Lack of Transparency a Major Controversy in Cambodian Logging Dispute

1 December 2002

(The following six articles are reprinted with permission from The Cambodia Daily. They provide a vivid description of the importance of transparency and public review. The first article sets the stage, describing the controversy surrounding logging operations in Cambodia supported by the World Bank. The subsequent articles describe vividly the efforts of villagers to obtain copies of Cambodian government documents describing plans for the logging. The villagers protested in front of World Bank offices, only to learn that there weren’t enough copies and that black-and-white copies of the colored maps were unreadable. Eventually only a very limited distribution of the color maps was made. Controversy flared over the adequacy of a 19-day public review period and the accuracy of the documents– IFTI ed.)
Cambodian Villagers Apprehensive About Logging Operations Backed by World Bank. On Monday, the logging plans are slated to become available to the public at the World Bank offices in Phnom Penh, signaling the beginning of a 19-day review period. Forestry officials will use the plans to determine whether companies may resume cutting, ending a logging suspension that began in January. More …

Villages Protest, Beg World Bank to Reveal 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. More …

Cambodian Officials Reject Villagers Demands for Written Information. Forestry Department chief Ty Sokhun turned away about 30 rural villagers seeking copies of forest management plans for their areas, saying that forestry and logging company officials would instead come to their areas and explain the plans to them. More …

World Bank Makes Limited Release of Logging Plans; Villagers Remain Dissatisfied. Wednesday was the third day of a 19-day public review period for the 25-year cutting plans. The plans are supposed to show how cutting can be made sustainable over that period and gauge the environmental and social impacts of the logging. Villagers have also been demanding an extension of the review period to at least three months. More …
Documents Missing from World Bank Office; Reports Called Fraudulent. Several forest management plans the World Bank agreed to make public Monday on behalf of the government’s forestry department were still missing from the Bank’s public information center Friday. More …
Cutting Plans Criticized; Global Witness Seeks Halt to Logging. Three years ago, a major study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank found forests here so depleted, and cutting rates so rapid, that logging was only viable for a few more years on most concessions. In plans made public last week, every logging company appears to claim that they can cut for another 25 years, keep the forest intact and still make a worthwhile economic return. More …

Cambodian Villagers Apprehensive About Logging Operations Backed by World Bank.

By Richard Sine
The Cambodia Daily, November 8, 2002

Siem Pak says he is glad he will get a chance to see a logging company’s plans for sustainable logging of his forest in Stung Treng province. But he has little hope that the company will stop logging the forest his fellow villagers depend on for their daily needs.

"They should draw up the plans so it is clear which forest belongs to the company and which to the community," the Seim Bok district villager said Thursday.

The 25-year logging plans, known as Sustainable Forestry Management Plans, are supposed to allow for areas to be set aside for communal use as dictated by forest concession law, forestry experts say.

But no one from the company, or the government, has asked Siem Pak which parts of the forest are most valuable to villagers, he said. So Siem Pak worries the logging company, Everbright, will continue cutting in areas the villagers go to for food and trading goods when farming gets difficult.

"Traditional people go to the forest to get their living, but since the company came we are losing our livelihoods," he said.

Villagers from several provinces, who gathered in Phnom Penh this week to discuss their rights, said no one from the companies or the government asked them where they go in the forest to collect fruit, vegetables, medicinal herbs, rattan, resin or other products.

Noun Mung, of Preah Vihear province, said she asked the province’s agriculture department to set aside community forest areas, but never received a response. She claims Chendar Plywood is overcutting in her area and never consults villagers, who are losing communal forest.

"They don’t show us plans, they just come and cut," she said.

Though the forestry concession law allows for community forest areas, the community forestry subdecree has not passed-leaving the areas in legal limbo.

Eva Galabru of the forestry watchdog Global Witness, who has seen early drafts of some of the plans, said many companies are arbitrarily mapping out community forest areas-even including areas that are not forested-or simply stating that there are no communal forests in its concession.

