Made up of officials from 16 government ministries and five national authorities, and covering an administrative area of 15 provinces, the Tonle Sap Basin Authority would have had an unreasonably expansive membership and mandate, the Council of Ministers decided last week.
Established by royal decree in September 2007, the Tonle Sap Basin Authority was originally given broad but undefined “roles and duties for coordination of the management, conservation and development of the Tonle Sap basin areas.”
The draft decree rejected by the council on May 29 was to have given the authority some teeth by outlining its proposed physical boundaries, which were to be defined by the border with Thailand to the north and west, across through Battambang, Pursat, Kompong Chhnang, Kom
pong Speu and Kandal provinces as far as Phnom Penh in the south, and weave through Kom-
pong Cham, Kompong Thom, Kratie, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces in the east.
But members of the plen-
ary meeting of the Council of Ministers refused to support the draft because the area covered by the authority was too large, and its power had confusing overlaps with many ministries and other authorities, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said this week.
“Its jurisdiction was very broad; that’s why Samdech Premier [Hun Sen] asked to forward it back for further discussion,” he said.
“There is no controversy here, but we could not coordinate,” Mr Siphan said of the proposed mega-authority.
Both the Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture are currently members of the authority, and although it has existed for more than a year and a half, its exact responsibilities have yet to be defined.
While the authority is expected to be powerful, those involved with it were unable this week to really define what it’s going to do.
“It’s important for the people and the government and the whole world,” said Ly Thuch, second vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, who is an adviser to the authority.
“The responsibility is to help the government to work on the preservation and management of Tonle Sap for a sustainable fu-
ture,” he said, though he declined to explain further about that work.
“We meet from time to time, and we meet with the development partners…. Principally, we discuss about roles and responsibilities and how to carry out tasks,” Mr Thuch added.
Neou Bonheur, deputy secretary-general of the authority, said the authority is still in search of a role.
“At the moment, the Tonle Sap Basin Authority is still working on how it can be involved…. We’re still in the process of fine-tuning how it will work.”
“I think the authority will ensure that any project designed and proposed by the private sector and other agencies would go through an environmental impact assessment,” he said, adding that he hopes the authority will have a more definitive plan of action within a few months.
Chhay Sareth, newly appointed provincial council chairman for Pursat and former governor of the province, said Wednesday that the authority would help to coordinate power struggles be-
tween local administration officers in managing the natural resources in and surrounding Tonle Sap lake.
“The protection of the lake necessarily needs an authority like at Angkor,” said Chhay Sareth, noting that provincial authorities were unable to manage the basin properly due to the problem of interference from stronger administrative institutions in Phnom Penh.
“If the authority has more power and jurisdiction above all these powers, then the management would be far better off,” he said.
Environmental and conservation groups working in the basin said this week that they too only knew vaguely of the authority, and what it will do.
“I’m not very sure about this authority,” said Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International.
“I just learned that they have it.”