World Bank Defends Role in Forestry Sector

The World Bank defended its role in the forestry sector Wednes­day, after weeks of re­ceiving widespread criticism from environmentalists and donors over Bank-sponsored plans to al­low the transport of logs cut be­fore logging was banned at the end of 2001.

In the page-long statement, Pe­ter Stephens, the Bank’s regional com­munications manager for East Asia, condemned government corruption as he responded to worries over reports last month by government officials that the Bank was backing their plan to free up the transport of logs.

Environmentalists and donors have opposed the plan, which they said could be used as a cover for illegal logging and may tram­ple the rights of indigenous communities affected by logging.

“The donors working in Cam­bodia, including the World Bank, in response to a proposal from the Cambodian Govern­ment to move and sell logs (some of which may have been illegally cut), warned the Government of a number of serious risks to their plan and also proposed measures for ensuring that the revenue from any timber sales were used in a transparent manner to benefit the poor,” Stephens wrote.

Despite those risks, World Bank officials said they would con­tinue to work with the government to move the plan forward.

Environmentalists, however, con­tinue to criticize the plan.

“The function of logging transport will almost certainly lead to movement of old logs cut illegally and is bad news for communities dependent on forestry in Cam­bo­dia,” Russell Peterson, repre­sen­ta­tive for NGO Forum of Cambo­dia, said Wednesday.

Mike Davis of forestry watchdog Global Witness, the most vo­cal critic of the plan, said the Bank’s statement failed to ad­dress the specific objections that have been raised about the plan, in­clud­ing questions over how the tran­sport of logs should be regulated.

Stephens wrote in the statement that a more detailed re­sponse to questions that have been raised will be released next week, and affirmed the Bank’s in­tention to fight corruption.

“The forestry sector in Cambo­dia is badly affected by corruption and, unless properly managed, will not only fail to deliver adequate resources to the people of the country but could actually make the poor even worse off,” he wrote.

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