Civil society and government should put aside mutual distrust to cooperate on monitoring Cambodia’s sand extraction and export businesses, a Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman said on Friday after a meeting between the ministry and NGOs.
The session in Phnom Penh marked the second time the ministry has met with civil society in the wake of news of a 60 million metric ton difference between the volume of sand Cambodia reported exporting, and other countries reported importing, between 2005 and last year.
“I can understand why, in the past, they didn’t have much trust, and we didn’t have much trust too,” ministry spokesman Meng Saktheara said. “I think one of the big reasons for that is the lack of communication between the two sides.”
“So from today, we are establishing a joint monitoring group,” Mr. Saktheara said. The new committee would focus on monitoring dredging and exports in Koh Kong province, where most of the extraction occurs, he said.
“In the past, civil society used its own force and government used its own force” to monitor dredging. “And we have conflicting info,” he said, adding that sand export figures would be discussed at a future meeting with the NGOs.
San Chey, country director of NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said he felt cautiously optimistic about plans to provide financial support to communities that can help monitor mining.
Mr. Saktheara said there would be support for a citizen group that is backed by NGOs like Mother Nature, Mr. Chey said.
But Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the environmental advocacy group’s director, said he could not trust the government until it suspended all sand extraction along coastal estuaries, disclosed all relevant government documents and included other ministries in future meetings.
Until then, cooperating with the ministry “on this scheme makes absolutely no sense at all,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the discrepancy between reported sand exports and global imports between 2005 and last year as being 70 million metric tons.