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Singapore hits back over sand report

Singapore hits back over sand report

SINGAPORE has rejected the findings of a new report contending that its sand export trade with Cambodia is taking place without regard for “devastating” environmental and social impacts.

The report, released Monday by international graft watchdog Global Witness, claims sand exports have spiked despite a ban on exports announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen last year. It also says Singapore has done little to ensure that its sand suppliers abide by international environmental standards.

In a statement issued Monday, Singapore’s Ministry of National Development (MND) dismissed the allegations in the report.

“This is not true. We are committed to the protection of the global environment, and we do not condone the illegal export or smuggling of sand, or any extraction of sand that is in breach of the source countries’ laws and rules on environmental protection,” the statement said. “We have not received any official notice on the ban of sand exports from Cambodia,” it added.

The Global Witness report estimates that as much as 796,000 tonnes of sand is being removed each month from Koh Kong province, the epicentre of a sand trade worth an estimated $248 million annually in Singapore.

The group says the city-state’s appetite for sand, which is used in reclamation projects, is fuelling a “corrupt and environmentally disastrous” sand industry that has damaged Cambodian fish stocks and threatens long-term damage to its riverine and marine ecosystems.

Singapore’s MND, however, said that Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry that procures sand for government projects, requires its Singaporean suppliers to “comply with local legal procedures” in sourcing sand.

Contracts drawn up by JTC, it stated, include clauses obliging suppliers and their local partners to act in accordance with the “laws, rules, regulations and policies” of host countries and to dredge without causing “adverse” environmental impacts.

“JTC regularly sends out firm reminders to the sand vendors to observe the regulations and requirements of the source countries, especially those pertaining to environmental concerns,” the statement added. It warned that offending companies would be held to account under Singaporean law.

But Global Witness questioned the extent to which Singapore had taken steps to ensure the transparency of its trade with Cambodia, given Singapore’s apparent awareness of its effects elsewhere in the region.

“Singapore’s demand for sand has already had a negative impact in other countries in the region – which have subsequently banned exports due to environmental concerns,” the group said in an emailed statement to the Post on Tuesday, calling for more to be done to ensure transparency.

“Global Witness is calling upon Singapore to do the right thing by suspending all imports of sand from Cambodia until the concerns raised in [its report] are addressed,” it said.

The statement also said it was “strange” that Singaporean officials were not informed of Cambodia’s sand ban, since the city-state was the primary market for Cambodian sand. It also pointed out that a government agency – the Building and Construction Authority – made a statement to the press after the ban was announced.

When contacted Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he could not comment on whether news of the ban was relayed to Singapore.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the government did not notify Singapore about the ban, because “legal companies are still continuing sand exports”. “We banned only the illegal sand-dredging companies,” he said.

Mao Hak, director general of the Department of Hydrology and River Works at the Ministry of Water Resources, said a ban is still in place, but that certain coastal areas are exempt.

“Sand was completely banned for export, but we excepted some areas in the ocean that do not cause impacts to the environment and where mineral resources” could be replenished, he said.

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