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Discrepancies in Cambodian Forestry Data and Statistics Owing to Illegal Forestry Activities

Hang Sun Tra 1

Introduction

Cambodia experienced civil war for more than 30 years and this conflict had serious repercussions for the forestry sector. In 1980, when the Khmer Rouge regime was defeated, forest management activities resumed but the Department of Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) had to make a fresh start with only three professional officers and a handful of technical and vocational staff who had survived the war. All of the forest offices, facilities and related forestry data from prewar times were dispersed or lost and only fragmented forestry data could be recovered by DFW staff. Young foresters and support staff have been recruited gradually but the majority have insufficient skills and experience for their positions. The limited knowledge of statistical data management for existing forest resources and the paucity of forestry facilities are weaknesses that generate ambiguity and discrepancies in the management of forestry data. These issues are major constraints for sustainable forest management nationwide.

Status of forestry data and statistical management in the DFW

Since the resumption of work in 1980 to date, forestry data are considered to be embryonic and a statistics division has yet to be re-established. The present Planning and Accounting Office has a limited role in forest data collection, being concerned primarily with forest revenue only. Separate offices, under the direct supervision of the DFW, collect and own different data. There is no dissemination of information among these offices or units. Moreover, there are insufficient forestry data for planning and other purposes. Existing data and information remain classified within individual units; as such, information is not released without permission.

Different government institutions report different data, exemplified by the disparity of data in office reports from the same department. This is attributable to the lack of transparency in divisions and institutions. The Central Department of Forestry, the provincial forestry offices, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the Ministry of Commerce do not coordinate their work properly. For instance, data on forest product revenue in reports by the Ministry of Commerce differ from those found in documentation from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the DFW.

Causes of discrepancies

There are many reasons for these discrepancies. They are, inter alia, the weak capacity of the DFW and its inexperienced staff; no incentives to improve work performances; few appropriate training programs; poor coordination and information flow among units, offices and departments; and inconsistent formats and different deadlines produce conflicting figures.

Other constraints

During the war, the Khmer Rouge and other political factions occupied a number of border areas. In order to support military action, each faction exploited natural resources for revenue. They felled trees and traded logs illegally across borders. Since the country was at war and anarchy was rife, even in remote areas, the DFW was unable to prevent these activities. Data on wood products traded across borders were never reported. Illegal logging and smuggling continued even after hostilities had ceased.

Forestry data collected by other groups

Besides official data that are recognized by the government, there are also unofficial reports from non-government organizations (NGOs) and the press. Global Witness is a London-based NGO that has been involved in covering and reporting illegal forestry trade. The inconsistency between official and unofficial figures is a major constraint for the management of forestry resources.

Problems arising from discrepancies

Discrepancies in data reporting generate unreliable figures for decision-making, which results in unsatisfactory planning for forest management. Using unconfirmed data for specific purposes confuses people; this is compounded by the lack of inter-institutional transparency, creating a negative image for resource management. Users no longer have faith in the data. Eventually, the ambiguity in forestry data leads to the depletion of forest resources.

Conclusion

The present status of forestry statistics and data management is poor. National reports on forestry data continue to remain ambiguous. The DFWs weaknesses and internal problems are the major constraints for the management of forestry statistics.

Recommendations

The government should:

Since Cambodian information management is poor, support from FAO or other leading agencies is necessary.


Coordinator, Secretariat of National Forest Policy, Department of Forestry and Wildlife, #40 Preah Norodom Blvd., Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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