On Monday, the logging plans are slated to become available to the public at the World Bank offices in Phnom Penh, signaling the beginning of a 19-day review period. Forestry officials will use the plans to determine whether companies may resume cutting, ending a logging suspension that began in January.

But activists say that 19 days are not nearly enough time to review the plans, many of them thick documents laden with jargon. The government said the plans will be provided to provincial agricultural departments, but has not given definite dates when the plans will be available, they say.

Many villagers living in forest concessions are a few days’ journey from provincial capitals. Villagers need time to identify their community forests and measure the impacts of developments such as roads, activists say.

"Many of the more remote villages located in or near concessions are unlikely to even see management plans within the allotted period for consultations," said Russell Peterson of the NGO Forum, which helps educate villagers about their rights under forestry law.

An NGO official who works with villagers in heavily-forested Ratanakkiri province said many highland minorities living in forest concessions there do not speak Khmer and would require translations, he said. They are currently busy picking rice in highland paddies that are days away from their villages, he said.

"You could take the plans to the village and find nobody there," he said, adding, "two weeks is completely insufficient."

On Thursday, some provincial leaders agreed with the activists. They said they had not heard of when the plans would become available or how they could be viewed by the public.

"If it is two weeks, that will be a very short period," said Preap Tann, governor of Preah Vihear. "We may not know the negative and positive impacts [on people’s livelihoods]."

"We would need at least one month to look at [the plans]," said Vorn Chhunly, first deputy governor of Kratie.

On Thursday activists blasted the World Bank for indicating it will release a $15 million loan it had held up since June as the government blocked both donors and villagers from seeing the plans.

Peterson referred to a comment by a World Bank official that two weeks was "grossly inadequate" as a public review period. The comment was in an e-mail to fellow donors and forestry advisers.

He also referred to a statement to donors from international advisers to the Department of Forestry and Wildlife suggesting that "given the vast expanse of the concessions and the numerous communities involved," a six-month review was more appropriate.

World Bank economist William Magrath said there should be at least one more opportunity for public comment before cutting begins. Companies are expected to produce one or two more short-term plans, and Cambodian forestry law calls for public review and consultation at each step. (Additional reporting by Van Roeun and Yun Samean)


Villages Protest, Beg World Bank to Reveal Logging Plans.

By Richard Sine
and Nou Sophors
The Cambodia Daily, November 12, 2002

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 Tuesday 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.


Cambodian Officials Reject Villagers Demands for Written Information

By Richard Sine
and Nou Sophors
The Cambodia Daily, November 13, 2002

Forestry Department chief Ty Sokhun turned away about 30 rural villagers seeking copies of forest management plans for their areas, saying that forestry and logging company officials would instead come to their areas and explain the plans to them.

Ty Sokhun did not say when the officials would come to the various provinces, but told villagers that "if the company does not discuss with the people yet, they have no right to cut. If they cut, we will punish them."

Villagers went to the World Bank Monday, the beginning of a 19-day public review period for the 25-year cutting plans. The Bank had agreed to keep the plans in its library

But Bank officials balked at making copies for the villagers to take home and said they had only received black-and-white copies, making color-coded maps unreadable.

Villagers vowed Monday to stay until enough color plans were available. Bank officials said Tuesday that one color copy for each concession would be given out Wednesday afternoon. But Nuon Eak of Kratie province said he could not afford to make more color copies, so he was going home Tuesday.

Ty Sokhun also said the plans were "only of interest to foreigners" and that the 19-day period "only applies to people in Phnom Penh." He declined to answer questions from a reporter after the meeting.

Forestry legislation guarantees public review and consultation in development of concession management plans. Some of the plans released Monday stated the 25-year cutting plans would be followed by shorter-term "compartment" plans, including villager consultations. But forestry officials recently suggested to donors that those plans are no longer necessary.

