Global Witness Says Sok An’s Responses Fell Short

Environmental watchdog Global Witness on Tuesday welcomed Cabinet Minister Sok An’s responses to questions on payments made to the government by oil, gas and mining companies, but said government revenues still lack transparency.

In a June 9 letter, Mr Sok An responded to questions submitted by SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who asked for an official explanation of the government’s dealings with Australian mining giant BHP Billiton and French oil company Total.

“We welcome Sok An’s response to the questions and the new information he has made available. This is a step forward for transparency in Cambodia and could contribute to improved democratic processes,” George Boden, a campaigner at the UK-based Global Witness, said in a statement. “But we still do not know how much has been paid by oil companies to the government or exactly where that money is.

Mr Boden added, “The government should publish the full details of all agreements and account balances so that the Cambodian people can be confident that the deals are above board.”

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that Cambodia would not respond to Global Witness, but that the government was working hard at improving its revenue transparency through a dedicated committee in the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“The government of Cambodia doesn’t work for Global Witness,” he said before referring questions to officials at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Secretary-General of the Ministry of Economy and Finance Hang Chuon Naron could not be reached for comment.

The government’s response to the SRP’s questions came amid mounting public scrutiny of payments from large firms with stakes in Cambodia’s natural resources, and in particular over money that the government has said was paid into so-called “social funds.”

In the letter Mr Sok An said that companies pay a signature bonus and make a contribution to the government’s “Social Development Fund,” both of which are in National Bank accounts, whenever they earn exploration rights in Cambodia.

But Global Witness said in the statement that it “remained concerned that the government had not yet publicly audited the extractive revenue accounts or provided details of deals struck with oil and mining companies.”

“We hope Sok An’s response paves the way for greater transparency in the extractive industries”, Mr Boden said. “It is crucial that the government puts in place a transparent system for managing Cambodia’s oil revenues before they come on stream so that they contribute to poverty reduction not corruption.”



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