Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday that a recent decision to put the Mines and Energy Ministry in charge of all aspects of granting sand dredging licenses had to be made, because authorities were refusing to take responsibility for a process that has been blamed for several controversial riverbank collapses.
In a directive issued Friday, the prime minister put the ministry in charge effective immediately. Up until then, the Water Resources Ministry’s committee on sand resources management had to approve and sign off on hydrology studies before the Mines and Energy Ministry could issue an actual license.
On Sunday, a Mines and Energy official said the new directive was intended to speed up a typically slow process and clear out a backlog of dredging license requests.
But in a speech at the official opening of the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel on Monday, Mr. Hun Sen explained that he made the decision for the sake of accountability.
“When the minister is asked, the minister of mines says it’s the minister of water resources. When the minister of water resources is asked, he says it’s mines…. When the province is asked, it refers back to the minister,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“So who is really responsible? Let’s give the job to Mr. Mines,” he said, referring to Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem. “You will be responsible for the places where sand dredging is allowed and [where it] causes the collapse of people’s homes.”
“If you are jailed, it is only you, because there is no need to have a messy committee,” the prime minister warned. “Let’s end this issue now. It’s very complicated.”
As stated in the directive, Mr. Hun Sen said the sand resources committee would become an advisory body.
“The committee will be used for consultation,” he said. “It will not make any decisions for the institution [the Mines and Energy Ministry] created by law.”
Sand dredging operations in Phnom Penh and elsewhere have been blamed for the collapse of some homes into waterways. However, authorities have been reluctant to admit to a connection.