Cambodia: Government slams UN figures of sand exported to Singapore

Erin Handley Phnom Penh Post 28 Sep 16;

Government officials have denied the sand-dredging industry is mired in corruption in the wake of damning figures pointing to a 70-million-tonne hole in Cambodian sand-export numbers to Singapore.

Acting Minister for Mines and Energy Dith Tina yesterday cast doubt on the reliability of the data on the UN Commodity Trade (UN Comtrade) Statistics Database, which showed Cambodia claimed to have exported about 2.8 million tonnes of sand to Singapore – worth $5.5 million – over the past nine years.

In stark contrast, Singapore recorded importing 72.7 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia, at $752 million.

In his office yesterday, Tina entered random options into the database to highlight other discrepancies between importing and exporting countries, such as between Malaysia and Singapore, but would not comment on whether those differences amounted to $700 million.

He described media reports on the database as “misleading”, and said those crying corruption were potentially “politically motivated”.

“People who use this data seem unprofessional to me,” he said. “It’s not helpful to destroy their credibility when there is no concrete proof [of corruption].

“We don’t tolerate it.”

Tina said figures were extremely difficult for his ministry to track down as it gave priority to fighting illegal mining. However, he said, in 2015, Cambodia exported a total of 149,250 cubic metres (228,000 tonnes) of sand worldwide.

He could not give figures specific to Singapore or the dollar value of exports, but said the royalties collected by the state amounted to about $111,000 on both imported and exported sand products.

However, Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Soeng Sophary yesterday provided a document listing Cambodia’s sand exports to Singapore for the past nine years, including their weight and dollar value, which corresponded almost exactly to the figures on the UN Comtrade database, with one exception.

In 2013, UN data and Cambodia’s figures did not align. According to the database, Singapore imported 20,000 tonnes more than the Cambodian export document showed, valued at $45,000.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday dismissed Tina’s claims that there was no corruption in the sand-dredging industry. “I believe there is corruption, starting from the way the government is giving licences to the companies,” he said.

“We found the amount of sand imports to Singapore was many times more compared to what the government claimed it to be. Where did the money go?”

Chhay urged the government to be more transparent with issuing licences and said the full environmental toll should be made public. “Sand dredging is a dirty business, causing environmental impacts.”

Sand Export Figures Disputed
Khmer Times 28 Sep 16;

Dith Tina, a secretary of state and a spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, talked to Khmer Times about sand exports to Singapore after some local media claimed the exporting figures in this sector in Cambodia did not match the database of imports in Singapore.

KT: There have been stories in the local media claiming that Cambodia has lost about $700 million in revenue over eight years of exporting sand. What are your comments on this allegation?

Mr. Tina: The reporters called me to comment on what some NGO claims based on the UN Comtrade database. I declined to comment because our ministry is not involved in providing any figures to that database. Some media quoted figures showing a discrepancy from the UN Comtrade database between the total import figures in eight years by Singapore and the total export figures during the same period from Cambodia and automatically pointed to corruption of over $700 million. This is something we have to react to.

The difference in values between exporters and importers is not what one government lost but rather a different value in the trade and transport. I tried the UN Comtrade database with Spain as an exporter and the US as an importer on wood and articles of wood and there are millions of dollars in discrepancy between the value of the imports and exports. Does that imply any corruption or any wood or wood article smuggling between the US and Spain? Although UN Comtrade is a very convenient tool, a user has to understand that tool too. In this sense, the declaimer needs to be read first and the copyright and policy needs to be observed too.

I think it would be fair if the media dealing with UN Comtrade just quoted the UN Comtrade disclaimer for non-connoisseurs to understand, especially points five and six about limitations. I quote: “Imports reported by one country do not coincide with exports reported by its trading partner. Differences are due to various factors including valuation (imports CIF, exports FOB), differences in inclusions/exclusions of particular commodities, timing etc.

“Almost all countries report as partner countries for imports the country of origin...which is determined by the rules of origin established by each country...Hence, the term ‘partner country’ in the case of imports does not necessarily imply any direct trading relationship.”

This declaimer would give a reader a clearer opinion on the figures given by the tool rather than just its UN tag.

A user has to be aware of its copyright disclaimer which states that the data is provided for internal use only and may not be re-disseminated in any form without the written permission of the United Nations Statistics Division. I believe there must be a reason to set such a policy and copyright…and I took care to not infringe on this copyright by re-disseminating any figures.

KT: So, do you think figures provided by UN Comtrade are erroneous?

Mr. Tina: Once again, I won’t comment on UN Comtrade. I think people can make their own opinions based on the concrete figures given, the disclaimer and its policy. Our ministry is not involved in providing data to UN Comtrade, but we do have our own data as we collect royalties from licensees. In 2015, our data recorded a total of 149,250 cubic meters of sand exported, which is higher than the Cambodian export report in UN Comtrade, but lower than Singapore’s import report. The Ministry of Mines and Energy does not have the value to compare with the value in the database as we only deal with royalties. Customs will deal with tax.

So those who use this UN Comtrade as evidence to point out systematic $700 million of corruption might be jumping too quick to judge. I would advise them to try the same comparison with Singapore’s imports of sand versus other export partners like Vietnam, Malaysia or Philippines and to look for concrete proof if they want to fight corruption rather than pointing fingers at the whole institution.

KT: Don’t you think there is any corruption in the area?

Mr. Tina: I am not aware of any. We are all working hard to fight illegal mining, to harmonize the social cohesion between communities and mine concessionaires, to efficiently collect royalties and develop our mining resources. It would be rather unfair to look at our civil servants with suspicious eyes from hearsay. But if there is concrete proof of any corruption, we encourage people to file complaints to the competent authority so the innocent can keep on fulfilling their civil servant duties with pride.