From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published June 30, 2006 12:00 AM

World Bank Internal Review Slams Its Forestry Program in Cambodia

BANGKOK, Thailand — A World Bank program to reform Cambodia's corrupt forestry industry instead ignored complaints of illegal logging, allowing the practice to flourish, according to an internal review to be released Thursday.

The review, provided to The Associated Press by the environmental group Global Witness, also found the bank's US$4.6 million (euro3.7 million) program that ended last year did nothing to alleviate poverty and focused on creating a regulatory framework in the forestry sector at the expense of "environmental and social aspects."

The World Bank's program was ostensibly set up to help logging companies meet government requirements to encourage sustainability. But Global Witness contends the program lent credibility to a system that handed out concessions to government cronies and allowed illegal logging to continue.

Global Witness, along with other Cambodian nongovernment organizations, filed a complaint in 2005 over the program. The environmental group was sent a copy of the review in response to its complaint.

"Ultimately, this project promoted the interests of asset-stripping companies and corrupt politicians over those of the rural poor," Global Witness Director Simon Taylor said in a statement. "NGOs have been saying for years that the Bank's approach to forestry in Cambodia would be environmentally and socially damaging, and the (internal) report bears out these criticisms."

At the insistence of Cambodia's foreign aid donors, the government hired Global Witness in 1999 to monitor its forests. But that contract was terminated in 2003 after Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed displeasure over the group's aggressive approach. The group had been critical about the lack of action to curb corruption in the logging industry.

According to the internal review, the World Bank program did not investigate complaints of illegal logging of resin trees by one of the logging companies taking part in the program nor did it examine the "negative impact" the deforestation was having on local people.

The World Bank said it could not comment on the review until it is released publicly in Washington later Thursday. But in the past, it has defended the five-year program which it says has promoted community forestry initiatives and helped reduce logging.

Cambodia's tropical rain forests were dramatically depleted during decades of civil conflict, when warring factions sold timber to finance their activities. Later, in the 1990s, the government handed out contracts to politically connected logging companies that further contributed to forest destruction.

In 2000, the World Bank set up its project to improve the management of Cambodia's forests. But the bank came under fire in 2004 for sanctioning the renewal of logging rights for six companies accused of corruption and illegal logging.

Its program, according to the internal review, also did not consider the concerns of local populations in logging areas, lacked appropriate social and environmental assessments and played a role in the degradation of the country's forests.

By focusing on the financial and technical aspects of the reform effort, the review found that the World Bank "lost an opportunity to lead the debate on much needed reform in the forest sector so that forests could be sustainably managed for the benefit of all Cambodians."

Source: Associated Press

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