Cambodian Timber Industry Association President Henry Kong said Monday that companies have suggested locations for community forests-areas reserved only for village use-in the long-term plans. Companies will consult with villagers after the plans are approved and will "re-look" at the plan if the villagers disagree with the locations, he said.

The long-term plans were technical and only of interest to forestry experts, so the 19-day review period was sufficient, Kong said.


World Bank Makes Limited Release of Logging Plans; Villagers Remain Dissatisfied

By Richard Sine
and Nou Sophors
The Cambodia Daily, November 14, 2002

Pich Poeun stared at a logging company map Wednesday afternoon and shook his head. The company had reserved an area of "forest" for his village’s use that was really just a field, he said.

"I will go back and we will discuss this with the other villagers," the Preah Vihear resident said.

Pich Poeun and dozens of other villagers from around Cambodia had waited for the plans since Monday, when they were officially made available. But World Bank and forestry department officials said that they could only make copies in black and white, making the maps unreadable.

On Wednesday afternoon, the World Bank distributed a single copy of the plans, and a single color map, for each company. "That’s like giving all of Phnom Penh a single phone book, or giving a single textbook for a school," remarked Eva Galabru of Global Witness, the country’s official forestry monitor.

Villagers reported that a few plans were still not available Wednesday afternoon. Disputes also simmered because some maps covered two provinces and were wanted by more than one group of villagers. Villagers indicated they could not afford to make additional color copies.

Also Wednesday afternoon, opposition leader Sam Rainsy received a surprise when he showed up to read a letter urging the World Bank to improve the public review process. The villagers quickly scattered, only to return a few minutes after the opposition leader left. Villagers said they didn’t want to be seen as partisan.

"We’re very pleased Sam Rainsy is concerned about our problems, but if we’re seen as involved in a party we fear for our safety," Pich Poeun said.

On Tuesday, forestry department chief Ty Sokhun had suggested that the villagers were being steered by outside influences. "Only foreigners are interested in this book," he told villagers. "Maybe somebody took all these people to come here."

The villagers responded that nobody had influenced them to come. Several villagers say logging companies have indiscriminately cut areas they depend on for forest products to consume or trade.

Many of the villagers had come to Phnom Penh the week before for a workshop on their forestry rights sponsored by the NGO Forum. They decided to stay after the workshop ended in order to receive the plans.

NGO Forum policy adviser Andrew Cock said he informs local NGOs in provinces about forestry-related developments in the capital. The local NGOs work with villagers, he said. "Everyone deserves an advocate," he said.

Wednesday was the third day of a 19-day public review period for the 25-year cutting plans. The plans are supposed to show how cutting can be made sustainable over that period and gauge the environmental and social impacts of the logging. Villagers have also been demanding an extension of the review period to at least three months.

On Tuesday, Ty Sokhun told villagers that forestry and company officials would come to villages at a later date to explain the plans. But several villagers Wednesday said they were skeptical that would occur. They said they had not been consulted before cutting began the first time, or before formulation of the current plans.

"I don’t believe they will go and do the right thing," said Peou Pholline of Mondolkiri. "They said they would discuss with the people [before] and they didn’t."

Peou Pholline said the plans for her area mapped out a community forest in an area that had already been logged. Siem Phan, of Stung Treng district, said his map-like Pich Poeun’s-placed a community forest in a field.


Documents Missing from World Bank Office; Reports Called Fraudulent

By Richard Sine
The Cambodia Daily, November 15, 2002

Several forest management plans the World Bank agreed to make public Monday on behalf of the government’s forestry department were still missing from the Bank’s public information center Friday.

Superwood, Samling, Yurey Saco and Kingwood reports or environmental impact statements were missing, in either Khmer or English versions, from the center. All copies at the center were in black-and-white, making color-coded maps unreadable.

Monday marked the beginning of a 19-day public review period for the plans, in which logging companies suggest how logging can occur sustainably over 25 years. Donors, including the World Bank, have told the government that the period is too short to allow full review of the complex plans.

