The Ministry of National Development (MND) has written to The Cambodia Daily to clarify that the “import of sand from Cambodia to Singapore is done on a commercial basis.” The newspaper had earlier reported that Singapore Government had been silent about sand smuggling claims and that it could face legal action here over sand importation.
The newspaper quoted Mr Gene Ng, a manager of corporate communications for MND as saying:
“Import or export figures reported by countries are dependent on their own calculation formulas. The import of sand from Cambodia to Singapore is done on a commercial basis. Singapore does not condone any trade or extraction of sand that breaches the source countries’ laws and regulations on environmental protection. We have put in place strict criteria to ensure that our suppliers meet the prevailing local rules and regulations of the source country. If there is any evidence that our contractors are not in compliance with the source countries’ laws and regulations, Singapore will respect that legal process will take its course.”
The import of sand and granite in Singapore is subjected to control by the Building & Construction Authority (BCA). Under BCA’s licensing scheme, importers would have to apply for a permit prior to importing such materials. Any consignment solely for use in land reclamation works along the coast of Singapore is exempted from the licensing scheme. It is also unclear how BCA ensures that the consignment is legally sourced.
Eugene Thuraisingam’s law firm wrote in its Facebook two weeks ago that it has been instructed by Mother Nature Cambodia, to bring action against several Singapore statutory boards and private companies involved in sand-dredging for exporting sand mined in the Koh Kong province to be used for the purposes of land reclamation in Singapore.
This is an unprecedented move and is the first time, victims of environmental disaster in Asia are taking legal action against the perpetrators or corporations or governmental body of another Asian country.
In 2010, international NGO Global Witness released a report titled ‘Shifting Sand’alleging corrupt practices by the Cambodian government and how Singapore was buying sand unsustainably dredged from the rivers in the Koh Kong Province in Cambodia. The dredging along the rivers of Koh Kong had devastated the rich marine life and destroyed the livelihood of the poor fishermen and villagers who relied on the river for their daily sustenance.
The Singapore Government rejected the allegations made in the report saying that import of reclamation sand was done on a commercial basis by Jurong Town Council, a statutory board under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. It said that all sand suppliers had to abide to source country’s procedures and ensure extraction of sand does not cause “adverse impact to the environment”.
Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC) said that the dredging activities which have been taking place since 2008, have led to severe environmental destruction and the loss of livelihoods of local communities. MNC is a grassroots NGO movement fighting to put an end to the systematic destruction of Cambodia’s precious natural resources by powerful state and non-state actors.
MNC charged in its website that corrupt Cambodian “government officials and their crooked business partners use the power of the state (relevant ministries, law enforcement agencies, judiciary, etc) in order to provide a veneer of legality to the mining and so that it can proceed ahead accordingly.”
Their website also provides a compilation of documents related to the sand mining that is decimating coastal Koh Kong.
In January 2016, MNC wrote to the Singapore Ambassador in Cambodia to request for a meeting to address the following questions.
- Is Singapore still purchasing Cambodian sand and if so, how much has Singapore imported
- Which ministries are responsible for these imports and what is the sand being used for?
- From which private companies have Singaporean authorities bought or imported this sand?
- Which regulatory procedures apply to sand imports?
- Is the Singaporean Government observing its own laws and international conventions that
regulate the import of sand and the impacts of sand dredging?
It is unclear if the Singapore Ambassador granted the NGO an audience.