Only 20 companies are allowed to dredge sand in Cambodia, according to authorities, while hundreds of firms vying for a licence must wait for a hydrological study to be completed before their applications will be considered.
Meng Saktheara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, yesterday shed some light on the turbid sand-dredging sector, which has long roused resentment among riverside communities.
“For now, there are 20 sand-dredging companies that are allowed to conduct business, including three in Kandal province, 10 in Kampong Thom and one each in Kep, Kampot and Siem Reap,” he said, adding that their licences were valid until the end of the year.
Theara said that hundreds of companies, that had previously dredged sand but have since been stripped of their right to operate, would have to wait for a hydrological study of the practice’s impact to be conducted before they could obtain a licence.
A lucrative business, sand dredging along Cambodia’s rivers has been the target of several government crackdowns in recent years.
In 2009, a moratorium banned marine dredging for export – except for where sand gathered and replenished itself naturally or where build-ups were obstructing waterways – while in 2011 the top and bottom of the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap Bassac river were named protection areas, forbidding dredging within. In and around Phnom Penh, the practice has been allowed to continue only in certain areas.
However – often under the cover of darkness – the practice continues illegally.
“We know there were three illegal sand-dredging operations, often pumping at night,” said Dy Sarom, a Sa’ang district council member from Svay Rolom commune in Kandal province. “Villagers are concerned their houses will collapse if the authorities do not stop this dredging in time.”
Sarom was among 40 representatives from four communes across two districts in Kandal province who on Tuesday met with Deputy Provincial Governor Chin Sokun to demand action on the issue.
The meeting followed a protest in Koh Anlong Chin commune, also in Sa’ang district, where villagers burned tyres along the riverbank to express their anger at the dredgers.
In another bid to tackle the problem, the government in September last year set up the sand resource management committee under the auspices of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.
However, on Tuesday the committee moved to clarify its role stating it had nothing to do with the licensing system nor did it collect license fees.
Minister for Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Keanhor, chairman of the committee, said his team only handled ecological studies and made recommendations to Prime Minister Hun Sen.