Press Release / Dec. 22, 2004

Open letter to the Minister of Environment: Ministry of Environment and Asia Pulp and Paper/Green Elite Company.

H.E. Mok Mareth
Minister of Environment

22nd December 2004

Your Excellency

Ministry of Environment and Asia Pulp and Paper/Green Elite Company

Green Elite is a front company formed by Asia Pulp and Paper – a firm well known for its destruction of large areas of natural forest in Indonesia. Since March this year, APP/Green Elite has, and continues to, clear-cut forest in Botum Sakor National Park. Its operations are illegal under provisions of several legal instruments, including the 1994 Declaration on Protected Areas, the 2002 Forestry Law and the 2001 Land Law.

As you are aware, the company has sought to justify its activities through a series of documents that purport to authorise illegal activities. These include a concession agreement that you yourself signed with Green Elite’s previous incarnation, Green Rich company, in May 1998, as well as the ‘Agreement in Principle’ authorising Green Rich to operate in 18,200 hectares of Botum Sakor that Ministry of Environment sent to the company in March this year.

The issuing of these documents exemplifies the pattern of senior officials treating state assets as their own private property and regarding their own actions as above the law. In this regard, we wish to draw your attention to the follow legal provisions:

Forestry Law Article 100

Any activities carried out by the official of local authority, police, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces or other authorities that directly or indirectly allow forest exploitation or other activities contrary to the provisions of this law… shall be subject to one to five years in prison and fines of 10 million to 100 million riel.

Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management Article 24

Any environmental inspection official or agent who is negligent, fails to pay attention to, or fails to comply with the Ministry’s regulations, or conspires with a violator or facilitates the commission of a violation, shall be subject to administrative sanctions or face prosecution before the courts.

Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Article 31

Environmental officials or agents who are… in collusion with or facilitate violations must be administratively condemned or be accused before a court.

Given the gravity of the case, we urge the Ministry to take immediate measures to put an end to the destruction in Botum Sakor and restore public faith in its own role as custodian of Cambodia’s protected areas. As a first step, the Ministry should initiate a prosecution of APP/Green Elite and any MoE staff complicit in its illegal activities, however senior they may be.

High level corruption and the illegal granting of concessions on state property was a key theme of the Consultative Group meeting of December 6-7. As a result, donors and the Cambodian government have agreed a series of performance benchmarks requiring disclosure of full details of concessions and a register of business interests of public officials.

These developments have particular relevance for the Ministry of Environment, given its near-total dependence on donor and NGO partners for funding. The Ministry’s secretive dealings with would-be concessionaires are fast eroding its credibility as a partner in conservation. If donors and NGOs have reason to suspect that protected areas in Cambodia will be, or have already been, secretly signed away in illegal agreements, they will surely take their money elsewhere.

Given the blatant illegality of APP/Green Elite’s activities, the question of an Environmental Impact Assessment is largely academic. Nevertheless, we wish to respond to your comments on this issue cited in yesterday’s Cambodia Daily. Specifically, your suggestion that the Green Elite EIA report will not be publicly available until some weeks hence suggests a reluctance to ensure compliance with the legal requirement for public disclosure of such documents. We would like to remind you of the contents of Article 4 of the 2002 Forestry Law:

Consistent with the Cambodian code of forest management and the Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Law, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment shall be prepared for any major forest ecosystem related activity that may cause adverse impact on society and environment. The ESIA document shall be made available for public comment.

Moreover the 1999 Sub-Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment states that one of its three primary objectives is to:

Encourage public participation in the EIA implementation in order to take ideas and suggestions into consideration for public approbation.

Please accept, Your Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Mike Davis
Global Witness

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