The National Assembly on Wednesday began debating a long-awaited bill overseeing the mining industry.
The most lucrative mining sector, petroleum and natural gas, falls under the direct authority of the Council of Ministers’ National Petroleum Authority and will be covered by a separate law now being drafted by the Cabinet.
Minister of Industry Suy Sem acknowledged the mining sector is in disarray because of the absence of adequate laws governing its administration.
“This law is another weapon for controlling mining anarchy,” he said. “It will help us control mining in a sustainable manner and we can collect more income for the budget.”
Two of the country’s richest sources of precious gems, the former Khmer Rouge strongholds of Samlot and Pailin, were all but mined out by the guerrillas between 1989 and 1994, he said.
Elsewhere, enforcing the law remains difficult. Minerals are often mined away from areas where officials can keep an eye on them, he said. “Our mineral resources are mostly deep in the jungle and mountains,” he said.
But opposition party members blamed poor enforcement on government corruption and mismanagement. Sam Rainsy Party member Sun Kim Hun said a previous mining law, passed in 1982, has been systematically ignored by authorities.
“I want the government to respect and enforce all existing laws,” he said. “If this law is issued and there is no enforcement, it would be useless.”
In a related matter, Sam Rainsy Party members put a written question to the parliament, accusing the government of inflating the price of salt by granting a monopoly on wholesale distribution to logging company Pheapimex. The contract, issued “without any transparency,” has resulted in a price hike from $0.10 to $0.20 a kilogram, the statement charged.
Without addressing the question directly, Funcinpec lawmaker Nin Sin blamed price rises on last year’s flooding, which he said depleted domestic supplies and forced consumers to depend on expensive imports.
The increase hits the poorest Cambodians hardest, he said, adding that fishermen depend on salt to preserve their catch.