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NGOs not satisfied with gov’t dredging response

Sand dredgers on the Mekong near Phnom Penh last July.
Sand dredgers on the Mekong near Phnom Penh last July. Hong Menea

NGOs not satisfied with gov’t dredging response

Civil society organisations yesterday expressed dissatisfaction with the results of a meeting with the Ministry of Mines and Energy they say didn’t address many of their questions regarding massive discrepancies in data on sand exports to Singapore, despite a ministry official insisting all questions had been answered.

The ministry invited NGOs for a meeting after a group of 47 sent a letter earlier this month seeking answers on the sand discrepancies. UN data show $752 million in imports of sand from Cambodia to Singapore since 2007, while the Kingdom only reported about $5 million.

NGOs “still need a real clarification”, said Vann Sophath, of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, who attended the closed-door meeting on Friday. “During the meeting, we didn’t receive the real answers,” Sophath said.

Sophath’s sentiments were echoed by others present at the meeting.

NGOs requested the ministry suspend all sand-dredging activities in Koh Kong, where most sand-dredging companies operate, and that it post documents related to the issue on the ministry’s website for the public to view.

However, “the ministry said it was not the right time to post information on the website”, said San Chey, executive director for the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability. The ministry did invite NGOs for a meeting to see documents.

Meanwhile, Dith Tina, secretary of state for the ministry, characterised the meeting as “constructive”.

“We answered the questions that they were looking for,” he said.

Tina wouldn’t say whether the ministry would consider suspending all sand-dredging activities but did say the ministry enacted a new sub-decree less than a month ago that stipulates what minerals can be exported and which ones can’t.

And every time a licence expires, the ministry will also re-evaluate it, he added. “It’s our job to re-evaluate the framework that we have,” Tina said.

Tina also pointed out that only 13 of the 47 NGOs showed up to the meeting. “It shows that maybe this issue is not that important for them,” he said.

However, Sophath said a request for the ministry to push back the meeting was denied.

“We are committed, but . . . if it’s rushed like this, it is difficult,” he said.

Sun Mala, co-founder of the conservation NGO Mother Nature, said they weren’t sure if the ministry was simply putting on a show of effort or if it really wanted to clear up the scandal.

“We are waiting to see the ministry’s intention.”

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