Editor’s note: Agriculture business tycoon and ruling Cambodian People’s Party Senator Mong Reththy was recently named in a Global Witness report as having received a government license “behind closed doors” for the extraction of sand, a lucrative industry the group claims is worth millions of dollars but is endangering Cambodia’s coast. In its report, “Shifting Sands,” Global Witness claims Mong Reththy, along with another CPP senator, has been “implicated in dubious land deals and forced evictions. He was also criticized for “sponsoring units of Cambodia’s armed forces.” Mong Reththy spoke to VOA Khmer from Phnom Penh in response to the charges.
The Global Witness report says sand dredging has negative impacts on the environment. Was your licensing the work of businessmen or did governments get involved?
First of all, thank you. Firstly, let me tell you that Khmers should have the right to sail Cambodia and manage the future of the country themselves. Secondly, because I received permission to build a seaport [in Koh Kong province], I have dredged sand to rehabilitate the Chloung River from 2003 until now. But I have never exported dredged sand because the sand failed on inspection. Media reported that I exported millions of tons of dredged sand. They lied or were blind. It was true that an agreement was signed for the export of sand, but in fact no export was made. They denied the sand because of its poor quality and it failed on quality inspection.
So Singapore has not bought sand from Cambodia? The report is not true? Groundless? There was no investigation?
I didn’t say “we.” I don’t know about other businessmen. I denied the allegation against myself. I didn’t export sand to Singapore as alleged, because Singapore denied the sand for its poor quality, which failed on quality check and specifications.
Where did this poor-quality sand come from? From where did you dredge it?
I only had permission to dredge sand to open the way for ships coming to dock at the seaport. I didn’t dredge sand anywhere else. I dredged sand in the sea to open the way for ships to land. The undersea canal is called Chhker Pruos. I have been dredging to open the undersea canal since 2003—not recently. The plan is to open the way for ships to come to port. The dredging is to the depth of one and a half meters only. The reports accusing me of exporting sand are groundless blather.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen put a ban on dredging in May 2009. But Global Witness reports that you and Senator Ly Yong Phat were still permitted to hold licenses. Why is that and how?
In my case, the fact is that the government gave me permission to build the seaport. Because the sea in that area is shallow… the government gave me permission to dredge the sand. Given that I was getting sand from the dredging, I requested a license from the government to export it and pay royalties to the state. However, I haven’t exported the sand since getting permission. This is a fact. Let me call to your attention the fact that there are customs agencies, CamControl and many other law enforcement agencies. No one can export anything out of sight of these law enforcement agencies, and not one export can be undertaken without paying royalties to the state. I don’t know about the other businessmen, but for me, I didn’t export any sand.
Will you take any action on the Global Witness report?
I don’t need to. Not only against Global Witness, but also [Voice of America] and [Radio Free Asia]. They reported recently that I bulldozed the rice fields of villagers in Dum Kralor commune. Not a word was true. I didn’t react. How could I, because I don’t have a radio station. There were no rice fields in Dum Kralor, were there? I leveled the land and built houses for people to live in. They didn’t report it, but on the contrary, they reported that I bulldozed villagers’ rice fields.
I can check the reports, but I doubt that VOA reported that.
Check it yourself. Don’t carelessly air anything just because you have the power of broadcast. Check for yourself who is helping the nation. You were born Khmer, weren’t you? Given that you are Khmer, you had better check, “Is it true?” Did I bulldoze villagers’ rice fields? No one helps people’s livings as I do. I’ve built hundreds of houses for people. Why don’t you broadcast that? I prepared a plot of land 50 meters by 50 meters for each family of villagers. Doing this, I didn’t bulldoze the villagers’ rice fields. Villagers didn’t farm rice in the area. No rice fields.
I don’t know what you are denying. The report by VOA or RFA?
You shouldn’t report lies. Just report the truth. And for balance, you should also report which Khmers help Khmers. Do not report only about foreigners helping Khmers. It is unfair to do so.
Thank you, Oknha. I will check any report.
Well I thank you too. But don’t forget to investigate the report about the sand. It was very crazy.
You won’t file a lawsuit against Global Witness for the report, will you?
Eh! Sue journalists? Sue VOA? Let me ask you, would I ever win?
I’m asking you about the Global Witness report, not VOA.
Not just Global Witness, not anyone. I won’t sue them. They have the right to broadcast. I have the right not to answer.
You said you didn’t dredge sand anywhere else other than the Mong seaport in Keo Phos, Sre Ambel district, Koh Kong province. You didn’t dredge sand in any other place, is that right?
I didn’t dredge sand anywhere else other than that place. But I was accused of such and such and they just blather and blather. The fact was that I only dredged the sand so that ships won’t get grounded coming to port. I only dredged to open Chhker Prous canal, where I had permission from the government to do so. Let me tell you that there was only mud and no sand in the sea just around the port. Don’t judge that. I did a feasibility study there. And Singapore wouldn’t buy it—sand of mud. Don’t just argue over nothing. It is a waste of time, I’m telling you.
Thank you, Oknha, for the interview.
Thanks. I wish you to live to be 100 years old.