What is Behind Fancy Publications?

It might appear from this log that I predominantly travel. However, the opposite is the case and I spend Monday to Friday in the office digging in documents and trying to get appointments with people who help me understand the issues.

Certainly it is not my business to scrutinize what the World Bank is doing here. However, this institution is a major player in development policy in Cambodia not least because Cambodia happens to be a very poor country and because the World Bank is in some ways just that: a bank. At the same time the globalization of particularly financial markets gives this organization as well as its sister institution IWF enormous leverage to intervene in domestic politics of receiving countries. Although these organizations mandate is explicitly not political there can be no doubt that they exercise enormous political power in receiving countries. Since at the same time these organizations have no democratic legitimacy whatsoever in the country which’s policies they happen to shape, there has been quite some controversy even about whether or not the World Bank is of any help at all for any meaningful concept of development.

As a result of this crisis of legitimacy World Bank has struggled and enormously changed their rhetoric. Moreover, World Bank felt pressured to indeed make significant amounts of research results, policy literature and even project documentation online available. At the same time they adapted progressive mottos like ‘our dream is a world free of poverty’ or so. Moreover they claim to refocus their strategy on poverty reduction (as opposed to just economic growth) and keep talking about things that have always been alien to their operations like empowerment, participation, ecology. And indigenous rights. The reflection of the later is apparently Operational Directive 4.2 which defines the norm according to which projects are supposed to be financed and implemented. Or in case of failure to live up to this definition of the norm not financed and not implemented. I should point out that World Bank has not exactly voluntarily adopted either this or many other of recent changes but has done so because of significant political pressure. Interestingly, even right wing libertarian conservatives in the US Congress have in times contemplated to get rid of World Bank entirely. Therefore I am very interested to learn whether they changed their ways or just the way they talk about them. For this reason I feel kind of tempted to investigate what they are doing, which again, is not precisely what the focus of my research is.

I mentioned earlier that there are a number of high solution publications issued by WB and Asian Development Bank. Those organizations as well as the UN, International Labor Organization (ILO), EU and so on have established various instruments in international law to protect the rights of minority cultures, particularly indigenous peoples. At the same time there is an IDA commitment (that is: cheap WB money) of about 20 $mill US pending here in Cambodia. There are objections to this program particularly because it does not seem to live up to those (more or less binding) international norms. And again at the same time there has been a “Highland Peoples Development Plan” carefully drafted with substantial assistance and support by most of precisely those organizations. It is, as I mentioned, not in power because there are objections, particularly to Article 3.6. I typed that early and do not do it here again. However, it is very plausible that a policy that has been possible only with the support of those organizations reflect their policy on the rights of these vulnerable groups.

There are strong indications that the critical objection comes from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife in the Ministry of Agriculture. I heard on several occasions that this ministry does not cooperate and everybody recommends bypassing them. However, at the same time this ministry is among the most powerful, not least because the government perceives all the forest which is not privately owned, as their property. This department controls the concessions for the cutting of forest.

Already some weeks ago I called somebody relevant at the World Bank in Phnom Penh to ask whether they can provide me with their analytical work which apparently needs to be done to determine whether or not government programs actually meet WB’s policy on indigenous people. The person was very friendly but could not help me and gave me the number of somebody she told me would be able to help me. I called this person, he noted my email and told me he would send me electronic documents. However, I never received any.

Interestingly, I even talked to somebody relevant from Asian Development Bank and he quite frankly told me that his organization might have a similar policy on indigenous people similar to World Bank’s OP 4.2. but this does not mean they share their analytical work with his organization. Elsewhere I heard that the World Bank office in Cambodia would be similar to World Bank offices anywhere in that they would not like to share their assessments and documentations.

I should mention that from the newspaper and comments from all sorts of people it seems to me that there is a lot of illegal logging going on, with particular involvement by the military. I heard for example that a powerful military leader occupied a four digit number of hectare forest and declared it his property. There was some protest against it and Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to just buy the forest back from his private money (what ever the Prime ministers private money means in Cambodia).

However, there is this Department of Forestry and I managed to get an appointment with its head. But when I arrived he was busy. So I got to speak to his deputy.

Although it is precisely here were objections to the policy on “highland peoples” are coming from, this person really did not have many answers. He actually did not even seem to know what I was talking about. However, he was very kind and so was I. I was there with our translator. Since I cannot speak the official language of this country I am carefully trying not to act insensitive. However, he did not only give indirect answers to direct questions but no answer whatsoever except for commonplaces.

The most precise thing I learned is that there is a legal guarantee that all the people living near by the forest have free access to it and can freely slash. However, there is no special provision for indigenous or “highland” people. This apparently refers to the new forestry law which has been finalized few weeks ago. I learned that an English translation would not be available earlier then in two weeks.

I also mentioned earlier that, with regard to another project, the World Bank had determined that OD 4.2 applies with reference to “Highland Peoples” who maintain cultural and socioeconomic practices different than those practices by the Khmer national majority. Moreover, it appears to me that a forest law in the context of Cambodia is even more critical to the well-being of indigenous peoples than the project with regard to which the determination of “Highland Peoples” as subject to OP 4.2 has taken place.

So it is hard to imagine that anybody in the World Bank could consistently argue that in the case of one project this directive applies to “Highland People” but not in another project.

This would not have been something very surprising to me. However, what I found really scary is that on the name card he gave me I read later “Department of Forestry and Wildlife. World Bank Forest Concession Management & Control Pilot Project.”

I mentioned earlier that the final decision on the “Highland Peoples Development Plan” in the Council of Ministers (which is the government) was postponed because a precise law on both land and forestry was lacking. And I mentioned that those laws are in power today. This law is apparently one of them and it is hard to imagine that the deputy of the department presumably responsible for the drafting does not know that it was precisely the “Highland Peoples Development Plan” which made necessary the forestry law. I furthermore thing that somebody who works in a management position in any Department of Forestry can be expected to think about how a forestry law affects indigenous people living in and depending on the forest in the country. After all, even in Cambodia they happen to be citizens with certain rights.

What, however, is really outrageous is that the very same person’s name card says “World Bank Forest Concession Management & Control Pilot Project”. This is so for several reasons. First, there can be no doubt that “Forest Concession” policy is among the most critical for indigenous people, since whether a particular concession is issued or not determines whether their homeland remain in tact and allows for their cultural survival. Second, if this is a World Bank project, this person can not only be expected to know about the World Bank’s policy on indigenous people but needs to be required to know about it. His decisions are exactly what is required to live up to this policy before any project is confirmed. And third, as if this would not be enough, what he is doing is supposed to be a pilot project, which I take to mean it is supposed to provide good example and possibly best practices.

To wrap it up: If I understand this situation rights this really is a serious issue. With regard to the World Bank I continue for the time being to seriously question whether this institution’s decisions actually live up to or even consider their well worded policy on indigenous people. If anybody can help me to better understand what is going on here I would greatly appreciate it.

If what I wrote here really reflects what happens right now than I would like to see somebody doing something about it. I really wonder where all these organizations are who provided assistance to the “Highland Peoples Development Plan” in the first place and would like to learn what they are doing right now. It appears to me that an IDA commitment of more than 24 US $ Mio. Provides significant leverage to do something for the situation of indigenous people. Right now it appears that this really is not high on the agenda after the election.

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