Only about 5 percent of the roughly 2,000 major development projects, such as dams, roads and bridges, approved by the government between 2004 and 2011 carried out environmental impact assessments, an official at the Ministry of Environment said.
Speaking at a workshop in Phnom Penh on a new draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) law, Danh Serey, deputy director of the ministry’s EIA department, said existing legislation such as the 1996 Law on Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management was not strong enough to ensure companies conduct the necessary environmental checks before starting work.
“We face many challenges in our implementation of the law,” Mr. Serey said.
“From 1999 to 2003, there was no activity in [EIA] reports, but from 2004 to 2011…we have seen only 110 projects with an EIA. And we think that there are nearly 2,000 projects,” he continued.
Mr. Serey was speaking in response to a question from Sam Sophy, a legal adviser at the Council of Ministers, who asked why a new law on EIAs was needed.
As well as the law on environmental protection, the government also passed a sub-decree in 1999 which states that all factories, hydropower projects more than 1 megawatt in size, mining projects, large hotels, roads over 100 km and land concessions over 10,000 hectares, among others, must have conducted an EIA before commencing work.
“When we put this sub-decree into effect…we found that not all the projects use this sub-decree,” Mr. Serey said, adding that the weak compliance was in part down to the lack of penalties for those failing to submit EIAs.
The new draft law being discussed on Thursday aims to address this situation by including criminal sanctions for both companies and individuals found not to have carried out an EIA. For example, construction and investment projects completed without an EIA can be fined up to $5,000, and officials at those firms can get up to six months in jail.
“[A]ll projects and activities, despite having permission from other ministries, shall abide by the EIA law,” the draft law states.
The draft law also requires companies to consult with communities that stand to be affected by a project and obliges the firms to publish their EIAs online. An exception, however, is made for projects the government considers necessary for reasons such as national security.
State projects “which have been decided by the government or approved by the National Assembly and which are considered to be the emergency projects related to national security, national protection, and disaster” are exempt from doing an EIA, the draft law states.
Environment Minister Mok Mareth said in a speech at Thursday’s workshop that the new draft law was key in avoiding conflicts between companies and local communities.
Speaking on the sidelines of the workshop, Mr. Mareth downplayed the problems with the existing legal framework, but said the new law was needed now that Cambodia’s economy is growing at a fast clip. Mr. Mareth did admit, however, that some projects had gone ahead without EIAs.
“This [is] a problem. Some of the companies [are not] aware about our law. They don’t submit the EIA report to us.”
The Ministry of Environment is currently reviewing all projects on land concessions inside protected areas. Mr. Mareth said that firms who were found to have not completed an EIA would have their concession revoked.
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