The Ministry of Mines and Energy has permanently banned sand exports from Koh Kong province – eight months after it imposed a temporary ban following controversy over large discrepancies found in sand export figures to Singapore.
Mines Minister Suy Sem on Monday signed a prakas and set of guidelines detailing the changes, though activists and locals remained sceptical yesterday that the rules would prevent irregular export of sand overseas.
According to the documents, dated Monday, the ministry has “completely halted the export of all kinds of construction sand and mud sand from Koh Kong province to foreign countries”.
According to Meng Saktheara, secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the previous temporary measure contained a loophole that allowed exporters to continue dredging as long as they maintained they were not exporting. The new permanent measure, he said, closes the loophole by invalidating all current licences for dredging for export in Koh Kong.
“It basically bans all dredging for export purposes, which means that all existing licences will be deemed invalid if they are related to exports,” he said.
Any company wishing to dredge in Koh Kong for domestic purposes will have to submit a new application, and will have to move to certain zones that have been designated by the ministry for small-scale sand-dredging operations only, Saktheara said.
The ministry also has designated several “red zones” where no sand dredging will be allowed, he added.
On Monday, an activist claimed a company had begun dredging in the Tatai River in front of a sand processing facility that is currently under construction. This area would be inside of the “red zone” under the new guidelines.
Two companies, Udom Seima Peanich Industry & Mines Co Ltd and SCTWN Development Co Ltd, were given approval by authorities, including the Ministry of Environment, on January 11 to conduct environmental impact assessments for sand dredging in Trapaing Roung and Tatay Krom communes.
“[Companies] will have to stop all current operations in the area,” Saktheara said.
The sand washing facility, meanwhile, would need to be removed, and because the equipment would be considered “large scale”, it couldn’t be reinstalled in the safe zones for small scale operations, he added.
Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said yesterday morning, before the new ban had been announced, that SCTWN Development Co Ltd had requested permission from the ministry to install the facility.
“We have no objection to establish a sand washing station or facility,” he said, adding that Environment Minister Say Sam Al had requested full environmental impact assessments be conducted. He could not be reached for further comment following the announcement of the ban.
Sopheap said the company had requested permission to dredge for domestic use, but was still waiting for a licence from the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
According to the guidelines, companies will only be allowed to operate small-scale-dredging operations in five zones on the Tatai, Trapaing Roung and Sre Ambel rivers.
These operations would not be able to dredge more than 50 cubic metres of sand per day, and must not transport more than 20 cubic metres at a time.
Saktheara said the permanent ban only applies to Koh Kong, as officials had conducted a reassessment there of environmental and social impacts after concerns were raised by civil society.
“Results of the assessment indicate significant impact on the ecology and local communities if large-scale sand dredging continues operating,” he said. “That’s why we decided to issue this.”
Saktheara explained that the ministry will have to study other areas as well.
“Companies can still apply [for export licences in other rivers], but it doesn’t mean they will get it,” he said.
The ministry will hold a workshop on July 21 to inform local authorities how to implement the new measures, he said.
Meng Heng, an activist with Mother Nature, welcomed the announcement, but remained unconvinced it would work.
He said there have been several directives from the ministry, and yet violations continue to take place by companies either secretly operating, or through alleged government collusion. “In reality, the companies still operate,” he said. “We want the ministry to punish the illegal companies.”
Heng pointed to SCTWN company as a potential example of what companies can still get away with. “We wonder why the ministry issued the announcement, but why the construction of the facility is almost completed?” he asked. He added that he would like to see a nationwide ban that also includes silica sand, which was recently revealed to be exempt from the ban.