The opposition SRP wrote to the US Senate last week, expressing concerns that oil, gas and mining revenues here will end up in the pockets of senior officials due to corruption.
The sending of the letters coincides with mounting displeasure among US lawmakers who said last month that alleged corruption in Cambodia’s natural resource sector was cause for concern.
In the letter, sent to 22 US senators, including John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, SRP lawmakers also hailed anticorruption provisions in financial regulation laws enacted in July requiring extractive industry companies to disclose all payments made to foreign governments by 2012.
“Cambodia is ripe for disastrous extraction of our oil reserves,” according to a copy of an Aug 12 letter addressed to Kerry and signed by 26 lawmakers, including SRP President Sam Rainsy. “The use of our country’s natural resources has been nothing short of tragic.”
The letter said Cambodia’s nascent oil industry risked suffering from the same lack of transparency that the party said had typified the timber, mineral and sand industries, in which the government has granted “99-year concessions for enormous swaths of land…provided to companies in exchange for private pay-offs to a small number of associates at the top of the ruling party.”
SRP officials yesterday were mum on the letter’s aims but lawmaker Son Chhay said that the letter had been sent to a total of 22 senators in the US.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly’s banking and finance committee, yesterday questioned the decision by the SRP party to link sovereign affairs in Cambodia so closely with legislation in the US.
“If they do this it means they consider the US as their Jesus and their personal boss,” Mr Yeap said. “We have our own sovereignty and independence under the power granted by the people.”
Mr Yeap denied SRP claims that money from the extractive industries went directly into the pockets of officials in the upper echelons of the ruling party and said that provisions under the newly passed anticorruption law would act as a safeguard against such eventualities.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the SRP was simply seeking to land an easy political blow on the government’s credibility.
“It’s just an amplified attacking action,” he said. “It does not serve any purpose for the opposition to fight their own government.”
In a report approved last month, the Senate Committee on Appropriations issued draft instructions that would require the US Agency for International Development to perform “an independent review of existing natural resource concessions in Cambodia, and technical assistance to help establish effective procedures to ensure transparency in the allocation and ownership of future concessions.”
Natural resources companies traded in the US, which are governed by the new US anticorruption provisions and currently operate in Cambodia, include the oil giants Chevron Corp and Total, as well as the China National Offshore Oil Corp.
Such companies have declined to disclose commission payments of their own accord.
To tackle issues mentioned in the SRP’s letter, the government’s Public Financial Management Reform Program, which is supported by donors, is in charge of ensuring that all revenues from the extractive industries is publicly reported through the Table of State Financial Operations on the website of the Finance Ministry.
However, monthly reports have not been updated since December 2009 and only date back to 2007. The government says that it has created accounts within the National Bank of Cambodia for all payments related to the extractive industries.