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Sand export answers sought

Ministry of Mines and Energy officials speak with people at a Kandal sand depot on Monday morning. Photo supplied
Ministry of Mines and Energy officials speak with people at a Kandal sand depot on Monday morning. Photo supplied

Sand export answers sought

Pressure mounted on the Ministry of Mines and Energy yesterday from politicians and civil society for the ministry to explain to the public massive discrepancies in data on sand exports to Singapore.

Just one day after the ministry temporarily shuttered six sand depots in Kandal over infractions, CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann during a party meeting yesterday pointed to irregularities in data on sand exports to Singapore as evidence of ongoing corruption in the Kingdom.

UN data show $752 million in imports of sand from Cambodia to Singapore since 2007, despite the Kingdom only reporting about $5 million in exports to the small island nation. A ministry official initially questioned the reliability of the UN data, but statistics obtained from Singapore’s Trade Ministry closely mirror the UN’s.

“We see that there is a lot of loss to the national budget [regarding sand cases],” Sovann said. “The anti-corruption commission will research this issue and will call [Mines Minister Suy Sem] for questioning in the National Assembly regarding the discrepancies in Singapore statistics and Cambodian statistics.”

Piling on, a group of 47 civil society organisations sent a letter to the Ministry of Mines and Energy requesting that it provide clarification on the matter. The organisations outlined questions they would like answered by the ministry on the discrepancies on the number of tonnes of sand exported to Singapore and its value.

Him Yun, with the Coalition for Integrity & Social Accountability, said the ministry should clarify to the public and provide a reason for the inconsistency of data. “We urge the Ministry of Mines, as well as other ministries, to be transparent with the public,” he said. “We hope that they will react to our statement.”

Vann Sophath, of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, which was behind the letter, said Sem in June made a commitment to be transparent, and even welcomed requests from the public wishing to obtain documents related to mining.

Responding to their request “would be a sign of transparency”, he said.

The organisations also suggested that the ministry restrict the export of sand as well, but officials were tight-lipped yesterday on what measures they would take to address the inconsistencies.

Ministry of Mines spokesman Meng Saktheara said the ministry had received the letter by the NGOs and was carefully looking into the questions. “The ministry takes this issue very seriously and will cooperate with all parties involved, including civil society,” he said.

Dith Tina, secretary of state for the ministry, declined to comment yesterday, but said the ministry would respond to the NGOs “in detail”.

On Monday, a half-dozen sand depots in Kandal were shut down after the Mines Ministry and the Ministry of Interior’s department of traffic and order launched an inspection of vehicles transporting sand, soil and stone, said Heng Chanthuon, deputy secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines. Ten overloaded vehicles, which were fined, led officials to the six sites.

Though Chanthuon said the depots’ licences were expired, the ministry said they were closed because of the overloaded trucks.

Additional reporting by Bun Sengkong

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