The environmental watchdog Global Witness is urging Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and opposition figure Sam Rainsy to move quickly on forestry reform.
Patrick Alley, a director of the London-based group, said in an interview by e-mail that if the new government doesn’t control illegal logging, it will show that it truly does not care about the future of the country’s forests.
Alley also said that ministers should be forced to declare their financial assets at the beginning of their tenure, a common practice in many democracies. “And any surprising increases in their wealth should be questioned in open debate—with loss of office a possible penalty for exploiting their position.”
A recent World Bank-funded study estimates that Cambodia’s commercially valuable forests essentially will be logged out in five years if current harvesting rates are allowed to continue. All three political parties at least paid lip service to stopping illegal logging during their campaigns.
“Over the past few years more and more Cambodian people, at all levels of society, have become aware that illegal logging and deforestation are serious threats to Cambodia’s future,” Alley wrote in an “open letter” to the three political leaders dated Aug 14.
The next five years, he said, “represent a valuable opportunity for the CPP, Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party to work together to protect Cambodia’s forests, implement forest policy reform and to weed out corruption.”
In his open letter, Alley also noted that a CPP official recently acknowledged that a first ever Khmer-language Global Witness report on deforestation had hurt the party’s popularity, especially in Kratie province.
“Global Witness welcomes the recognition by [the] CPP that the illegal and unsustainable exploitation of Cambodia’s forests is a vote loser.”
In a separate e-mail, Alley said he is hoping the political environment is ripe for improvements.
“Following the July 1997 fighting, Hun Sen had bills to pay, had to keep his military and supporters wsweet, and paid for most of this by allowing the frenzied logging that certainly took place,” Alley wrote. “Now [that] he seems securely in power, he has the chance to clean up his logging act for the future benefit of Cambodia and its people.”
Alley said the new government’s failure to do so will show “they truly do not give a damn.”