Press Release / Nov. 14, 2002

Cambodia's forests are being stolen from under the nose of the World Bank

Global Witness has been calling for the cancellation of all forest concession agreements in Cambodia since 1996. These companies have consistently logged illegally and with impunity because of their familial and financial links to senior politicians and forest department staff. However, the World Bank has pursued a policy of concessionaire reform rather than insisting on cancellation.

"It was pure fantasy for the World Bank to think it could encourage the likes of Pheapimex, Kingwood and Everbright to log sustainably. The concessionaires are not moral entities, if they know they can get away with logging illegally they will," said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.

As part of the reform process the companies were required to produce new Management Plans and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) originally due by the 30th September 2001, but the deadline was extended by a year after pressure from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW). Public disclosure of these plans for community consultation is a legal requirement and was linked by the Bank to the release of a $15 million Structural Adjustment Credit. The plans were finally released on the 11th November 2002 for a 19-day consultation period and the Bank has confirmed that the loan will be disbursed.

"The public are being given only 19 days to review forest concession management plans instead of the six months deemed necessary by World Bank consultants. Yet the same World Bank has deemed that 19 days is sufficient to justify the release of a $15 million loan; this is complete nonsense," said Jon Buckrell.

Three million people live within 30 kilometres of a logging concession. It is essential that forest dependent communities have access to the plans and ESIAs before they are finalised, because they deal with access to the forest, access to non-timber forest products and the provision of community forests. Public disclosure of the plans descended into farce earlier this week as DFW referred community representatives to the World Bank and the Bank shut its gates claiming that it did not have sufficient funds to make photocopies. In contrast, the Bank has made $5 million available to DFW, for the purchase of cars and computers and for technical assistance, under its Concession Management Project.

"The implementation of these plans will directly affect millions of Cambodia's poorest people yet the Bank only ensured a handful of copies were made available. I hope the irony that Bank staff were conducting a 'poverty reduction workshop' whilst villagers outside were begging for the plans will not be lost on their superiors in Washington," said Buckrell.

Global Witness was leaked several plans and ESIAs in advance of the official release date. Early indications are that forest cover has been grossly overestimated, information has been invented and figures fixed. In some cases data have simply been copied from one plan to another and in others it is evident that community consultation, upon which the ESIAs should be based, has not taken place.

"The danger is that substandard plans will legitimise bad practice and that Cambodia's forests will in effect have been stolen from the Cambodian people by a handful of individuals who treat the forest resource as their private property. The fact that the World Bank appears to be sanctioning this is incomprehensible."

The debacle in Cambodia is being played out at time when the World Bank in Washington has adopted a new forest policy. A key aspect of this is the resumption of Bank funding for logging operations.

"The Bank should reconsider its decision to resume funding logging in the light of its experiences in Cambodia. It is madness to throw cash at logging companies in countries where governance is so weak and corruption is rife," said Buckrell.