CAMBODIA loses thousands of cubic meters of timber through illegal activities and now the government is looking to amend its laws to better protect the prized natural resource.
Last week, the country’s Minister of Interior held a meeting with counterparts from the environment and agriculture ministers, and other main stakeholders to reevaluate the existing laws which were deemed ineffective in combating illegal logging.
In a Facebook post, Sar Keng said the ministries involved have drafted new laws during the meeting to allow local authorities to directly address illegal harvesting and smuggling of the country’s natural resources, Redio Free Asia reported.
Once the new draft laws are complete, the ministry will hold a national workshop with NGOs and community members to gather their insights on the proposed law amendments.
While the steps leading to the amendments are a welcome move, NGOs said implementing the new laws was important to stem the trade. Otherwise, the effort would be a waste of time, the NGOs said.
Penn Bonnar, the Senior Programme Officer from the Cambodian Human Rights Development pointed out that the existing laws could still work, despite having loopholes.
Bonnar said he feared the laws are being amended merely for political reasons.
“I hope these new laws will punish suspects to the fullest extent,” he was quoted as saying, adding the courts have failed to penalise suspects even though they violated existing laws.
In September, Sar Kheng criticised the effectiveness of the laws, saying the local authorities did not have the power to address the issue as only forestry officials were allowed to do so.
“The laws give complete power to the forestry administration,” he said.
“When authorities don’t have power, they can’t do anything.”
Heng Sros, a forestry activist said illegal logging was due to corruption, and not the result of the ineffective laws.
Timber and other similar products from Cambodia have long been smuggled to neighbouring China and Vietmam, which use the material to produce expensive furniture.
Cambodia loses around 300,000 cubic meters of timber every year, including endangered rosewood, which is smuggled to Vietnam with the help of corrupt local authorities, according to UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
The EIA also estimated that some US$13 million in bribes were paid between Nov 2016 and March 2017 for authorities to turn a blind eye against illegal timber mining.
Between 2001 and 2014, Cambodia lost a total of 1.44 million hectares of forest, making it one of the world fastest countries to experience deforestation, according to US space agency NASA.
“Though other countries have lost more acres in recent years, Cambodia stands out for how rapidly its forests are being cleared.”