The government received $2.5 million in exchange for awarding a bauxite exploration contract to Australian investors, Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor told the National Assembly Tuesday.
“[T]he royal government got tea money, $2.5 million, from the bauxite investment with Australia,” he told lawmakers, adding that the money would be used for an irrigation project in Pursat province.
According to Lim Kean Hor, Hun Sen called him from Australia to tell him the good news and instructing him to immediately start an irrigation project in Pursat, and to spend more than $2 million on it.
“Samdech Prime Minister was really happy,” Lim Kean Hor told lawmakers during a debate on a law to manage water resources.
However, Lim Kean Hor’s use of the colloquial phrase “tea money”—which often means unofficial commission—to describe the payment was challenged by SRP President Sam Rainsy on Tuesday, who questioned whether the $2.5 million was incorporated into the national budget.
Revenues from mining contracts should be directed to the national budget, which is controlled by the National Assembly, Sam Rainsy said.
During an October 2006 trip to Australia, Hun Sen inked a deal with Australian mining giant BHP Billiton and its exploration partner Mitsubishi Corp, giving permission to look for bauxite on 100,000 hectares of Mondolkiri province.
Sam Rainsy also questioned the government’s use of oil revenues.
Though Cambodia has yet to produce a drop of oil, signature bonuses are a common feature of oil exploration contracts globally.
“I want you to clarify whether you have put the $2.5 million from bauxite in the national budget yet, and also with the oil money,” Sam Rainsy said. Lim Kean Hor could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chair of the Assembly’s banking and finance commission, said Tuesday that the money will be transferred to the Finance Ministry.
“The money will be transferred through the Finance Minister [Keat Chhon]. The money is just for friendship,” Cheam Yeap said.
BHP Billiton spokeswoman Samantha Evans wrote in an e-mail Tuesday: “We don’t comment on what we may or may not have paid for most of our exploration licenses as a rule—it’s commercial in confidence.”
(By Yun Samean, Erika Kinetz and Prak Chan Thul)
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