The Ministry of Mines and Energy’s mineral exploration licensing process is vulnerable to corruption, an independent study has found, identifying 14 potential openings for graft.
The preliminary findings were presented Friday during an Extractive Industry Governance Forum, which brings together key stakeholders – ministry officials, NGOs and private companies – in the extractive sector to foster better governance.
Researchers found that 14 risks have been mitigated through recent ministry reforms. However, another 14 risks for potential corruption remain in the current licensing regulatory framework, said Kim Minea, senior analyst at Emerging Markets Consulting, which was hired by Transparency International Cambodia to carry out the study.
The researchers polled 21 “key informants” from the public, private and civil society sectors.
“Corruption or malpractice will probably occur,” said Minea, the lead researcher. “There are opportunities available in the framework.”
Of the 14 risks that remain, one was weakness in background checks of companies. Only the company’s technical capabilities, finances and work plan were studied, leaving a blind spot for any previous violations of the law.
“We want to know the integrity of the company,” Minea said. “We want to know that the company has a clean record. There is a loophole if we have companies that don’t respect the law.”
What the ministry currently does when it comes to application assessment is “not enough”, Meng Saktheara, spokesman for the ministry, acknowledged.
Another risk is that the 10-member evaluation committee is composed of only ministry officials who currently don’t have to declare any conflict of interests with companies being evaluated.
“There is no one involved from outside the ministry,” Minea said. “We don’t want . . . people who have influence to be involved in the evaluation process.”
During the public consultation stage, the study found, the affected communities are often not properly represented. A lack of proper guidelines leaves room for companies to pay bribes to local people or authorities or for people to miss consultation meetings because they were not properly informed.
Saktheara agreed that there are still risks for corruption, and the ministry will work to mitigate them. “It’s up to us now to eliminate them [the risks] within this year,” he said. “Civil society will keep watching, and they will ask for more public disclosure.”
Pech Pisey, director of programs at Transparency International Cambodia, called the oversight important as minerals are a “treasure” for the country.
“These treasures need to be managed properly,” he said.
The finalised study will be made public in July or August, he added.