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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Singapore’s data mirrors UN’s on Cambodia’s sand export numbers

Sand dredgers moored off the Chroy Changvar peninsula last year near Phnom Penh.
Sand dredgers moored off the Chroy Changvar peninsula last year near Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Singapore’s data mirrors UN’s on Cambodia’s sand export numbers

Singaporean customs data on sand imports from Cambodia show near identical figures to those recorded by the UN, which last month were dismissed by a top official amid a reporting discrepancy in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The UN data showed $752 million in imports of sand from Cambodia since 2007, despite Cambodia reporting only about $5 million in exports to Singapore.

Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman Dith Tina said on September 27 that the UN data, which recorded 72.7 million tonnes of Cambodian sand entering Singapore from 2007 to 2015 but only 2.8 million tonnes leaving Cambodia, were not based on “concrete proof”.

However, customs data obtained from Singapore’s Trade Ministry yesterday for half that period – 2011 to 2015 – are for each year the same as the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database figure, and show Cambodia exported $405 million of sand to Singapore.

Where the UN data showed $91.29 million of sand from Cambodia to Singapore in 2011, the customs data – converted from Singaporean to US dollars at that year’s average exchange rate – show a near identical $91.32 million of arrivals of Cambodian sand.

The government recorded only $707,843 of total sand exports to Singapore that year, according to figures from the Commerce Ministry.

For 2012, the UN’s data show $69.27 million leaving Cambodia for Singapore, whereas Singapore’s customs data show $69.33 million. Cambodia recorded only $457,647 of sand exports to Singapore that year.

The figures match for every subsequent year, with the most sand sold in 2014. In that year, UN data record $127.76 million of sand leaving Cambodia for Singapore, and the Singaporean data show $127.81 million. Cambodia recorded only $70,883 of sand exports that year.

Unlike the UN’s data, which note both the volume of exported sand and also the value, the Singaporean customs data note only the value.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2009 banned the export of dredged river and marine sand from Cambodia – except for where the sand was obstructing waterways – but the status of that ban has since been unclear, with many large-scale dredging operations continuing unabated.

Tina, the Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman, who last month also called use of the UN data “unprofessional” and told a local media outlet the disparity could be due to different valuation methods on each end, declined to comment on the customs data yesterday.

“Why do you keep on asking the ministry to accept the figure declared by . . . we don’t know which institution? Why don’t you ask the owner to comment on their figure?” Tina wrote in an email, denying that the differences may suggest something illegal occurred.

“How did you get to this logic? It’s more constructive if you can provide concrete proof showing illegal activity and the perpetrators,” he said.

Tina said six firms had licences to export sand. He did not respond to questions about the status of the 2009 ban.

Singapore’s embassy in Phnom Penh also did not respond to a request for comment. However, an embassy official said earlier this year that the export of sand from Cambodia was a commercial matter and did not involve the Singaporean government.

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of the NGO Mother Nature who was deported in February 2015, said in an email he believed the hundreds of millions of dollars of sand exports were being hidden to protect companies like CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group from rebuke.

Neither Yong Phat nor representatives of the LYP Group could be reached for comment yesterday.

“Those high up in the government who are organizing and abetting this crime, together with partnering cartels such as the LYP Group, want to ensure that their criminal activities are not widely uncovered, primarily so that they can continue smuggling sand,” Gonzalez-Davidson said.

“The government should immediately place a moratorium on all further sand extraction activities along coastal estuaries of Cambodia. Then relevant government authorities should take a trip to fishing communities affected by the mining and go from house to house apologizing for these last nine years of thievery.

“After, they should publicly apologize to the entire nation for this total scam, and then start returning the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been pillaged from the nation,” the activist added.

A previous version of this article misidentified figures as representing Cambodia's sand exports to all countries. In fact, those figures show Cambodia's sand exports to only Singapore. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.
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