After Phnom Tamao Fiasco, Relevant Officials Should Resign: Social Observers

This combined photo shows Heng Kimhong, program manager for the Cambodian Youth Network, Sam Inn, secretary general of the Grassroots Democratic Party and Soeng Sen Karuna, senior investigator for the NGO Adhoc. Photo from facebook

PHNOM PENH – Civil society, politicians, and environmental activists have criticized the people responsible for the clearing of the Phnom Tamao conservation area, arguing relevant officials should step down to show accountability. 

After the decision of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Aug. 7 to cancel all development projects in the Phnom Tamao protected area, Leng Navatra called on people who love forests to replant trees with him. He had previously cleared around 600 hectares of forest in seven days to make way for his development projects.

Even though deforestation has now stopped and tree replanting has begun, the story is not yet over. The public, whose vocal criticisms have been crucial to stop the development projects, now wants to see accountable people take their responsibilities to prevent such a scenario from happening again. 

Heng Kimhong, program manager for the Cambodian Youth Network, expressed that he is really happy to see that a strong public reaction can still bring change in Cambodia.

“It’s a good result of public-voice solidarity,” he said.

Kimhong added that the government should consider the impact of development in different areas by consulting with the public and not only relying on one-sided reports written by officials. This would ensure that developments really meet the actual needs.

“In development areas, if [a company] shows that an environmental impact assessment was conducted but there are still social and environmental impacts while implementing the project, the government should review the procedures and transparency of that study. And then potentially reassess the situation,” he said.

“The lack of careful consideration of the accuracy and transparency of social and environmental impact assessments will seriously affect development areas and the people living nearby,” he added. “In the long term, people will lose trust in the government.”

In the wake of the clearing of Phnom Tamao, Sam Inn, secretary general of the Grassroots Democratic Party, blames ministry officials over investment companies. 

Inn explained that there is nothing wrong with the company, as it had received the necessary authorizations. But ministry officials who manage the area remained silent, ignoring their mistakes of granting the company the right to develop.

“Those officials should dare to resign to show their responsibility,” he stressed.

“The director of the Forestry Administration and the minister of Agriculture should resign. It would show their accountability to the people and prevent similar problems from happening in the future,” he said.

He added that the Forestry Administration's interpretation that Phnom Tamao was barren was just an excuse.

Veng Sakhon, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries could not be reached for comment.

After granting several hundreds of hectares of land to private companies in early 2022, the razing of the Phnom Tamao forest started on Aug. 1. In only a week, it is estimated that 600 of the 2,400-hectare forest were cleared by excavators, before being eventually stopped by Hun Sen’s decision to stop all development projects in the forest.

While trees are being replanted to recreate the destroyed environment, Soeng Sen Karuna, senior investigator for the NGO Adhoc, raised that once planted, trees will then need to be maintained.

“The state should further penalize the company responsible for clearing Phnom Tamao’s forest. Until trees will have grown as high as they used to be, the company should be taking care of them, alongside with the forest administration,” he said.

Karuna and Sam Inn both demanded that the government present a master plan for the development and preservation of the area, so that the people would know and comment on it, as per their right to information.

In their opinion, publicly presenting a master plan, ahead of developments being carried out, would show the accountability of the state and potentially avoid such problems from happening again. 

Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Sam Sopich for Cambodianess.


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