Most Cambodian university students have heard of their country’s fledging extractive industry. But with little access to information, few are aware of how revenue from this industry is being managed. Most of this information remains unavailable, and some are now voicing their concerns about corruption and misuse of those revenues.
“The news on television tells us little about mining extractions,” student Saing Kanha told VOA Khmer. “It only tells the people that companies are coming to extract minerals in Cambodia and that this will benefit the country. But they don't say whether the revenue will go to the people, or whether the companies or the government are the ones getting it.”
Like Saing Kanha and her peers, other students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh say they are unaware of how the revenue from the oil, gas and mining industry are being managed.
“They are probably reluctant to release the information to the people because they haven’t produced anything yet,” said Long Kiri, a fourth-year chemistry student. “Maybe there isn’t that much revenue.”
Results from a recent survey of 377 university students in the capital by the NGO Forum found a majority did not know about the management and usage of those funds.
Chhit Sam Ath, the NGO’s executive director, said access to such information is necessary for these students, and not just for their studies.
“The knowledge of the revenue is also important because in a democracy all information must be transparent,” he said. “So there will soon be demands by the students for such information. Some information related to the nation must be released.”
Youth advocates say the failure to disseminate comprehensive information on extractive revenues will prevent young people from effectively participating in the country’s development process.
“[Youth] is a group that the government and society must fully invest in so that they become active citizens,” said Cheang Sokha, executive director of the Youth Resources Development Program. “If they have no access to information about extractive industry revenue, there is little encouragement for them to be engaged members of society.”
Civil society groups say that so far the government has granted mining and oil exploration licenses to more than one hundred companies, both local and international, including Chevron, an American company, and Japan's Jogmec. However, information on the revenue from those licenses is scant.
Cheang Sokha points to personal interest as one factor for the withholding of that information.
“When people have full access to information on extractive industry revenues, the government has to ensure there is transparency in the fund usage, resulting in a loss for those with vested interests in the industry,” he said.
Sim Sisokhaly, head of the mining department at the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Energy, said the government is setting up a commission to manage funds from the industry. Nevertheless, he said, Cambodia will need more experts to fully implement the tasks.
“We are facing a shortage of human resources,” he said. “We see many things to be done, but there are just not enough people to handle them.”
Cambodia is expected to cash in on significant oil revenues starting in December this year, on the twelfth, a date specifically chosen by the government for Chevron to start the country’s first oil production from its offshore wells.
But observers are doubtful the country will see its first drop of oil by then.
These students nonetheless expect that access to comprehensive information about resource revenue will become available.
“Because we live in Cambodia, we must know how much oil and other resources lie underneath its territory, how much revenue the government gets from those resources, and how those revenues are distributed,” said Vann Zolida, an English major at a private university in Phnom Penh.
She said she wants to know what Cambodian people, including students like herself, will get from such revenue.