PM Tasks Deputies To Explain ‘Tea Money’ Payments to Gov’t

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Fri­day tasked Cabinet Minister Sok An, who is in charge of oil exploration, as well as Finance Minister Keat Chhon with answering SRP questions on payments for natural re­sources exploration permits, the Coun­cil of Ministers said yesterday.

The ministry had said on Friday that the government would answer questions put Wednesday in a letter by SRP lawmaker Son Chhay seeking information on payments made into opaque “social development funds” by Australian mining company BHP Billiton and French oil giant Total.

Council spokesman Phay Siphan said Mr Hun Sen had made the decision at the council’s weekly meet­ing on Friday.

“Samdech Prime Minister has assigned Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon to share the answer. Samdech said that all revenues must go to the national budget,” said Mr Siphan, adding that he did not know when the answers would be given to the SRP.

In his letter, Mr Chhay asked the government to explain reports that BHP is now the target of a US bri­bery investigation over payments made to the government. A government minister described some BHP payments as “tea mo­ney” in 2007 but the government has denied that this referred to anything illicit.

Mr Hun Sen on April 27 also announced that Total had paid $8 million to a social fund and a $20 mil­­lion signature bonus for offshore exploration rights.

Public information about the so­cial development funds has been scant, as government officials have said they were unable to explain their function or provide information about their management and contents.

SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, the opposition party’s spokesman, said yesterday that he welcomed the move but that the answers should be precise, detailed and supported by relevant documents.

“We have to have all of those answers. We need good clarifications,” he said. “The government can’t just say it goes to the social fund.”


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