A Koh Kong environmental official yesterday said a company with a sand-washing facility in an area where the Ministry of Mines and Energy last month banned sand dredging would be allowed to keep and operate its facility.
The facility, located inside a wildlife sanctuary, had drawn the ire of activists and was part of the basis for a request by an opposition lawmaker for more information on dredging in the area – a request that was rejected yesterday.
Mom Phalla, director of the Environment Department, said the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s directive banned sand extraction for export, but the sand-washing facility would process sand for domestic use, and therefore could remain where it is.
Phalla claimed the company had a “licence”, though he would not say who issued it, and added that the company also had an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) – an assertion disputed by the Environment Ministry.
“The sand-washing facility at Prek Tatai has a licence to [process] sand for domestic consumption,” he said. “Therefore, they can operate there. It does not severely affect [the area]. It is small, and they will use normal freshwater to wash it.”
Last month, the Ministry of Environment said it would review an EIA for SCTWN Development Co Ltd, which is behind the facility. However, Danh Serey, director of the ministry’s Environment Impact Assessment Department, said he had not received the EIA, and referred questions to officials in charge of protected areas.
Heng Nareth, director of environmental protection at the Ministry of Environment, claimed the ministry had not given permission for the facility to operate as they only review the EIA.
Pech Siyun, director of the Koh Kong Provincial Mines and Energy Department, declined to comment on the case. Yos Monirath, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, also declined to comment unless answers were submitted via letter.
Sos Nara, a member of the Koh Sralao community, said Chinese workers at the sand-washing facility told him the company spent a lot of money on it.
“If they don’t relocate it, we still worry because they can secretly [dredge] at night time,” he said. “The [sand] washing will affect our fishing.”
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay on Monday submitted a letter to National Assembly President Heng Samrin to sign and forward to Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.
The letter requested more information on sand dredging and the sand-washing facility, following the decision by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to permanently ban sand exports from Koh Kong. Samrin blocked the request.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long said Chhay cited articles 69 and 96 of the Cambodian Constitution, which he insisted did not pertain to his request.
However, Article 96 states that members of the National Assembly have the right to raise questions to any government official. Article 69, meanwhile, cites the state’s responsibility to “preserve and promote national culture” and historical sites.
Furthermore, neither the constitution nor the Internal Regulation of the National Assembly give authority to the president of the National Assembly to deny such requests.
Peng Long went on to accuse Chhay of “interference in the government’s affairs, because the government is in charge of managing the directive”.
Chhay said that Samrin had “no right” to block his request to Sem.
“This is unusual and very strange,” he said, calling the action “serious”, as a “parliamentarian no longer has any role to monitor the executive branch”.
“Every institution has come under the hands of the government,” he said. “That’s concerning.”