The Forestry Administration has begun reorganizing part of its internal hierarchy by breaking up a northern forestry administrative zone in a bid to curb illegal logging, and could do likewise in other parts of the country.
The structure of the Forestry Administration, which was created in 2003, differs from that of government ministries as its lower reaches are divided into four inspectorates and then further sub-divided into 15 cantonments that can cover more than one province and are in turn sub-divided into 55 divisions and 170 so-called “triages.”
Environmental campaigners Global Witness said in 2007 that the organization’s structure was “incompatible” with that of other state institutions.
Thun Sarath, spokesman for the Forestry Administration, said Monday that the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Siem Reap—previously covered by a single cantonment—would now have their own individual forestry chiefs.
He said the order signed by Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun last week had taken effect on Monday and that the chief of the former cantonment, Chheang Tola, would now head Banteay Meanchey province, while his former deputies, Tea Kimsoth and Em Mony, would head Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey provinces respectively.
“If we compare the management of bigger areas with smaller areas, it is more effective,” he said, adding that the administration may also decide to split up cantonments elsewhere “if necessary.”
There is currently no plan to sub-divide the administration’s four inspectorates, he said.
Von Bunthoeun, a forestry official in Oddar Meanchey’s Chongkal district, said he welcomed the move, as it would put him closer to the cantonment’s head office and streamline his work.
“I think it will be more convenient for us to have meetings with [the chief] because he is in the province,” he said.
Some of the local NGOs that monitor the country’s forestry sector also cautiously welcomed the move yesterday.
“The former cantonment was too big,” said Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International. “I think three people in three provinces is better than three provinces in one cantonment. But I’m not sure, maybe we wait and see.”
Though cautious about prescribing a similar split for the Forestry Administration’s other cantonments, Mr Bunra said the idea had some merit.
“If they divide [authority] province by province it may be better,” he said, but noted that some province may not need their own cantonment because they have little or no forests to monitor.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor at the human rights organization Adhoc, also liked the idea of giving each province its own dedicated forestry chief, but said the administration would still need to find the personal will to go after the government officials and businessmen often accused of helping drive Cambodia’s illegal logging trade.
“If they are unable to crack down on the illegal logging committed by rich and powerful people, I think it will not work well,” he said.
The Forestry Administration’s hierarchy was intended to spawn more autonomous oversight of Cambodia’s forests. However, a 2004 World Bank review of the forestry sector found that it tied regional staff to Phnom Penh while sacrificing accountability on the ground.
“By having frequently deviated from forest boundaries in favor of administrative boundaries, the new [administration’s] structure has created a worst of both worlds situation where local [administration] staff are internally accountable to national supervision in respect of areas otherwise locally administered,” the World Bank said at the time.
“Moreover, the [administration’s] structure has been devised in isolation from serious examination of budgetary realities and other constraints. This will leave operational units…chronically short of resources with inadequate oversight, support and a lack of accountability.”