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Gov’t slams UN sand figures

Dredgers and barges loaded with sand moor on the Tatai River in Koh Kong earlier this year.
Dredgers and barges loaded with sand moor on the Tatai River in Koh Kong earlier this year. Athena Zelandonii

Gov’t slams UN sand figures

Government officials have denied the sand-dredging industry is mired in corruption in the wake of damning figures pointing to a 70-million-tonne hole in Cambodian sand-export numbers to Singapore.

Acting Minister for Mines and Energy Dith Tina yesterday cast doubt on the reliability of the data on the UN Commodity Trade (UN Comtrade) Statistics Database, which showed Cambodia claimed to have exported about 2.8 million tonnes of sand to Singapore – worth $5.5 million – over the past nine years.

In stark contrast, Singapore recorded importing 72.7 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia, at $752 million.

In his office yesterday, Tina entered random options into the database to highlight other discrepancies between importing and exporting countries, such as between Malaysia and Singapore, but would not comment on whether those differences amounted to $700 million.

He described media reports on the database as “misleading”, and said those crying corruption were potentially “politically motivated”.

“People who use this data seem unprofessional to me,” he said. “It’s not helpful to destroy their credibility when there is no concrete proof [of corruption].

“We don’t tolerate it.”

Tina said figures were extremely difficult for his ministry to track down as it gave priority to fighting illegal mining. However, he said, in 2015, Cambodia exported a total of 149,250 cubic metres (228,000 tonnes) of sand worldwide.

He could not give figures specific to Singapore or the dollar value of exports, but said the royalties collected by the state amounted to about $111,000 on both imported and exported sand products.

However, Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Soeng Sophary yesterday provided a document listing Cambodia’s sand exports to Singapore for the past nine years, including their weight and dollar value, which corresponded almost exactly to the figures on the UN Comtrade database, with one notable exception.

In 2013, UN data and Cambodia’s figures did not align. According to the database, Singapore imported 20,000 tonnes more than the Cambodian export document showed, valued at $45,000.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday dismissed Tina’s claims that there was no corruption in the sand-dredging industry. “I believe there is corruption, starting from the way the government is giving licences to the companies,” he said.

“We found the amount of sand imports to Singapore was many times more compared to what the government claimed it to be. Where did the money go?”

Chhay urged the government to be more transparent with issuing licences and said the full environmental toll should be made public. “Sand dredging is a dirty business, causing environmental impacts.”

A previous version of this article misstated the volume of Cambodia's reported sand exports to Singapore. Records show exports of 2.8 million tonnes of sand, not 2.8 tonnes.

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