Cambodia’s government has permanently banned exports of sand for construction and sand mud from Koh Kong province amid impact concerns, but an environmental group on Tuesday urged it to end the export of all types of sand and demanded greater transparency for the industry’s practices.
Mines and Energy minister Suy Sem announced the ban on July 10 to replace a temporary one issued last year after a group of watchdog organizations demanded a reexamination of the environmental and social impact assessments of dredging in the province, ministry spokesperson Meng Saktheara told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday.
“Large-scale sand export businesses were previously granted licenses in [Koh Kong province] … so the ministry decided to permanently place a ban on such sand exports to end the practice,” he said.
Meng Saktheara confirmed that the new ban only covers sand for construction and sand mud export businesses in Koh Kong province.
Any company in possession of a business license for exporting the two types of sand must immediately terminate its activities, he added.
Meanwhile, any company licensed to mine silica, used for making glass, may continue to do so, Meng Saktheara said, as this kind of sand “falls under a separate provision from sand for construction and sand mud.”
The Ministry of Mines and Energy banned sand exports in November 2016 amid public outrage over large inconsistencies between Cambodia’s recorded sand exports and Singapore’s recorded sand imports from Cambodia, but had recently said that silica sand was not part of the ban.
Call for total ban
Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, director of the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia, told RFA Tuesday that the livelihoods of residents in Koh Kong will continue to be negatively impacted until all sand—including silica—is included in the export ban and dredging is stopped.
“Sand has been dredged using outdated methods for the past several years [affecting local waterways], and we have seen residents become increasingly destitute,” said the Spanish environmentalist, who was expelled from Cambodia in February 2015 after leading a campaign against a controversial dam and placed on a blacklist that prevents his return to the country.
“[The government] would do better to ban all kinds of sand dredging activities and should stop employing the pretext of dredging to restore water channels for local residents—no one can accept such pretext.”
Additionally, Gonzalez-Davidson said, authorities should make public its data on industry activities to ensure that residents are aware of how much sand has been dredged from the region and how companies have profited.
“The government should be more transparent and accountable to Cambodian citizens in regard to the amount of sand being exported overseas over the past several years, and how much money has been taxed,” he said.
In mid-June, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker and vice-chairman of parliament’s Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit Commission Son Chhay requested that Mines and Energy minister Suy Sem disclose all information and official documents related to Cambodia’s silica exports, but has yet to receive a response.
Reported by Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.