World Bank Will Investigate Forestry Project

The World Bank has agreed to in­­vestigate its controversial Forest Concession Management and Con­trol Pilot Project in Cambodia, NGO Forum and Global Witness said Tuesday.

The World Bank project, which al­­lows logging companies to manage tracts of forest contracted to them by the government, has long been criticized by environmentalists who say it’s not trans­pa­rent and harms local communities.

Russell Peterson, director of NGO Forum, said he was in­formed of the decision Friday.

The notification was signed by Eduardo Abbott, the executive sec­retary of the World Bank’s In­spec­tion Panel, Peterson said. The pa­nel is independent and reports di­rectly to the board of the World Bank, he added.

“Our hope is that an inspection would lead to rectifications in the World Bank approach [to] the for­estry sector in Cambodia,” Pet­er­son said.

Mike Davis of Global Witness said he hoped the probe will ex­amine how World Bank staff, who he ac­cused of failing to supervise the project adequately, carried out the project. “The essence of the project has been to favor companies which have impoverished Cambo­dia ra­ther than benefiting the people,” he said.

The World Bank had not re­sponded to queries about its investigation by Tuesday evening.

Davis and Peterson both said they were unaware of how the in­ves­tigation will be conducted or when it will start.

During his February visit to Cam­bodia, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said the Bank was “taking another look [at the con­­­cession system] to see if we have screwed up.”

On March 14, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the resumption of the government’s controversial land concession practice, re­versing an order issued last year to end the awarding of large tracts of public land to private companies. Hun Sen called the practice “a necessary way to attract investment.”

In Geneva on April 19, Peter Leu­precht, UN human rights en­voy to Cambodia, said the premier’s move was “highly regrettable.”

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