Singapore has strict criteria for sand imports, says Government, as controversy over Cambodian imports brews

SIAU MING EN Today Online 23 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE ­— The Republic stopped importing sand from Cambodia after a ban took effect in November last year, said the Ministry of National Development (MND) as the issue of sand imports once again takes the spotlight.

Responding to media queries, the MND also stressed that Singapore sets strict criteria for imports of sand, including on environmental protection, but reiterated that sand is imported on a commercial basis and it is the contractors who must meet the criteria. It also said that Singapore has not come across any illegal shipments of sand here.

In Nov, Cambodian authorities reportedly temporarily halted sand exports by companies that hold valid permits after local activists found discrepancies in the export and import trade data from the United Nations. The data showed that Singapore reported 73.6 million tonnes in sand imports from Cambodia since 2007. Yet the Cambodian government reported that only 2.7 million tonnes left for Singapore.

The extraction and export of Cambodian sand has been controversial, as firms allegedly extract sand in defiance of quotas, destroying coastal mangrove systems in the process and affecting the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

Aside from Cambodia, Singapore also imports sand from the Philippines and Myanmar, according to media reports.

Earlier this month, the Cambodian Daily reported that Mother Nature, a non-governmental organisation, was exploring bringing lawsuits against government agencies and companies involved in sand exports to Singapore.

The MND said the Government does not condone any trade or extraction of sand that breaches the source countries’ laws and regulations, and contractors “must source sand from legally permissible areas, comply with all the environmental protection laws of the source country, and have the proper sand export documentation and permits from the relevant authorities in the source countries”.

On the discrepancy in sand trade figures, the MND spokesperson said they are unable to verify this as the figures reported by various parties and countries are dependent on their own calculation formulas that the ministry is not privy to.

She also noted that Singapore has not encountered instances of smuggled sand, or contractors bringing sand into Singapore carrying fake export permits. “The authorities will investigate any such instances and take enforcement action, if evidence is provided,” she added.

Sand is often used in the construction industry to produce cement or used for land reclamation. According to a 2014 United Nations Environment Programme report, Singapore is the largest importer of sand worldwide.

The volumes of sand imported annually into Singapore vary according to the availability of sand and the requirements of the reclamation and construction projects, said the MND. No figures breaking down the uses of sand in Singapore were available.

Speaking to TODAY, Mother Nature co-founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said in Cambodia that quotas are on how much sand mining companies can extract, but the companies tend to exceed this as there are no checks and law enforcement.

He also claimed that Cambodian government agencies had “wilfully assisted” these companies by turning a blind eye to violations of regulations or issue documents that do not represent the full amount of sand that was being exported.

The MND said that as sand is not a natural resource in Singapore, it would be “highly challenging” to achieve self-sufficiency. Nonetheless, Singapore has been exploring alternative methods, such as recycling excavated materials from the construction industry to replace a proportion of sand in some reclamation projects, said the spokesperson. The reclamation project in Pulau Tekong will also use a method called empoldering to reduce the amount of sand needed.

BACKGROUND TO THE ISSUE

Singapore’s sand imports have sparked controversy over the years, with environmental activists pointing to the environmental impact from the extraction process.

Malaysia imposed a ban on sand exports in 1997, but Malaysian media have previously reported instances of sand smuggling, allegedly destined for Singapore.

In 2007, Indonesia announced a ban on the export of land sand to Singapore, citing concerns that sand extraction activities were leading to environmental degradation. At the time, 90 per cent of Singapore’s sand imports came from Indonesia, and the ban sparked a supply crunch, leading to a search for sand from other sources.

Cambodia and Vietnam are also source countries, but in 2009, Cambodia banned the export of sand from rivers, although exports from areas where sand was replenished regularly was still allowed. Vietnam followed suit in the same year.

In 2010, anti-corruption non-governmental organisation Global Witness alleged in a report that the Cambodian government was engaging in corrupt practices and ignoring environmental safeguards against sand dredging, and that Singapore was buying sand unsustainably dredged from the rivers in the Koh Kong Province.

Singapore rejected the allegations, stressing that it requires sand vendors to act responsibly and observe source country regulations.


Strict rules in place for import of sand: Government
Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times AsiaOne 23 Jan 17;

Singapore has denied accusations that it illegally imported sand from Cambodia, saying "strict controls" are in place to ensure contractors source sand legally and in line with local environmental rules.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) said the Government does not condone the smuggling of sand or the use of forged export permits - accusations levelled at it by Cambodian environmentalists.

"Thus far, Singapore has not encountered instances of smuggled sand, or contractors bringing sand into Singapore carrying fake export permits," a spokesman for MND said in response to media queries.

In fact, Singapore has ceased importing sand from its neighbour since last November, in compliance with a ban on all sand exports by the Cambodian government, he added.

This superseded a May 2009 partial ban on certain types of sand.

The MND statement comes amid a growing clamour among Cambodian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) accusing Singapore of excessive sand dredging that they say has threatened mangrove swamps, fish stocks and livelihoods.

A discrepancy over just how much sand Singapore has imported also gave rise to charges that the trade enriched local politicians in Cambodia.

Between 2007 and 2015, Singapore recorded 70 million more tonnes of sand from Cambodia than it reported sending over, according to a United Nations database. The MND said it was unable to verify this.

Cambodian NGO Mother Nature has since engaged Singapore lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam to look into whether Singapore has broken any laws "in relation to the social and ecological destruction the mining has caused, or... the government (is) importing Cambodian sand which is tainted by issues of corruption, smuggling, tax evasion etc", its founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson told The Cambodia Daily on Jan 5.

Mr Thuraisingam told The Straits Times he was approached by the NGO earlier this year, but said it was too early to give more details.

In its statement, the MND spokesman stressed that the import of sand from Cambodia is done on a commercial basis, and the Government does not condone any trade or extraction of sand that breaches the source countries' laws.

Contractors must "source sand from legally permissible areas, comply with all the environmental protection laws of the source country, and have the proper sand export documentation and permits from the relevant authorities in the source countries".

He added: "The authorities will investigate any such instances and take enforcement action, if evidence is provided."

When contacted, Singapore Contractors Association Limited president Kenneth Loo said: "Whenever we import it, we do it the correct way - not cowboy style."

Indonesia and Malaysia have previously also banned exports of sand to Singapore, which uses sand for both reclamation and construction.

Previous reports cited Myanmar and the Philippines among Singapore's current suppliers.

Singapore is the world's largest importer of sand, according to the UN Environment Programme.

By 2030, the Government expects to reclaim another 5,200ha - the size of nine Ang Mo Kio towns.

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