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Ministry unveils new strictures on dredging

A sand dredger works on the Tonle Sap river near Phnom Penh
A sand dredger works on the Tonle Sap river near Phnom Penh earlier this year. Hong Menea

Ministry unveils new strictures on dredging

Sand-dredging businesses were offered both carrot and stick yesterday by officials touting a new regime for the much-criticised industry.

Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem told reporters that companies wishing to apply for new licences would need to wait for wide-ranging social and environmental impact assessments to be carried out on Cambodia’s rivers, whereas dredging companies active in areas that had already been studied would be allowed to continue after applying for temporary licences.

“The ministry will study whether the company will get a [temporary] licence at any locations, in order to perform sand dredging that avoids river bank collapses and other impacts,” he said.

The comments came two days after Prime Minister Hun Sen officially transferred responsibility for policing the sector to the Energy Ministry in a speech where he issued a stern warning to Sem to clean up the trade. A committee had previously acted as a go-between for several government departments, a system Hun Sen said was “too complicated” and resulted in officials dodging the blame for their failures.

Illegal sand dredging is rife, and large-scale operations in the past have been linked to government officials and politically connected tycoons.

After sand-dredging companies’ licences expire, many firms continue to collect sand from rivers to meet their orders, Sem said. “Where it is possible to exploit sand, we will allow those businesses to continue to operate their businesses.”

He also announced further cooperation with the Ministry of Environment to assess the social, economic and environmental impact of the practice.

Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said that the institution’s assessment teams would soon fan out to cover entire rivers, rather than relying on the previous system of only visiting small areas where dredging companies had requested to operate.

This, he added, would provide a better understanding of the industry’s effects on Cambodia’s river systems. “We want to determine exactly how much dredging [is happening],” he said, adding that the evaluation would last about a year.

The Energy Ministry also issued a statement saying it would create a hotline where people could report alleged cases of illegal sand dredging, and that it would establish a “River Guard” campaign to raise awareness of the practice’s impacts.

Speaking at the same event, military police commander General Sao Sokha said the paramilitary force had reached an agreement with the Energy Ministry to enforce the law on rogue companies.

“If anyone commits a criminal offence . . . it is our responsibility as police to crack down,” he said.

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