Civil society groups ‘not engaged’ in draft of new environment code

Source: Phnom Penh Post

Environment Minister Say Samal speaks at a forum on natural resources yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Environment Minister Say Samal yesterday asked civil society organisations to refrain from accusing the ministry of “not listening to their voice” in drafting an ambitious environmental code because they hadn’t provided any feedback, though several NGOs maintained they have been “heavily” involved in the process.

Samal’s comments were made at the National Council for Sustainable Development’s second meeting, which he chaired. A number of other issues were also discussed, such as the future use of funding from carbon credit sales to combat deforestation and to encourage sustainable practices in Mondulkiri province.

According to the minister, civil society has not engaged much in the process of drafting the 400-page code, which has been in the works since 2015 and is now on its 10th draft.

“If they accuse us of not listening to their voice, they never gave any comment to us so far,” he said.

The environmental code aims to promote sustainable development through protection and restoration of the environment. In its current form, it also assigns greater management control of natural resources to the local level.

Thomas Gray, director of science at Wildlife Alliance, said civil society groups had in fact been very involved in the code.

“I’m a little surprised the minister would say that,” he said. “We are very keen to be involved until it gets finalised.”

Sey Peou, who is the lead on the environmental code with NGO Forum, said he couldn’t comment on what Samal said. However, he maintained NGO Forum has been involved since the beginning.

Following the release of the third draft of the code, a civil society working group was established to give written comments directly to the ministry and to provide feedback to the Vishnu Law Group, which has assisted the ministry in revising the drafts, he said.

“From the third draft to the 10th, we had regular meetings to review every draft,” he said. Peou said NGO Forum will continue to mobilise other NGOs to provide feedback. “[This is] to ensure the code will benefit everyone,” he added.

Brian Rohan, a legal adviser at Vishnu Law Group, didn’t respond to a request for comment as of press time.

Khut Chandara, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, said the ministry had sent a new draft to the Council of Ministers yesterday. The ministry expects it to be approved by the end of the year.

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