Green groups call on govt to expand ministry activities
September 12 - 18, 2011
ENVIRONMENTAL groups last week welcomed the renaming of the Ministry of Forestry to recognise its role in conservation work but urged the government to restructure the ministry to reflect the change.
The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw on September 5 agreed to a proposal by President U Thein Sein to change the name to Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry.
“The ministry plans to make environmental conservation a top priority; that’s why we placed environmental conservation at the front of its name. Although the name of the ministry has changed, our structure has not changed yet because the Ministry of Forestry was always conducting environmental conservation work and we are continuing those activities,” said a director of the ministry’s Forest Department.
However, environ-mentalists urged the ministry to step up its commitment to addressing environmental issues.
“We warmly welcome the ministry’s new name. We have been expecting to see an environment ministry for so long; it is sorely needed to conserve our natural resources and environment,” said U Soe Nyunt, president of the Myanmar Birds and Nature Society. “But it’s not enough to just change the name. We need to see real action and transparency from the ministry and a change in the mindset of lower-level staff.”
U Ohn, vice president of NGO Forest Resource and Environmental Development Association, said it was “a good sign for the country”.
“But the rate of logging and chopping down forests is increasing and the ministry needs to control these issues first. Next, it needs to expand community forests to help people fulfil their energy needs,” he said.
“I think it the government can’t implement all [conservation] activities; they should cooperate more with environmentalists, technicians, international organisations, local non-governmental organisations and, most of all, the community.”
Dr Phone Win, president of Mingalar Myanmar, agreed that a name change alone meant little.
“The government also needs to change and expand the structure of the ministry. In the past, the Ministry of Forestry only focused on forest conservation and production. Now it’s changed to the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, so the environmental conservation section of the ministry needs to expand accordingly,” he said.
The State Law and Order Restoration Council established the National Commission for Environmental Affairs (NCEA), the country’s focal point for environmental matters, in April 1994 under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2004, it was moved to the Ministry of Forestry. On April 20, the government renamed the NCEA the National Environmental Conservation Committee.
Dr Phone Win said the NCEA was established as a contact channel for foreign countries and international NGOs and its mandate needed to be expanded. “It is not enough anymore. The [National Environmental Conservation Committee] should focus on domestic issues other than forest conservation, such as water and air pollution.”