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.”