Villagers Beg World Bank for Logging Plans

About 40 villagers from several provinces vowed to sleep on the sidewalk in front of the World Bank Monday until they received copies of logging plans for the areas in which they lived.

At one point dropping to their haunches and pressing their hands together in supplication, the villagers begged World Bank officials for the right to see the plans in their areas Monday, only to be told there weren’t enough copies and that the maps would be unreadable.

On Monday evening the villagers said they didn’t have the money to return to Phnom Penh later, and that the public review period for the plans was too brief to allow delay.

“If we do not receive any plans we will not go back,” said Moanh Sam of Kratie province. “We will stay here until we get the plans.”

Monday was the first day of a 19-day public review period for the plans, which indicate where and how cutting is to occur over the next 25 years.

Villagers who arrived in the morning were told to return in the afternoon to be able to look at copies. They returned in the afternoon accompanied by about a dozen NGO officials. Guards closed the gate as a World Bank official negotiated release of the plans.

World Bank official Steven Schonberger said two copies were available in the reading room. When the villagers de­manded copies to take to their villages, negotiations went on through the afternoon about who would make or pay for those copies. The World Bank’s gates remained closed.

“It looks like [the government and the World Bank] all together tried to cheat the public,” said Sam Rainsy parliamentarian Son Chhay, who negotiated on behalf of villagers.

Son Chhay said the delayed release of the plans spoke poorly for the World Bank’s declarations of openness and shed doubt on the viability of the plans.

A receptionist at the World Bank said the government’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife delivered copies to the World Bank on Monday morning. The World Bank had agreed to assist the department in releasing the plans.

After agreeing to make a copy of the plans for each logging concession, Schonberger told villagers that the government had given the World Bank only black-and-white copies. The villagers said that rendered them useless because the logging maps were color-coded. Schonberger said he would ask the department for color plans this morning.

As part of the plans, the logging companies were required to consult with villagers to determine which areas should be protected as community forest, where villagers go for their daily needs. But villagers said they were not consulted.

Villagers took up NGO de­mands for an extension of the review period, saying they did not have enough time to read and review the plans.

Schonberger said the World Bank and other donors had asked the government to lengthen the review period. He said the World Bank had succeeded in pushing the government toward openness. “It’s not insignificant that there is some public disclosure,” he told the crowd. “It’s a first, it’s a start.”

But he also reaffirmed that the World Bank planned on releasing a $15 million loan that it had held up while demanding public release of the plans. “The government’s actions are consistent with what we agreed to in the conditions of the [Structural Adjust­ment Credit] release,” he said.

He said the loan conditions did not specifically mention public review, only general policy reforms. The World Bank is the forestry department’s biggest funder.

Meanwhile, NGO Forum forestry policy specialist Andrew Cock said the World Bank’s conduct had rendered the public review period “a farce.”

Forestry activists said the World Bank was not taking public review seriously.

“This is all law,” said Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness, the government’s official logging monitor. “It’s not just a nice gesture from the World Bank or the forestry department…this is totally pathetic.”

NGO Forum estimates that      3 million people live within 30 km of a logging concession. It is unclear how those people will gain access to the plans.

At a Oct 29 meeting, forestry officials told donors that plans would be sent to provincial agriculture departments after copies were sent to the World Bank, World Bank resource economist William Magrath said after that meeting. Magrath, the lead official in the Phnom Penh office on forestry reform, is currently in Laos.

The scene at the World Bank Monday left Jurgen Hess, a German forestry department adviser, shaking his head. “I expected guys to be coming in and walking out with the plans,” he said.

 

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