The government has submitted its forest monitor bid evaluation report—nominating Swiss accounting firm Societe Generale de Surveillance as Global Witness’ successor—to the World Bank for consideration, World Bank natural resource economist Bill Magrath said Thursday.
Magrath said “there are business transactions in progress,” and the World Bank will likely “give conclusions to the government next week.” He declined to comment further on the matter.
SGS is under contract to the government to inspect goods arriving in Cambodian ports and to ensure the collection of appropriate taxes and duties. That relationship began in 1999.
SGS could not be reached for comment Thursday. However, an SGS representative said last week that he was not aware his company had been nominated, after Forestry Department Director Ty Sokhun had unofficially announced the news earlier that day.
Marcus Hardtke of recently displaced Global Witness expressed amusement that the World Bank needed time to ponder its conclusion, as the organization had attempted to broker a previous contract for SGS.
“The World Bank was trying to contract SGS to do inventory of logs about a year ago when logs were still out in the countryside,” Hardtke said. A ban on logging and the timber transport was already in place, but the World Bank had hoped SGS would also devise a good plan for transporting logs, Hardtke said.
“But then the Ministry of Agriculture [effectively] lifted the moratorium and logs were transported after dark,” he said, adding that the government refused to halt transports for two to three months, until all the logs had been collected.
“It was embarrassing for the World Bank,” Hardtke said.
The government apparently has considered SGS a friendlier alternative to Global Witness at least since March 2002. At a government-sponsored logging forum on the 28th of that month, officials complained that Global Witness sought “only to please themselves” and, to the dismay of some donor representatives present, mentioned SGS as a possibly more suitable partner.
SGS, which bills itself on its Web site as “the world’s leading verification, testing and certification company,” holds contracts worldwide, from wool testing in Australia to mini-cab inspections in London.
But it remains to be seen what approach SGS would take to investigating forestry crimes in Cambodia.
Hardtke said the company currently tracks timber shipments in Papua New Guinea with the cooperation of logging companies there. But “log tracking is not forest monitoring,” Hardtke said. “It’s an accounting thing, and they are good at that. But what they will do here is unclear.”
The government fired Global Witness in April after years of accusing the monitor of producing exaggerated, embarrassing reports.