Ministry Claims ‘No Irregularity’ in Huge Sand Export Gap

A Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman denied any irregularities in Cambodia’s sand exports on Thursday, even as figures he provided contradicted those supplied by other government bodies.

“There is no irregularity,” ministry spokesman Dith Tina said yesterday at a news conference held after the National Assembly’s anti-corruption commission questioned Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem and some of his colleagues.

cam photo suy sem
Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem enters a meeting with the National Assembly’s anti-corruption commission on Thursday at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“If the figures in Cambodia and Singapore were the same, then we might begin to wonder,” he said. “We might think that these two countries had made some deal with each other.”

But figures provided on Thursday prove only that the Cambodian government’s data is inconsistent.

A statement from the ministry on Thursday said it had tallied almost 16.2 million tons of sand exports to Singapore from 2007 to last year. Statistics from the Finance Ministry’s general department of customs and excise, however, show roughly 2.7 million tons leaving the country for the city-state during that period.

The latter figure, which was supplied to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database, known as Comtrade, differs by over 70 million tons from the Cambodian sand imports recorded by Singapore.

Citing disclaimers on the Comtrade website that warn about gaps and inconsistencies in trade numbers, Mr. Tina maintained that the ministry had done its part to get to the bottom of the differences and concluded that its records were correct.

“I hope that from today, you please stop talking about $700 million because it’s a number from U.N. Comtrade, so the record keepers in Singapore or in our country have their own procedures,” Mr. Tina said at the news conference, referring to the value of the trade gap recorded in the database.

“For example, a bunch of bananas selling in Phnom Penh, the United States, France or Paris will get a different price,” he said.

“We have done an inspection and the figure hasn’t changed from the beginning. We audited every provincial department,” he said, adding that the database “shows differences in other countries too.”

The statement also appeared to distance the ministry from the export figures, saying that it was “not a sand seller” and “only had the authority to collect royalty revenue following the prakas with the Finance Ministry.”

But CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann, chairman of the National Assembly’s anti-corruption commission, which questioned Mr. Sem, walked away unconvinced.

“We do not accept their number yet, so we demand that they be careful and become more organized to avoid it happening in the future,” he said after the questioning.

“The numbers should be similar,” he said. “We understand the country’s policy is different, but the figures should not be far apart.”

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