In a report released today Global Witness shines a light on Cambodia’s shadowy timber business where corruption is so entrenched that almost everyone, in a position to do so, appears to be taking their cut. The costs of weak forest sector governance, in terms of lost revenues, destruction of rural livelihoods and environmental damage continue to mount. Cambodia is currently in the grip of a serious drought that threatens severe food shortages in some areas.
The report “Taking a Cut – Institutionalised Corruption and Illegal Logging in Cambodia’s Aural Wildlife Sanctuary” reveals in minute detail, where illegal logging is taking place, how the loggers operate, who they are, and whom they are paying off.
“Name any law enforcement agency or department of government, from the Forest Administration to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, from the Police to Military Intelligence, even Unit B-70 the Prime Minister’s body guards, are involved in the destruction of the Aural Wildlife Sanctuary,” said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.
Soon after taking office, in early 1999, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen staked his job on the government’s ability to stamp out illegal logging. However, loggers continue to operate with impunity throughout Cambodia protected by the very agencies charged with eliminating this illicit trade. Corruption, the festering sore at the heart of the problem, has never been addressed.
“In one instance we discovered an official register of illegal operators including details of their equipment and their home addresses, but rather than using this for enforcement purposes it is being used as the basis for extortion.” said Buckrell.
Corruption is so widespread that it is inconceivable that senior officials within the relevant government agencies are not aware of it. In fact, in many instances it is the senior officials and high-ranking officers that are encouraging, if not compelling, their subordinates to act in this way.
“Back in Phnom Penh it seems the only senior officers, officials and politicians that don’t have their fingers in the pie are sitting on their hands doing nothing; the same applies to the donor community.” said Buckrell.
The government is almost completely dependent on foreign cash to balance the books. In the run-up to the Cambodian Consultative Group (CG) meeting on 6 and 7 December Global Witness is calling on the international donor community to tie the disbursement of non-humanitarian aid to demonstrable progress in addressing corruption and increasing transparency. These measures should include, but not be limited to, full disclosure of documents of public interest relating to the forest sector and the creation of a register of business and familial links to the timber trade for politicians, civil servants and military officers.
“The Prime Minister should set the standard for others in power by declaring his own business interests, and his familial links to the timber trade. Only by delivering full transparency will the Prime Minister make good on his promise to eliminate illegal logging in Cambodia,” Jon Buckrell said.
“Past good work from a number of donors is now thoroughly tainted by the recent years of lacklustre and inconsistent performance from the wider donor community,” added Global Witness Director, Simon Taylor. “The result is there for all to see – systemic corruption permeates all sectors of government.”
The donors need to deliver substantive action on combating corruption rather than settling for another round of hollow pledges from the Cambodian government. “If they can’t get this right in Cambodia, what hope for sustainable development and an end to conflict in other resource-rich but impoverished countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Angola?” said Taylor.
Copies of ‘Taking a Cut’ are available on the Global Witness website www.globalwitness.org. Within Cambodia, hard copies are available from NGO Forum on Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
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Press Release / Nov. 18, 2004