In our posting for Tuesday last week, 20.2.2007, we reported the Prime Minister’s Eleven Point Recommendations for the environment and the concern that over-exploitation of natural resources caused by business activities will result in the loss of natural opportunities and protections. There are serious warnings about the long term negative consequences for the future of the country, if short term benefits are pursued recklessly, without the serious concern for the future. One cannot but wonder why these concerns are not reflected at all in the plans forcefully pushed ahead by the Phnom Penh municipal administration for the Boeng Kak area.
The Prime Minister makes it clear that utmost care is necessary when it comes to considerations about the natural environment, calling that strategies and action plans need to be revised every three years. Human insight into the delicate natural balance of environmental factors is still fairly new, and therefore plans need to be regularly adjusted in order not to miss some important points.
The Phnom Penh Municipality is said to have entered into a 99-year lease for one of the most unique environments in the capital city, a lake and its surroundings. Most big cities of the world would treasure having such a lake in their midst. But the present plans will fill in a major part of it.
The Prime Minister stressed that it is difficult to protect endangered natural resources. Many voices have been reported which warn of severe flooding for the city of Phnom Penh if important reservoirs which provide temporary basins for excessive rain water – such as the Boeng Kak Lake – are filled in to a large extent. Who will be held responsible – and who will pay the enormous costs of flooding – when the warnings come true? The Prime Minister has emphasized that offenders must be held fully responsible for the consequences of their actions. How will this be realized, once the plans are implemented and if they have strong negative consequences?
The Prime Minister also stressed that successful and effective control of natural resources can best be achieved when the affected local people participate in the implementation of related programs. Until now, only rough ideas about the future have been shared with the public, and inquiries by the media about details have not resulted in much clarification, because the officials in charge “are too busy to talk to reporters.” None of the press reports we are aware of mention anything about the most important recommendation of the Prime Minister: that in the case of environmentally sensitive developments, the Ministry of Environment should work with officials at all levels to create community statutes which make sure that the benefits from development based on the use of nature should be shared equitably.
The report about the Tenth recommendation of the Prime Minister speaks about the duties of local authorities, and problems: “It is hard to believe that local authorities do not know about offenses committed in their communities. Some authorities do not cooperate well with the Ministry of Environment, but they have to improve.” The Prime Minister added that the possible impacts have to be assessed by the Ministry of Environment, and that such assessment has to be carried out transparently. The Prime Minister specified that, wherever wetland areas are concerned, planning should also involve the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology. We have not yet seen any reports that the leadership of the capital city has received, or even asked for, environmental and wetlands assessments for the planned development from these two ministries. Perhaps the requirement for assessments has been totally ignored? It is obvious that the requirement that the assessments be transparent – especially to the people living in the area and being affected – has been disregarded.
Finally, it is astonishing that such far-reaching plans are being pursued without an open publicly announced bidding process. It is astounding that a hardly known company, which is identified in some media as Japanese and in others as Korean, got a 99-year lease agreement which will have fundamental consequences for the capital city of Cambodia for the next century – without broad public debate. One can only hope that the profound concerns expressed by the Prime Minister will be heeded before too much damage has been done.