The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on Friday instructed provinces to take urgent action to inspect all types of logs and their movement to prevent illegal logging.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Thongphat Vongmany warned provincial authorities not to conspire and help businesses to hide illegally-felled logs. Those failing to carry out the new instructions will face harsh disciplinary measures.
“The leadership [the country's top leadership] is determined and has reached common consensus to take decisive action to fight illegal logging,” he told representatives from Vientiane and provinces across the country in a one-day meeting at the ministry.
The meeting was to explain and create common understanding about the Prime Ministerial Order No 15 issued on May 13 to address illegal logging and improve domestic timber business operations. The order bans the export of all types of unfinished wooden products including timber and logs.
Mr Thongphat told the meeting the Prime Ministerial Order was issued in accordance with the guidance made by Party Secretary General [Mr Bounnhang Vorachit] with the 11-member Party politburo also praising the government's move in issuing the order. This highlighted the country's top leadership was determined and serious in the fight against illegal logging, a long-standing issue, he said.
The Deputy Minister warned plant quarantine officials at all border checkpoints not to facilitate or certify the export of unprocessed wood through the border gates and those breaching the prime ministerial order would face harsh punishment.
The warning came after previous reports emerged suggesting that large amounts of timber had been exported illegally through the border gates.
On average, the government approved only about 200,000 cubic metres of logs to be cut annually, but statistics provided by customs officials of neighbouring countries showed that as high as one million cubic metres of wood was exported from Laos in a year, despite the fact the government had banned the export of logs some years ago, Mr Thongphat said.
There is growing concern that businesses might seek to conspire with undisciplined officials exploring tactics to legalise or export logs they cut illegally during this preparation stage of implementing the prime ministerial order.
On June 2, a bus loaded with timber and 14 Vietnamese passengers en route to Vietnam exploded in Khammuan province killing 10 people, highlighting an incidence of the illegal log trade attempting to export timber.
Some loggers were said to have approached sawmill operators to seek ways to legalise timber they cut illegally.
Mr Thongphat said the government was well aware of the issue and was taking urgent action.
Recently, the ministry told provincial officials to inspect logging fields in the forests, log transporting lanes, log collecting yards, sawmills, wood processing and furniture plants, timber warehouses and other places that utilise wood. Those found engaged in illegal logging and its related activities must be investigated and prosecuted.
Provincial officials were instructed to inspect logs gathered in Sanam II - a yard where logs have been collected after being removed from Sanam I, a log collection yard inside the forest. Findings of the inspection must be submitted to the ministry before June 15 so it can be reported to the government.
All parties were prohibited from collecting or removing logs from Sanam I. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has denounced the document previously used for wood removal and those provinces seen using the form to facilitate the removal must take responsibility, Mr Thongphat warned.
He added that seven ministries had been assigned to take collective action in the fight against illegal logging including the Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of Public Security.
Members of the public have expressed their support through social media for the government's latest move in addressing illegal logging. Howev er, some remain cautious on what degree the current attempt will be able to bring about a decline in illegal logging.