The government is committed to reforming its natural resource management policies, though some reforms aren’t possible or will hurt the country’s future, Prime Minister Hun Sen told senior donor representatives on Thursday.
With the government showing little progress toward such reforms over the past six months and potentially violent land disputes becoming increasingly common, donors had called the meeting to address the issue with top government leaders in mid-June.
“[The donors] wanted to know clearly the government’s stance on strengthening and implementing the Land Law by respecting people’s rights and recognizing the environmental impact,” Prak Sokhonn, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, told reporters following the four-hour meeting.
He said Hun Sen was against maintaining a moratorium on economic land concessions. Cambodia has more than 2 million hectares of land that needs to be developed which the government is seeking investment for, Prak Sokhom said.
“The government is encouraging investors to plant any crop that can generate money and help the environment,” he said. “Cambodia has no money to plant anything on that land.”
In addition, Prak Sokhonn said that while the government would provide some details on existing and future concessions, it could not provide full disclosure of concession contracts because it would break agreements.
“Hun Sen told donors the government can release public information—company names, concession locations, sizes and length of time—but not the contract because it is commercially confidential,” Prak Sokhonn said.
The premier also told donors the majority of rural villagers use wood for fuel and construction, meaning domestic demand for wood was leading to illegal logging. There was no indication, however, that the ban on logging would end.
A senior diplomat who was at the meeting said Hun Sen also told donors he was in favor of a 10,000-hectare limit on concession sizes and would re-examine holes in the draft Economic Land Concession law highlighted by the donors.
The senior diplomat said Hun Sen also said there would be several conditions on concessions, including: If a land dispute with local people erupts, the concession company must stop operations until the issue is resolved. In addition, concessions must not effect farms and should help local people.
“He clearly said that local people must have priority,” the senior diplomat said.
When asked why Hun Sen would bring up these issues six months after he had already agreed to such reforms, the senior diplomat said the premier had said he was unaware of the potential problems in December.
“I understood he had the feeling he was not correctly advised,” the senior diplomat said.
The senior diplomat said Thursday’s meeting showed the government was willing to address donors’ concerns but only time would tell what actions would be taken.
“We made it clear, of course, that time is an important factor,” the diplomat said.