Singapore Could Face Legal Action Over Sand Importation

Environmental NGO Mother Nature has hired a Singaporean law firm to investigate alleged irregularities in the country’s importation of Cambodian sand, the organization’s founder said on Wednesday.

The firm is “looking into the relevant laws that might have been broken there, in relation to the social and ecological destruction the mining has caused, or in relation to the government importing Cambodian sand which is tainted by issues of corruption, smuggling, tax-evasion, etc.,” Mother Nature founder Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said on Wednesday in a Facebook message.

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A view of the coast of Singapore. (Monica Volpin/Creative Commons)

He identified the potential targets as the statutory boards that fall under the purview of several government ministries involved in the import of Cambodian sand.

“Our goal is…that the mining and export of coastal sand from Cambodia is eventually regarded as too toxic by the Singapore government and that they are forced to stop getting involved,” he said.

Authorities from Singapore’s JTC Corporation, which oversees the state’s sand-heavy reclamation projects, and the National Development Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. The government, in past statements, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Eugene Thuraisingam acknowledged that his eponymous firm, which specializes in criminal and commercial law, was looking into the case, but declined to elaborate.

The government has provided divergent numbers for its exports to Singapore from 2007 to last year, all of which are radically lower than the 73.6 million tons of imported sand counted by the island and reported to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database, known as Comtrade.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy recorded 16.2 million tons of sand exports during the period, while statistics from the Finance Ministry’s general department of customs and excise show roughly 2.7 million tons leaving for the city-state, which is more than 1,000 km from Cambodia by sea.

Indian customs data obtained by Mother Nature show a similar gap, registering 108,000 tons of Cambodian sand imports compared to none recorded by Cambodia’s Finance Ministry.

A 2014 report from the U.N. Environment Program said the global sand business “is having a major impact on rivers, deltas and coastal and marine ecosystems,” although the trade “remains largely unknown by the general public.”

The report singled out Singapore as the world’s largest importer and noted that it used sand to extend its territory, which has grown by 20 percent, or 130 square km, over the past 40 years.

As Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam successively banned dredging or sand exports to Singapore, Comtrade records show that Cambodia has picked up the slack and become the country’s top supplier, even as those same records show that just 4 percent of the island’s imported sand was officially measured as it left supplying countries over the past decade.

The city-state’s government is piloting a new reclamation technique using dikes to get around its reliance on sand, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told reporters in November.

“Even reclamation has its limits, because sand is not always easy to come by,” he said.

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