Andrew Cock of NGO Forum, which advocates for villagers living in or near logging areas, said his organization was frantically making copies of the plans for distribution to the provinces. "It’s crazy, how can you do it without enough time and without the documents?," Cock asked.

Leafing through the plans at World Bank Cambodia headquarters Friday, Global Witness director Eva Galabru said some of the plans’ covers don’t match the contents. "Nobody really knows what is there," she said. Global Witness is the country’s official independent forestry monitor.

Meanwhile, Global Witness slammed the reports as fraudulent. "Global Witness was leaked several plans and [environmental impact reports] in advance of the official release date," read a statement released Friday. "Early indications are that forest cover has been grossly overestimated, information has been invented and figures fixed. In some cases data has simply been copied from one plan to another and in others it is evident that community consultation, upon which the [environmental reports] should be based, has not taken place."

Government approval of the plans is the first step towards ending a logging suspension that began in January. Villagers who came to Phnom Penh this week to pick up plan copies said some of the areas reserved for community use in the plans were actually fields, or had already been logged.


Cutting Plans Criticized; Global Witness Seeks Halt to Logging

By Richard Sine
The Cambodia Daily, November 22, 2002

Three years ago, a major study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank found forests here so depleted, and cutting rates so rapid, that logging was only viable for a few more years on most concessions.

In plans made public last week, every logging company appears to claim that they can cut for another 25 years, keep the forest intact and still make a worthwhile economic return.

"Somebody may be kidding themselves," concluded William Magrath, lead natural resource economist at the World Bank’s Cambodia office.

Magrath believes the ADB study numbers are questionable. But he had expected some concession holders to conclude that there were not enough marketable logs to justify keeping their concession for 25 years.

After all, when the government set up the concession system in 1995, it gave many companies concessions that did not contain enough trees in easy-to-reach areas to make logging economically worthwhile, he said.

"The government sold a lot of these concessionaires a bill of goods," he said, using a common idiom implying deception. "A lot of the land is not usable…. Certainly some of these concessions have been heavily exploited and don’t have the materials to support long-term operations."

Some companies seem to have realized this already. In 1995, Magrath calculates, 30 companies had dominion over nearly 6.5 million hectares of forest. Now, 14 companies control 3.87 million hectares. Some companies simply abandoned logged-out concessions; in a few cases, the government canceled concessions of companies for breaking logging rules.

But if the remaining plans are any indication, every remaining concessionaire believes it can succeed over the long haul. For Global Witness, the country’s official forestry monitor, the implication is clear: Somebody is lying.

"The plans say nothing, because the companies say that in five years they’re out of Cambodia," said Marcus Hardtke of Global Witness. "They’re just academic exercises."

With the 25-year cutting plans now under public review, Global Witness is preparing comments claiming that the companies fabricated data on the social and environmental impacts of logging. Global Witness says that the poor state of Cambodia’s forest, and the poor behavior of logging companies, justifies canceling all forest concessions.

The 2000 ADB study recommended halting all logging until new management plans were approved. The government ordered the suspension last December, and the plans were due in September. Now, the Department of Forestry, with the help of World Bank-funded foreign advisers, must decide on the plans-and on the fate of both the forests and the logging companies.

"We have made several inquiries and requests [to the government] not to delay the process any longer," said Henry Kong of the Cambodia Timber Industry Association, which represents logging companies. "Further delay would automatically wipe out a number of players in the industry."

Kong contends that 70,000 or more Cambodian jobs depend on continued logging. Indeed, many of the plans paint a rosy picture of how logging can transform communities for the better. Cambodia Cherndar Plywood, for example, notes that it spent $1 million in 1999 to repair 70 km of road from Preah Vihear town to a village in the logging area. It now maintains the road from Preah Vihear town to Kompong Thom itself at a cost of $300,000 a year, it claims.

