The government should reconsider joining a global transparency initiative in order to ensure that information related to oil, gas and mining payments are open public scrutiny, a coalition of NGOs said on Friday.
The statement from the local group Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency follows the government’s response to opposition party demands for an official explanation of the government’s dealings with Australian mining giant BHP Billiton and French oil company Total.
“The government should reconsider signing onto the [Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative], which is a platform that requires companies to publish what they paid to the government and also requires the government to publish how much revenue it has received from the companies,” Mam Sambath, chairman of the CRRT said in an email on Friday.
The government announced earlier this year it would adopt the principles set out inside the EITI, a coalition of governments, civil society groups, investors and international organizations with aims to improve governance in resource-rich countries.
But in April Supreme National Economic Council Deputy Secretary-General Phan Phalla said that Cambodia would not become a member of the EITI until the government establishes laws on taxation and transparency.
In a letter to the National Assembly dated June 9 Cabinet Minister Sok An said that all payments to the government by oil and gas firms are deposited into accounts at the National Bank of Cambodia, though he did not reveal how much is inside these accounts. The SRP on Thursday called response “inadequate” and said they would continue the issue.
Mr Sambath said that the government should publish how much it earns from both signature bonus payments as well as money that goes toward social development funds. The government’s bidding process for exploration rights and details on royalties should also be made available to the public, he said.
“This kind of information has to be put in the public domain where people have easy access,” he said.
Both Total and BHP have made multi-million dollar payments to the government’s “social development fund” though BHP, which departed Cambodia last year, drew negative scrutiny to the government in April when it announced that the company was the target of an investigation by US authorities.
The general department of taxation within the Ministry of Commerce is in the process of drafting a taxation law for the petroleum sector, while the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority is drafting a separate petroleum law to regulate the entire industry.
According to Mr Sok An’s letter there are 23 companies that have carried out operation activities in Cambodia to date.
“I think all the companies in gas and oil always pay the government because they have to in order to do business in Cambodia,” Mr Phirith said. “But sometimes [the payments are] under the table.”
He added that parliamentarians have no access to details regarding the government’s deals with oil and gas companies.
Prak Sokhun, secretary of state at the Council of Minister declined to comment on the matter and referred questions to Te Duong Dara, director general of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority, who could not be reached.