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NZ lends advice to oil sector

EXTRACTION experts from New Zealand are training Cambodian government officials in a bid to improve transparency and management in the Kingdom’s nascent oil and gas sector.

For the past two days, officials from Crown Minerals – part of New Zealand’s Ministry of Economic Development that manages its government’s oil, gas, coal and mineral resources – have been leading a training course on strengthening the regulatory management of the petroleum sector.

Caroline Rowe, senior legal and risk adviser at Crown Minerals, said yesterday that the objective of the World Bank-sponsored course was to share their experiences with officials from the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority and the Finance Ministry’s tax department.

“We presented them with information about the operational managements of explorations and mining, as well as tax policies in the oil and gas in New Zealand,” she said at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel.

“Hopefully, our lessons will be useful for them to develop the sector effectively and transparently. What we expect from the workshop is a continuation of the relationship between CNPA and New Zealand,” she added.

This year, the issue of transparency in the sector has become subject to increased scrutiny.

Concerns about extractive resource revenues arose in April, when mining giant BHP Billiton announced it was under investigation by the US securities and exchange commission for possible violations of anticorruption laws that many thought related to Cambodia.

The watchdog group Global Witness also called for increased transparency with regard to the financing of oil deals.

The government has since confirmed that 23 firms have been awarded rights to explore oil in Cambodia. And though the Kingdom’s oil and gas fields are still in development, work is gathering pace.

Offshore Block A, a 4,709-square-kilometre area of the Gulf of Thailand operated by multinational Chevron, has seen extensive drilling.

“We are aligned with the Royal Government of Cambodia’s desire to see production from Block A as soon as economically possible,” said Chevron spokesman Gareth Johnstone earlier this month.

Two weeks ago Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, chairman of the CNPA, said that Cambodia hoped the first drop of oil would be produced at 12am on December 12, 2012.

Richard Alan Cunningham, the World Bank official in charge of the workshop, said yesterday that although the 2012 deadline sounded “aggressive” it was “not impossible” if everything went well.

He added that Cambodia’s oil and gas sector has the potential to contribute to the development of the country’s economy in the future.

“The difficulties for investors are infrastructures and necessary services to support all the activities are not in place. Cambodia still needs to complete laws on petroleum and tax for the sector,” he said.

Ho Vichet, vice chairman of CNPA, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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