Cambodia: Minister to be grilled on discrepancy in sand exports to Singapore

Meas Sokchea Phnom Penh Post 14 Dec 16;

Minister for Mines and Energy Suy Sem will appear at the National Assembly on Thursday to answer questions about a more than $700 million discrepancy in data on sand exports to Singapore, according to a letter signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the letter, sent to National Assembly President Heng Samrin on Monday, the premier requests that Sem field questions from the assembly’s anti-corruption commission, led by CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann.

Pressure has been building on the ministry to respond after UN data showed $752 million in imports of sand from Cambodia to Singapore since 2007, a figure that dwarfed the $5 million reported by the Cambodian government.

Speaking yesterday, Vann said he would grill the minister over the apparent lost revenue and about how many companies were currently operating in the Kingdom’s lucrative sand-dredging sector.

“If there has not been a loss [of revenue], I hope he provides proof to confirm this for us,” Vann said. The premier also requested the Health Minister Mam Bun Heng appear for questioning at the assembly over allegations of graft, incompetence and poor service within his portfolio, though no specific date was set.

The Health Ministry has come under repeated fire, particularly its National Malaria Centre, which was the subject of a massive corruption scandal relating to Global Fund contracts. A more recent Post investigation found evidence of graft in its use of travel funds supplied by donors.

PM Agrees to Questioning of Ministers of Health, Mines
KHUON NARIM Cambodia Daily 14 Dec 16;

Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed to the opposition CNRP’s request to let the National Assembly interrogate two ministers under fire for presiding over alleged corruption, officials confirmed on Tuesday.

In a letter signed on Monday, the prime minister said he would accept a request by the Assembly’s anti-corruption commission to have Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem answer for “irregularities in the export of sand to Singapore.”

Singapore recorded importing more than 73.6 million tons of sand from Cambodia between 2007 and last year, compared to the less than 2.8 million tons Cambodia said it sent there, according to figures both countries have provided to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade).

Parliamentarians will question Health Minister Mam Bunheng in a separate session, according to Assembly spokesman Leng Penglong.

In a letter last week, sent at the opposition’s request, lawmakers said they wanted Mr. Bunheng to explain “irregularities” at the ministry, including the sale of state facilities, poor training and oversight of doctors, and a $450,000 bribery case involving the procurement of mosquito nets raised by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2013.

“We will contact Minister Mam Bunheng to organize a suitable time to answer questions at parliament,” Mr. Penglong said. Mr. Sem, he added, would appear at the Assembly on Thursday morning.

Ou Chanrath, a CNRP lawmaker and member of the Assembly’s anti-corruption commission, promised “a lot of questions” for Mr. Sem and his staff over the sand export allegations.

“Are they [at] their job and sitting there watching it happen?” he asked. “Because it’s [gone on for] too many years.”

Cambodia is Singapore’s top sand supplier, even as other countries have banned exports because of sand mining’s destructive ecological effects.

“I think there will be questions from the CPP too,” Mr. Chanrath added.

Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman Dith Dina hung up on a reporter when contacted on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)

Sand Export Figure Doubts Persist
Khmer Times 16 Dec 16;

The chairman of the National Assembly’s corruption commission says a technical explanation from the Mines and Energy Minister over alleged irregularities in sand exported to Singapore is not clear enough.

The controversy over the sand exports emerged after about 50 NGOs asked the Ministry of Mines and Energy to provide figures of exported sand between the two counties from 2007 to 2015.

On the UN Commodity Trade (UN Comtrade) statistics database, Cambodia reported exporting $5.5 million worth of sand, about 2.8 million tons, to Singapore between 2007 and 2015.

However, the database shows for that same period, Singapore imported $752 million worth of sand from the Kingdom, amounting to 72.7 million tons. This suggested a difference of about $747 million.

The issue was raised last month and explained in a technical way in a meeting between ministry officials and some NGOs.

Since the doubt was not cleared, opposition Assembly members decided to summon the minister over the discrepancies.

After nearly three hours of questioning, Minister Suy Sem declined to comment to reporters outside the Assembly room, saying there would be a press conference at noon.

Ho Vann, chairman of the Assembly 10th commission, said Mr. Sem’s explanation was still vague.

He said the ministries of mines and commerce had the same figures for the amount of sand.

But he added: “Another source from Singapore suggested different amounts, which leads to different budget amounts opposite the report recorded in Cambodia.

“We have asked the Minister to find a way to narrow the gap. The gap is too big. We could not accept it and require more hard work.”

However, Mr. Vann is not sure whether the issue arises out of corruption. He only pledged to summon the minister later if needed.

In a press conference at the Mines and Energy Ministry yesterday afternoon, secretary of state and spokesman for the ministry Dith Tina said sand exports have to be recorded separately and with different procedures.

Different institutions were involved which means that the Ministry of Mines and Energy is not solely responsible for exporting sand.

Mr. Tina said: “I hope people will stop saying that Cambodia has lost $700 million of the national budget in sand because this is the figure that we got from the UN Comtrade.

“People should not take the difference in trade volume as the loss from one country to another. Neither the government nor the ministry sell sand, businessmen do. What is sold here has a different value than what is sold in the buying country.

“What the state gets in terms of revenue is royalty, tax, license fee as public service, land rental and related aspects. The companies sell sand, so the trade value in Cambodia is different from the sand trade value in Singapore.”

Mr. Tina added that the whole issue revolves around quantity. “The chairman of the 10th commission has also agreed that the trade volume does not matter anymore and that only the quantity mattered.”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said that the gap in the figures happens in every country and for every item. UN Comtrade had recognized the reason for the gap and its own disclaimer required people to be careful using this figure.

San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability-Cambodia who has met officials of the Mines and Energy Ministry on this issue, said the controversy requires cooperation between Cambodia and Singapore to resolve the doubts.

Mr. Tina stressed: “If we have to investigate every time there is a difference in the UN Comtrade data and a country’s data, then every country, every product, will have to be investigated to try and verify it’s accuracy.

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