The Cambodian government has imposed a ban on sand exports from Koh Kong province after years of scandals over corruption and environmental damage caused by the industry.
Suy Sem, mines and energy minister, signed off on the ban on Monday and instructed government departments to coordinate enforcing an end to sand mining in the region.
Cambodia previously banned sand exports from the province in 2009 ahead of a report by Global Witness which exposed large-scale corruption in the export of sand to Singapore.
But investigations into the trade have showed that license allocations surged in recent years bringing in millions to government coffers in fees, while the scale of exports has been shown to be vastly under-reported to avoid tax.
Meng Saktheara, secretary of state for mines and energy, said the move was the conclusion of a temporary ban imposed last year.
“When there was a temporary halt, the ministry gathered an expert team to re-assess the impact on the sand trade in those big lakes in Koh Kong province, particularly looking at four factors: hydrology, ecology, economy and society, responding to any concerns raised by environmental activists, civil society organizations and local communities,” he said.
Lim Kimsor, a coordinator at environmental campaigns group Mother Nature, said the ban had followed years of protest, direct action and investigation.
“The sand extraction affects the local residents because it is all done at tourism sites ... the protests would continue until the ministry took action,” she said.
“The ministry must see citizens’ hardship. They cannot fish when the sand is being extracted.”
The government should provide a detailed report on the sand trade and consider widening the ban to other provinces, Kimsor added.
“The anti-sand dredging campaign will not stop. We will keep doing that forever unless those activities are completely ended.”
However, Saktheara said the government could not ban sand extraction nationwide due to the demand for sand in the booming construction industry.
In November, some 50 civil society groups called on the government to release official export figures for sand between 2007 and 2015. UN trade data shows Cambodia only reported exporting 2.8 million tons of sand during that period, while Singapore alone reported importing 72.8 million tons from Cambodia, worth about $750 million, hinting at the scale of corruption in the sector.