Anti-corruption advocates say they want the US government to help them push for transparency in the extractive industries, as ongoing mining continues to disrupt the lives of many Cambodians.
At least 120 companies, most of them Chinese, have obtained mining licenses in the last decade, as they seek precious metals, oil and gas in Cambodia.
But information on the activities of the companies, the resources they pull, the money they make, or the money they spend is difficult to uncover.
Meanwhile, much of their activities take place in poor communities, leading to problems for villagers, said Lay Khim, an extractive industries program coordinator for Oxfam America.
“There are many companies that have received concessions for exploring mining,” he said. “But we do not know what those agreements are.”
The US could help shine some light on the industry, he said.
“The US can encourage or explain to the government or policymakers to review the positive experiences that the US has in helping other countries,” he said.
Natacha Kim, director of Cambodians for Resource Revenue Transparency, said the government’s management of its timber resources was “weak,” and she said she hoped the same doesn’t happen with mining.
Other observers say the lack of transparency of mining is in line with recent erosions of freedom, the political stalemate with the opposition, an impending cyber-security law and other trends.
Chan Krisna Sawada, a program officer for Oxfam America’s citizenship advocacy, said the major threats to civil society are laws currently in process to police NGOs and the Internet.
The US and its companies can have a hand in moving things toward more openness, advocates say. That includes improving benchmarks and leveraging aid.
“About half of Cambodia’s budget is financed by foreign aid,” said Isabel Munilla, senior adviser for Oxfam America’s extractive industries projects. “So for a country with a GDP of about $1.4 billion and 15 million in population, foreign aid is significant and very important.”