Opposition Official Seeks More Information on Silica Sand Exports

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay has formally asked Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem to provide detailed trade records for silica sand, the only variety of sand still allowed to leave Cambodia after an export ban was enacted last year amid corruption allegations.

The minister must “not just say things, but provide evidence,” Mr. Chhay said on Sunday, adding that he might ask parliament to summon Mr. Sem for a second round of sand trade-related questioning after he denied any trade irregularities in December.

Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem enters a meeting with the National Assembly’s anti-corruption commission in 2016 at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The ministry suspended sand exports and new dredging licenses in a memo posted to its Facebook page on November 2 after months of accusations of misdeeds tied to enormous monetary discrepancies in records of sand exports to Singapore.

But in the request signed by Mr. Chhay last Friday, the lawmaker said the National Assembly had never been notified of the ban’s details, or of a later clarification on May 2 that exempted silica sand, which, unlike Singapore-bound sea sand, is mined from the ground.

Mr. Chhay asked the minister to “provide more documents and detail related to the announcement by the Mines and Energy Ministry after environmental activists and media described irregularities and suspicions of corruption over the business of sea sand exports.”

The letter, which National Assembly President Heng Samrin forwarded to Mr. Sem on Tuesday, requests the names of registered silica sand dredgers, the places they mine, environmental impact assessments completed on those sites, and documentation related to the quantity and destination of silica sand exports.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the exiled head of environmental NGO Mother Nature, which has spearheaded activism against dredging, said he was concerned about silica sand exports as they enriched the alleged culprits of past ecological destruction.    

“Cambodia is sadly becoming more and more of a mafia state, and as such the exploitation of natural resources is nothing but an opportunity for those in charge of state organs to become filthy rich,” he said.

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