|Vietnamese Ambassador Ngo Anh Dzung|
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun on Wednesday lauded the economic and social benefits of the widespread clearing of Cambodia’s forests for development projects.
Speaking to reporters at the National Assembly after a meeting with the Vietnamese Ambassador Ngo Anh Dzung, Mr. Vun, who is also the spokesman for the National Assembly, said the protection of forestland is important, but not more important than economic development.
“We need to balance the consequences of deforestation, [which is] what we can get from the deforestation for the good of the people,” Mr. Vun said, adding that the Lower Sesan 2 dam in Stung Treng province is a prime example of economic development growing out of felled forests.
“Hydropower is very important for developing industry,” Mr. Vun said, adding that the taxes collected from this new industry will bring “more revenue for the state and for families.”
The government cannot allow people to stop progress, he said.
“If they do not want us to cut the forest and stop the economic development, we cannot accept this,” he said.
Last month, the Council of Ministers ordered a halt to logging in preparation for the Lower Sesan 2 dam in Sesan district following allegations from a local commune chief that the company contracted to clear the forest was illegally felling trees outside the dam concession’s boundaries.
Mr. Vun promised that the Sesan dam will move ahead eventually, despite the calls for the project to be canceled.
Thun Sarath, spokesman for the Forestry Administration, said that the formation of a committee to investigate illegal logging in Sesan district and demarcate the concession’s boundaries is “ongoing.”
“We will cooperate with the community on what’s going on and how to crack down on illegal logging,” Mr. Sarath said.
The Lower Sesan 2 dam has been a lightning rod for criticism from local communities, NGOs and environmentalists. Slated to displace more than 5,000 people in Sesan district, environmentalists have said the dam’s impacts to local fisheries could affect more than 100,000 people living up and downriver from the dam.
Chhith Sam Ath, director of NGO Forum, said that the government is concerned only about economic development, but not about social development.
“If we are talking about development, it is development for whom?” Mr. Sam Ath asked. “If the people say they don’t want development to impact their livelihoods and the forest and impact climate change, and the majority of them say they don’t need this development, I think we need to listen to them carefully.”