure for months to make the plans public both to donors and to villagers living in areas affected by cutting. At the annual donors’ meeting this June the government agreed to make the plans public “immediately.”
But donors said they were still put off. Representatives from 42 villages in four provinces affected by the proposed logging sent letters requesting to see the plans, but government officials did not accept the letters, according to NGO Forum, which assisted the villagers.
The remoteness of many villages affected means that the review time is “entirely inadequate,” said one NGO staffer who has monitored the process. He noted that the 19-day review period includes the Water Festival holidays. “Obviously things have been done with a purpose.”