Natural Resource Governance – A Test of Political Will for the Cambodian Government and the International Donor Community

The near total absence of promised reforms of natural resource management forms the backdrop to an impromptu meeting tomorrow between Cambodia’s main international donors and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

At a Consultative Group (CG) meeting of donors and senior officials last December the government made commitments to improve governance of forests, land and other natural resources. These measures, which focus on increasing transparency, are desperately needed to stem the escalation of secret deals between rapacious crony companies and corrupt officials who are despoiling the country’s natural heritage and impoverishing ordinary Cambodians. They included a pledge to disclose ‘immediately’ basic details of private concessions on state-owned natural resources. Six months on there has been no such disclosure and the problems associated with the concessions have only multiplied.

“After more than a decade of donor assistance and CG meetings, the gap between rhetoric and action is as wide as ever,” said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness. “This stretches to breaking point not only the credibility of the government, but also that of the donor community. Tomorrow’s meeting is a test of donor willingness to insist on reforms that will benefit the ordinary Cambodians they claim they are here to help rather than pander to the interests of corrupt officials and powerful oligarchs.”

The urgency of the situation is illustrated by the continued activities of well-connected Cambodian company Pheapimex and its associates. Pheapimex is the local partner of Chinese plantation firm Wuzhishan LS; which last year secretly acquired an economic land concession in northeastern Mondulkiri province 20 times larger than the legal limit of 10,000 hectares. Wuzhishan LS / Pheapimex have since demonstrated an unmitigated disregard for the rights of local people which is staggering even by Cambodian standards. Months of land-grabbing, bulldozing of spirit forests and destruction of crops have driven members of the Phnong minority to a series of public protests which are now being met with threats by the security forces.

Meanwhile, Global Witness has uncovered new evidence of organised commercial logging in Pheapimex’s forest concession in Kompong Thom province, three and a half years after the government suspended all logging concession operations. In every year between 2001 and 2004, Global Witness caught Pheapimex subcontractors and members of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Military Region 2 illegally felling and processing significant timber volumes in the same concession. In an aerial survey carried out in June, investigators discovered four large sawmills established in the forest and signs of heavy logging in the vicinity.

“The damage that Pheapimex and Wuzhishan are inflicting right now on people’s livelihoods and the country’s forests is a reminder of what is at stake,” said Jon Buckrell. “The Cambodian government and the donors must ensure that commitments to improve natural resource governance are translated into action if they are to halt the country’s current slide towards environmental degradation, land alienation and increasing social conflict.”

For further information, please contact Jon Buckrell ([email protected]; telephone 00 44 20 7272 6731) or Mike Davis ([email protected]; [email protected]; telephone 00 855 12 527 523).

Notes to editors:

- Targets agreed by the Cambodian government and international donors at the December 2004 CG meeting include the following:

- Increase transparency of state management of natural resources through immediate public disclosure of existing contracts and compliance status (royalties and other key provisions) of contracts governing economic land concessions, mining concessions, fishing lots and continued disclosure of status of review of forest concessions (emphasis added).

- RGC disclose the location and legal status and process for termination of mining concessions, Military Development Zones, economic land concessions and other development arrangements situated on forest land or in protected areas and inconsistent with law governing management of these areas.

- Application of sustainable management planning, including ESIAs, investor evaluations, consultation with local communities, public disclosure and comment period prior to entering into new contracts for private use/ management of state managed natural resources (land, fisheries, forestry, and mines)

- A full list of the targets is available at:
- Further details of cases of illegal logging in Pheapimex Kompong Thom concession in 2003 and 2004 are available on request.
- Information on cases of illegal logging involving Pheapimex up to 2002 can be found in the Global Witness reports Deforestation Without Limits (2002); The Credibility Gap (2001) and The Untouchables (2000). These reports can be downloaded from