Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh pledged on international television Thursday that future government revenues from Cambodia’s so-far undeveloped oil industry would go toward the national budget and be spent on infrastructure.
Mr Prasidh’s comments, made in Singapore during an interview with the cable business news channel CNBC, followed a series of concerns and criticisms this year raised by international watchdog groups and the opposition party about transparency in the extractive industries, and the potential for corruption.
“By the end of the year 2012, we are thinking of starting to pump oil and this is a huge amount of money that is going to help our economy,” he said. “We are going to have a mechanism to make sure that all the revenue we received from that oil is going to come to the budget and especially is going to be invested in infrastructure especially on roads and irrigation systems.”
Government officials have previously said that payments from oil companies to the government are placed in accounts in the National Bank of Cambodia, but have supplied no details on how much is stored inside these accounts. A partial list of payments is available on the Finance Ministry website.
SRP Lawmaker and party spokesman Yim Sovann questioned whether oil money would be handled transparently, saying that a law on extractive industries is needed to ensure transparency.
“If the government wants transparency in using the money collected from the oil they should not be afraid of making another law to control the revenue like other countries do,” Mr Sovann said yesterday.
National Assembly Finance Chairman Cheam Yeap said the National Assembly is not considering such a law yet, but expressed support for the idea.
“Creating the oil law would prevent someone from ravaging the oil money from the oil revenue and prevent corruption,” he said.
The government has also said it will aim to adhere to the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which sets global standards for transparency in the oil, gas and mining sectors.
In the CNBC interview Mr Prasidh also described the International Monetary Fund’s 2010 GDP growth projection of up to 5 percent as “quite possible” and said fighting corruption is a part of ensuring the country’s long-term competitiveness.
“At the same time we are also exploring new markets as well for our products,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)