In its latest move to develop Cambodia’s mining industry, the government next week will allocate a mining license for a copper firm looking to establish operations in Siem Reap province, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said yesterday.
Speaking at a business luncheon organized by ANZ Royal Bank and attended by a delegation of officials from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Prasidh mentioned the deal in a keynote speech that showcased Cambodia’s main economic sectors.
“We have processed the application just two weeks ago. It’s now at the level of the prime minister,” he said. “This one is [going to produce] 13 million tons over the next fifty years.”
Mr Prasidh said on the margins of the event he was unaware of the name of the mining company or where it is based. However, Mr Prasidh said that the deal was due to be signed “next week” before referring all other questions to the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
Sok Chenda, secretary general of the CDC declined to comment, while officials from Mr Hun Sen’s cabinet could not be reached.
Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem was also unavailable yesterday, and Meng Saktheara, cabinet officer for the ministry, said he was unaware of any deal with a copper firm in Siem Reap province.
“I don’t know anything about signing a deal,” he said.
News of a deal being etched out for copper operations in Siem Reap comes only months after the government affirmed its commitment to good governance within the mining sector during an international mining conference organized jointly by the UN Development Program and the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy in May.
Despite the government’s pledges to develop a more robust legal framework for the mining sector in order to clamp down on illegal mining operations and protect sacred sites, civil society groups yesterday said they were unaware of the imminent signing of a deal with a copper firm in Siem Reap province.
Indeed, Cambodia’s extractive industries have come under fire in the past for their lack of regulation and transparency. Environmental watchdog Global Witness pointed out in a 2008 report that patterns of corruption and patronage were found throughout Cambodia’s extractive industries.
Violence and arrests erupted this year between local mining communities and the Malaysian company Delcom Cambodia, which is exploring for gold. At least one person has been killed in the skirmishes.
“We are unaware of this project,” said Mam Sambath, chairperson for the steering committee for the Extractive Industry Social and Environmental Impact Network, referring to the imminent deal in Siem Reap.
Though he welcomed the government’s notification of the project he urged any deal to follow proper procedure.
“We haven’t had any other information on this project. We would welcome further notification of any possibilities for our participation in the future to ensure a positive result for all stakeholders involved,” Mr Sambath said.
Exploration activities in Siem Reap province are still in its infancy with little known information on the wealth of resources in the area.
Richard Stanger, president of the Cambodian Association of Mining and Exploration Companies and managing director of Australian mining firm Liberty Mining International, said there were still very small amounts of information on the abundance of copper in the area.
“We just don’t know enough about it,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)