"The road has created jobs and income for [villagers] in such easy access for transportation, schooling, medical services, market, etc," the plan says.

The company predicts it will employ 1,720 in logging and milling in Preah Vihear. Thousands more will benefit by selling goods to the logging employees, in what is known as a spillover effect, it says. Many villagers now involved in slash-and-burn agriculture or other harmful practices will gain legal employment, it says.

"The whole rural population will come to appreciate and value the forest resources more, thereby increasing the general awareness for the need to protect and conserve the resource base," the plan says.

Whether the logging company can count on the support of local communities is another matter, however. In Western countries, some of the staunchest support for logging comes from towns that depend on logging jobs. But in Cambodia, many companies have alienated villagers by cutting in areas the villagers depend on for resin, rattan or other forest products.

Noun Mung, a villager in Preah Vihear province, said Cherndar has been cutting communal forest areas without consulting her community. She was in Phnom Penh this month to collect a copy of the plan.

"We have lost our livelihoods, and the company has banned us from the forest," she said, adding, "It all belongs to the community, so the company should not cut."

Though the plans are generally upbeat about logging, they are sometimes surprisingly frank about how Cambodia got into its current situation. Several blame much of the past overlogging on "provincial and powerful military units." But they add: "Some concessionaires were forced by circumstance to ‘recruit’ some of these powerful operators rather than fight them."

The plans include detailed surveys analyzing the livelihoods of people who live in their concession, including how many depend on the forest. They inventory tree types, identify ecologically sensitive areas which should not be cut, and inventory endangered flora and fauna.

The same consultants were used for several plans, resulting in repetition of stock sentences or paragraphs across plans. But Global Witness says some of the data may be fabricated as part of a "cut-and-paste job."

For example, the Silveroad plans for Koh Kong and Pursat discuss plans to conduct a workshop for affected communities in Siem Bok district-which is in Stung Treng. Cherndar’s Preah Vihear plans speak of a wildlife sanctuary adjacent to Mondolkiri.

At least two plans, TPP Cambodia and Yurey Saco, contain clear evidence that they were performed by Department of Forestry foresters-a clear conflict of interest when the department is also supposed to pass judgment on the plans, said Eva Galabru of Global Witness.

The plans have other quirks, Galabru has discovered. Some mention species like saltwater mangrove and jackfruit that wouldn’t be found in forests here, she said. And one plan’s survey of religious groupings lists a significant number of "Brahmins."

Originally the 25-year plans were supposed to be followed by 5-year plans and annual plans before any cutting permits were issued. But in late October meeting forestry officials said the 5-year plans may be unnecessary, frustrating donors.

Magrath said the 5-year plans are necessary to ensure that roads are built wisely and cutting does not occur in areas reserved for endangered animals or communal forestry. Typically, companies have not planned adequately even when it was in their financial interest, he said.

"Concessionaires are not the high quality professionals we’d like them to be…. We know they don’t care about the things the government and public would like them to care about."

Whatever the virtues of the plans, they mean little if the government does not verify their accuracy and ensure that they are carried through properly, Magrath said.

In the plans, the companies promise to log selectively, leaving enough young trees and letting areas lie fallow long enough for the forest to regrow. The government expects companies to "actively discourage" people from using logging roads to enter the forest for destructive activities like wildlife poaching or slash-and-burn agriculture.

But many companies note in the plans that they have no right to arrest those who violate the rules. They also complain of high royalties and taxes that make logging less viable. Meanwhile, the public versions of the plan cut out chapters on financial viability that Global Witness say are key to assessing whether the concessions can work. The companies say the information could hurt their competitive advantage.

Galabru said companies currently make little effort to police the logged-out portions of their concessions, sometimes selling it off for plantations or profiting off illegal logging. The risk is that the companies will build roads, cut out the most valuable trees and disappear, leaving the forest open for destructive use.

"We’re seeing hundreds of hectares disappear between visits," she said.

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