Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Govt aware of rising deforestation in Laos, PM says

Vientiane Times, 9 July 2014

The government is aware of the widespread deforestation and increasing number of sawmills in Laos, which is sparking concerns in regards to its efforts to increase forestry cover to 70 percent by 2020. Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong was responding to a question from National Assembly member Mr Duangdy Outthachak yesterday at the ongoing NA session.

Mr Duangdy questioned why the government has approved the felling of so much timber. With trucks carrying timber for export all day and night how can Laos achieve the target of increasing forest cover to 70 percent by 2020, he asked.

Last year the government gave permission for a company to fell trees in Borikhamxay province, amounting to some 600,000 cubic metres of timber, Mr Duandy said. He was reflecting on concerns that despite the ban announced on the export of raw logs from Laos, many people report seeing trucks headed towards the border every day.

The PM accepted that this question reflected the reality of the country and has become a topical issue in Laos at the moment. “Our government is aware of this matter. Our policy is to stop slash and burn cultivation and logging but these activities never stop,” he said.

Since he has been PM, the government has tried to stop logging activities by issuing a policy to approve timber excavation only in areas slated for projects like hydropower dams, road construction, transmission lines and mining projects, Mr Thongsing said. “We mainly approved only these kinds of projects but as to why a lot of logging has occurred, I think this is the responsibility of the whole of society,” he said. The PM explained that due to th e high price of wood on international markets, people sneak in to the forests to cut trees.

The government has seen that this has become a serious issue and has issued orders for the provinces and the relevant authorities to prevent illegal logging and penalise the wrongdoers. However many companies encourage villagers to cut trees for them by buying the timber from local people, thereby circumventing law enforcement efforts. “If we want to stop logging we all need to work together to stop it, notably local authorities and villagers. Without your cooperation, we cannot stop such activity,” Mr Thongsing said.

Concerning the rising number of sawmills including those located near forestry areas, Mr Thongsing said that he has not approved the establishment of any sawmills since he became PM. He assumed that the relevant sectors or local authorities may allow companies to do this and that investigation is needed to identify who is responsible.

Mr Thongsing also responded to a question related to the weakness of law enforcement in Laos, notably when it comes to state management and adherence to accepted financial principles. He urged government officials to act as a model for villagers in regards to respecting the laws. “We should not operate projects without approval from the NA, but in reality, local authorities and concerned sectors violate the financial principles and laws. This shows that our awareness and respect for the laws is low,” he said, urging local authorities to do better.

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