A COALITION of civil society groups launched a new resource revenue watchdog Friday, citing the need for more transparency in Cambodia's natural resources sector.
Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency (CRRT) - founded by the Centre for Social Development, Development and Partnership in Action, the NGO Forum on Cambodia, the Economic Institute of Cambodia and the Youth Resource Development Program - aims to ensure that revenues from mining and potential offshore oil deposits are handled accountably.
"[T]he revenues from extractive industries have enormous potential to lift Cambodians out of poverty," Lim Solinn, the regional programme coordinator for Oxfam America's East Asia office, said at the launch.
"Conversely, if not properly managed, these same dollars could have dramatically adverse affects - environmental, social and economic."
The discovery of oil and gas reserves by US oil giant Chevron off the country's south coast in 2004 has prompted speculation about the potential benefit of any future oil revenues, with some civil society groups expressing concerns that Cambodians will derive little benefit from the money.
In February, international corruption watchdog Global Witness released a report claiming high-level corruption and nepotism in the country's extractive resources sectors, springing from the granting of "highly dubious" economic concessions by the government.
Lim said that Cambodia was well-placed to avoid the "resource curse" - the economic distortions caused by a heavy reliance on extractive resources - provided it makes an effort to establish the proper procedures and regulatory infrastructure, including input from the non-government sector.
"This can only be done with a strong and meaningful engagement between government, companies and civil society," she said.
Hang Chuon Naron, vice chairman of the Supreme National Economic Council, said at Friday's launch that the government was dedicated to ensuring extractive resources would be a blessing rather than a curse, claiming increased revenues could be used to sustain "robust economic growth" and "rapid poverty reduction".
He said the government's Public Financial Management Reform Programme, initiated in 2004, would ensure a fully transparent system is in place by 2015, adding that the government would share information about oil revenues with NGOs and development partners.
But Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay regarded the government's promises with suspicion, saying its track record on natural resource revenue management was not good.
"We don't trust the government.... There's no record in the past that the government has been accountable," he said. "A lot of resources have been disappearing, starting with forests, gems and gold mines."
But he reiterated the CRRT's calls for more information on oil revenues, saying the SRP has requested that details of oil exploration agreements be made public.