Conservationists have demanded that the government release logging company plans currently under review at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries that would lay the foundation for loggers to resume cutting in Cambodia’s forests.
The plans—which include detailed inventories of trees still standing and an explanation of how each logging company intends to log without permanently harming the forests—are intended to be the first step toward lifting the logging moratorium that Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered at the start of this year.
The conservationists, including representatives from the NGO Forum, Global Witness and Oxfam, say the public must see the plans before they are completed to ensure that public interests are not jeopardized by the resumption of logging.
“The law is clear: These plans must be released upon request. This is not simply a matter of disclosure, this is an issue of substantive consultation over the best use of a valuable state asset,” Andrew Cock, forest policy adviser with the NGO Forum, said in a statement.
The Forest Concession Management Subdecree says that communities living near cutting areas will have a chance to give their input on the plans before they are completed.
Ten or 11 of the 15 logging companies operating in Cambodia have submitted their plans so far, according to Yann Petrucci, a consultant with the French company Forest Resources Management who was hired by the World Bank to assist the Agriculture Ministry’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife with forest management.
“The management plans are here in my office,” Petrucci said. “I am working on these documents…and I hope in a few days it will be finalized.”
Petrucci said he assumed that the plans would be made public some time after they were reviewed by his office so that people living near the cutting areas could give their opinions.
But Cock and others said the plans should be released now.
“There have been noises about ‘We will make them public but not yet,’” said Eva Galabru, country director of Global Witness’ Cambodian office. “The question is why? I don’t think anybody really understands why these management plans were not being made public when they were submitted.
“The whole point of the exercise is to attain sustainable management, and that won’t be achieved without transparency and participation.”
Three million of Cambodia’s 12 million residents live within 30 km of a logging area, according to a 2000 World Food Program study.
Conservationists say the people living near the concessions must be allowed to help manage the forests, because many of them survive on forest products like resin, vines and firewood they harvest themselves.
“Environmental issues and the rights of rural communities should be the pre-eminent government concerns in the forest concession planning process,” said Mike Bird, program coordinator for Oxfam Great Britain.