Mr. Patrick B. Durst
Senior Forestry Officer
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Subject: Open Letter: The search for exemplary forest management in the Asia Pacific Region.
I am writing to you regarding the APFC/FAO call for nominations of forests in the Asia-Pacific region that demonstrate forms of exemplary management. Global Witness wholeheartedly supports this move to recognise positive instances of improved forest management.
However, I would like to draw your attention to three of the forests that have been nominated in Cambodia: Tum Ar Forest, the Forest Concession of Colexim Enterprises and the Forest Concession of Everbright CIG Wood Co. Ltd Cambodia (information publicly available on the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and Pacific website at: http://www.recoftc.org/Forestexcellence_FAO.html#Cam). I can understand the inclusion of the Tum Ar Forest, but the sustainable utilisation of this forest by villagers is in stark contrast to those forest areas under the control of Colexim and Everbright, where these companies have logged illegally for years.
It is extremely unfortunate that the nominations of Colexim and Everbright have been made public, as any association with the APFC/FAO initiative for forest excellence would tend to suggest, to the uninformed, that the management of the forest by these companies has some merit; it does not. With this in mind I would strongly recommend that you remove these companies from the list of nominated companies or, at the very least, make it clear that nomination in itself means nothing in terms of proof of good forest management. More importantly I would suggest that neither company be considered for selection. Global Witness has documented evidence of illegal logging by both companies in recent years.
Global Witness’ investigations established that Everbright logged illegally in 1999, 2000 and 2001. In January 2001, for example, Global Witness found Everbright logging illegally in its own concession in Kratie Province and the neighbouring Pheapimex concession; loss of royalties from Everbright's coupe 2 alone could have been in the region of $250,000. These findings were backed up by a subsequent joint Global Witness/DFW inspection. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries sent an official warning to Everbright for their “illegal logging activities” threatening to cancel the concession agreement if the terms of the order were not adhered to . For further information please see Global Witness' report "The Credibility Gap" pages 26-28: Everbright - The case for cancellation.
Colexim is a joint venture between a Japanese company, Okada, and the Cambodian government, managed by DFW staff. Global Witness has documented many instances of illegal logging by Colexim since 1995 including logging in contravention of the January 1st 1995 cutting ban, obtaining illegally felled logs from the neighbouring GAT International concession and receiving logs from the Boeung Per Wildlife Sanctuary. More recently, in late 2001, Global Witness found Colexim sub-contractors illegally felling trees being tapped for resin by local people.
This information has been made available to the government of Cambodia, and incidentally to the FAO Resident Representative in Phnom Penh. I would be happy to supply details to you if you feel this is necessary. Clearly the Director of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW), the recipient of Global Witness' forest crime reports, who nominated these two companies, has a very short memory.
On a more positive note Global Witness would like to support the nomination of the Tum Ar Forest and the villagers that tap trees in this forest for resin. This resin tapping is a truly sustainable use of the forest resource and does much to support the livelihoods of the rural poor in this area. Official recognition by APFC/FAO of the Tum Ar would go a long way to helping these people gain official status for their community forest which, in the light of the recent cancellation of GAT International's concession in Kompong Thom (Tum Ar is in GAT's coupe 8), is a serious prospect. It would also provide much needed impetus for community forestry in Cambodia generally. Community forestry initiatives have suffered greatly at the expense of the forest concession system blindly supported by the World Bank.
In the light of this excellent initiative by APFC/FAO, looking for good news in the forest sector in the Asia-Pacific region, I would like to suggest other areas that APFC/FAO might like to address. Frequently, lack of transparency in forestry departments and ministries is the root cause of bad practices in the sector. These civil servants don't like sharing information in even its most basic form: rules and regulations, practices and procedures, maps and licences. Such information should be made available to the public and this would go a long way to reducing the opportunity for corruption, illegal activities in the forest and poor forest management. It would be useful if APFC/FAO promoted transparency with a similar initiative to that for exemplary forest management.
Similarly, the publication of all financial and familial links between the forest industry and all politicians and civil servants, making forestry related decisions, would go a long way to preventing corruption and resultant bad practice. It is interesting to note that the government investigation in to the Everbright case mentioned above went nowhere. To date no punitive action has been taken against a company that should have had its concession agreement cancelled. Coincidentally, Everbright's sub-contractors were controlled by the father-in-law of the Director of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife. This person is also the brother of the Minister of Agriculture's wife. In addition one of the sub-contractors is married to the Prime Minister's cousin. It is important that such links are disclosed to reveal any potential conflicts of interests and remove any perception of impropriety. An APFC/FAO initiative in this area would also be very beneficial.
Mr. Patrick B. Durst