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Sand Export Figure Doubts Persist

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
The meeting yesterday which left a lot of questions unanswered. KT/Chor Sokunthea

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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