The Council of Ministers said Thursday it had begun a “rapid assessment” of a report released by Global Witness on extractive industries to learn both the veracity of its claims and whether any of the government officials identified in the report are actually guilty of wrongdoing.
“We’re looking closely at the report’s information. We want to see whether this is news, insulting information or if the report has a different purpose,” said Council of Ministers Secretary of State Phay Siphan, who is also deputy director of the council’s fast-response mechanism department, an office established to review public allegations of official misconduct.
“We want to identify the charges against those people,” said Phay Siphan, adding that the council had on Thursday already contacted several people identified by Global Witness. The office will submit a final report to Cabinet Minister Sok An, who will decide what to do next, said Phay Siphan.
The report, entitled “Country for Sale: how Cambodia’s elite has captured the country’s extractive industries,” said the government had failed to account for millions of dollars in fees and bonuses paid by oil and mineral explorers and that exploration rights had been sold off to a “ruling elite” in near total secrecy.
Though it cited a multitude of alleged irregularities, the report did not appear to name individual government officials accused of specific criminal acts. The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy on Wednesday said mineral explorers are required to pay only nominal fees to the government and not bribes.
The government has in the past ordered the seizure of Global Witness reports, denied the organization’s staff entry into Cambodia and demanded that its financial backers cut funding. However, by Thursday, the official response to the report appeared relatively understated.
“The government is not afraid of defamation,” said CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap. “People know the truth. The voters still support the government.”
The Korean mining and energy company Kenertec on Thursday strongly denied the report’s allegation that it had paid a roughly $1 million bonus to obtain permission to begin work on a semi-proven iron mine in Preah Vihear province’s Rovieng district.
The company purchased an 85 percent stake in the mine last year from the Cambodian firm Rattanak Stone Co.
“It is absolutely incorrect,” Suh Dong-hoon, managing director of resource development at Kenertec, wrote in an e-mail. “The license agreement signed by Rattanak has never been changed and is strictly pursuant to the standard agreement.”
“I didn’t experience any corruption cases in dealing in Cambodia,” he added. “With regard to human rights and environmental conservation, we follow strictly the rules guided by the government and environmental protection agencies.”
He declined to say how much money Kenertec had paid the government.
In making the allegation, Global Witness cited a single unidentified source described as a “company representative.”
Global Witness Campaigns Director Gavin Hayman said Thursday his organization stood by its information.
“Our source was well informed and in a position to know,” he said by telephone from Bangkok, calling on Kenertec to disclose its payments to the government. “Until everybody coughs up and tells us what they’ve paid, whom they’ve paid it to and how they’ve paid it, then that’s that.”