Cambodia plans to have an ambitious environmental code adopted by the end of this year, according to a legal adviser with the law firm helping to write the legislation, though conservationists yesterday remained wary about how it would be implemented.
Brian Rohan, legal adviser at the Vishnu Law Group, which has assisted in drafting several revisions of the code since March 2015, said he hoped that the code can go before the National Assembly by November or December of this year.
“It’s a strong priority of the government,” he said on the sidelines of the fourth national consultation workshop on the legislation. “The government is genuinely committed to this.”
The environment code aims to enable sustainable development through protection and restoration of the environment, according to a copy of the legislation.
The code would also give greater management control of natural resources at the local level.
What distinguishes the code, Rohan said, is that the legislation allows for a more active role for ordinary citizens to be involved in environmental protection by having better access to information and ability to participate in decision making on the ground. The code also calls for the establishment of a “grievance mechanism through which citizens can legally raise complaints and concerns”.
For example, if an environmental dispute arises and citizens are unable resolve the issue at the local level, they would be able to take the complaint to an independent entity at the Ministry of Environment, which would make a binding decision on the matter, Rohan explained. However, it hasn’t yet been determined who would pay the salaries of the independent body.
The more than 400-page code also includes provisions related to climate change, green economy and sustainable energy.
Preparing the code has cost roughly $1 million, according to Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap, and Cambodia has received support from international partners, such as USAID and UNDP.
Sopheap said the cost of preparing and implementing it, however, would be well worth the benefits.
“We all agree that we need to save the environment and natural resources,” he said.
At the workshop, Environment Minister Say Samal called the code a turning point for the Kingdom. “The law will change the thinking, behaviour of the people,” he said. “We want the code to be accepted by all.”
Seng Bunra, country director for Conservation International, praised the code for bringing in several state bodies – like the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Forestry Administration and Agriculture Ministry – to tackle environmental issues.
“What we worry about is the implementation,” he said. “So far, so many laws have passed, but implementation is still missing.”
Seng Sokheng with the Community Peace Building Network said the government already has laws in place to protect natural resources. However, he said what’s lacking is respect for the law by government officials and enforcement because those committing environmental crimes often have ties to high-ranking government officials.
“That’s the main point,” he said.
Conservationist Marcus Hardtke shared a similar sentiment. He said laws to protect the environment have been in place for years, but haven’t been implemented.
“Considering the rampant logging and lawlessness in Cambodia’s protected areas, the code is an academic exercise.”