KUCH NAREN Cambodia Daily 24 Jan 17;
The controversial exporting of Cambodian sand to Singapore has finally—if temporarily—been stopped, according to officials from the two countries, amid long-running criticism over discrepancies in shipment records and environmental damage.
A Singapore official said the country had ceased importing sand from Cambodia, according to a Singaporean media report on Monday, while a Cambodian Mines and Energy Ministry spokesman said exports were suspended for the time being.
Singapore, a wealthy city-state hungry for sand used in reclamation projects to expand its land area, has denied any improper activities despite a gaping difference between the huge amounts of sand recorded entering its ports and the drastically smaller totals that source countries such as Cambodia have reported leaving their shores.
The sand trade has long been roiled by tales of large-scale smuggling, rampant destruction of coastal habitats, and even “sand mafias” who have been said to rule over black markets.
In Cambodia, sand dredging—mostly in Koh Kong province—has devastated coastlines and ecosystems and become a flashpoint for environmental groups campaigning against continued exports.
On Monday, The Straits Times reported a Singaporean Ministry of National Development spokesman as saying that Singapore had stopped sand imports from Cambodia in November in response to a ban on all sand exports by the Cambodian government.
The spokesman also denied that there had been any illicit sand trading in Singapore.
“Thus far, Singapore has not encountered instances of smuggled sand, or contractors bringing sand into Singapore carrying fake export permits,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked to respond to the report, Chhe Lidin, a spokesman for Cambodia’s Mines and Energy Ministry, said sand exporting was suspended in November to “reassess and improve the whole process altogether.”
“Until a new process is set using multi-stakeholders approach, the suspension will stay intact,” Mr. Lidin said.
He added that past exports to Singapore had been done “in a responsible manner.”
The U.N.’s Commodity Trade Statistics Database shows Singapore importing 75 million metric tons of sand from Cambodia between 2005 and 2015, but figures from the Cambodian Finance Ministry’s general department of customs and excise show just 14.3 million tons leaving the country.
The difference of more than 60 million tons in unreported exports—worth hundreds of millions of dollars—has become the focus of questioning in the National Assembly, discussions between NGOs and the Mines and Energy Ministry, and a government ban on sand dredging in Koh Kong.
Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the exiled director of the environmental NGO Mother Nature, said sand dredging in Koh Kong had only taken off in 2007 after Indonesia banned the export of marine sand and Singapore promised to buy massive amounts of sand from Cambodia.
“So, now that there seems to be a moratorium on further exports, we hope that the local environment will slowly start regenerating itself and that fish catches will start rising once again,” Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said in an email.
“The biggest concern we have is that both governments will try at some point to resume sand exports, after coming up with some new scheme, such as sending the sand to Singapore via Vietnam, as the Cambodian government has already admitted doing in the past.”
He said the Singaporean government should open up its books and make publicly available all information and documents on sand shipments from Cambodia.
“Then, they should make it loud and clear that they will not be importing any more of this dirty Cambodian sand,” he said.
“Both governments have been caught with their pants down on this issue, and it is now snowballing into a big headache, especially for Singapore, which tries very hard to come across as accountable, transparent and responsible.”
(Additional reporting by Michael Dickison)
Sand exports in limbo
PECH SOTHEARY Khmer Times 25 Jan 17;
Dith Tina from the Ministry of Mines and Energy at yesterday’s forum. KT/Mai Vireak
Sand exports will remain suspended amid questions about a 56 million-ton discrepancy in deliveries to Singapore.
Dith Tina, a secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said yesterday that no date had been set for the exports to resume.
He spoke at a public forum titled “The truth about sand exports abroad” at the general department of petroleum at which more than 100 youths, students, civil servants and community members took part.
Mr. Tina said the ministry was preparing to improve procedures to allow civil society to monitor sand exports to avoid any suspicion or accusation against the government.
“Until now, we have not yet determined how long we will suspend the exports,” he said.
“If we continue to do without civil society participation, they will shout that there is no transparency or clarity.
“We are preparing procedures to let them join. Also, when we look at the bureaucracy, we will affect another aspect which is trade facilitation.”
On October 13, 47 civil society organizations and communities issued an open letter asking the ministry to clarify sand exports from 2007 to 2015 after it emerged that there was a difference of nearly 70 million tons between the Cambodian and Singaporean figures.
The ministry has tried to explain the problem with the Singapore records in the National Assembly.
After that there was customs data from India obtained by NGO Mother Nature activists which showed more than 108,000 tons of sand, worth $2.7 million, were sent from Cambodia to India between 2013 and 2015, while Cambodian Customs did not have any figures on sand exports to India.
Mr. Tina confirmed that the ministry did not grant any licenses for sand to be exported to India.
However, the ministry did not impose any conditions on destination countries to export sand because Cambodia has a free market system, he said.
He said that Mines Ministry is responsible for licensing, overseeing the execution of the company in compliance with licensing conditions and collecting royalty with proper evaluation of the impact on the environment.
In a public forum on macroeconomic management and the 2017 budget on Monday, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia Preap Kol said ministries – especially the Ministry of Economy and Finance – should take action to find out about the differences in the figures.
Vongsey Vissoth, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, responded that the ministry was investigating the case as sand exports were a source of budget revenue, among other natural resources.
However, the case took time and involved cooperation from relevant parties, he said.
“The ministry did not ignore it. All of these workers have to collaborate internationally and conduct studies,” he said.
“This unofficial figure cannot be taken as the basis of conclusions that can cause confusion as today’s media system is very complex,” he said.
KUCH NAREN Cambodia Daily 24 Jan 17;