Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Hun Sen's Jumbo 747 in the Sand

“People who use this data [UN Comtrade] seem unprofessional to me.”

Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) Acting Minister Tina Dith, 28 September 2016, The Phnom Penh Post


“A user has to be aware of its copyright disclaimer which states that the data is provided for internal use only and may not be re-disseminated in any form without the written permission of the United Nations Statistics Division. I believe there must be a reason to set such a policy and copyright…and I took care to not infringe on this copyright by re-disseminating any figures.”

MME Acting Minister Tina Dith, 28 September 2016, Khmer Times


“Your source of information [UN Comtrade], I do not trust it.”

Ministry of Commerce (MC) spokesman Soeng Sophary, 27 September 2016, The Phnom Penh Post

I believe in the "presumption d'innocence" until someone is proven guilty. I sound silly but with suspicion around, no one can work as a team. 

MME Acting Minister Tina Dith, 28 September 2016, Campro (an informal network of Cambodian professionals and intellectuals)

“Any competent authorithy want to check the previous export docs, it's always there for record [sic].”

MME Acting Minister Tina Dith, 4 October 2016, Campro

“I am not aware of any [corruption in sand dredging export]. We are all working hard to fight illegal mining, to harmonize the social cohesion between communities and mine concessionaires, to efficiently collect royalties, and develop our mining resources.”

MME Acting Minister Tina Dith, 28 September 2016, Khmer Times

So what is the CPP government up to with sand exports? Nothing really.

According to UN Comtrade, Cambodia exports 17.07m tonnes of sand to Singapore between 2007 and 2015. In the recipient ledger, however, the total shipment records more than 26 times to 72.70m tonnes. Suddenly, there is a whopping $747m variance that may or may not need investigating.

One strategy to denounce anything is to demolish the data credibility. Tina Dith argues the UN Comtrade numbers are unreliable and misleading, best suited only for unprofessional or politically motivated motives. He points to a general UN disclaimer, statement of limitations, and copyright issues. But they all are applicable to other UN publications. This could mean much UN information is not credible. The MC’s Soeng Sophary simply dismisses the UN Camtrade data all together.

Nevertheless, those unreliable UN Comtrade data must come from somewhere. Usually, they come from UN member governments who are obliged to supply them to international agencies, like UN, ADB, World Bank, IMF, etc… In this case, Soeng Sophary, who distrusts the UN Comtrade data, later produces MC documents that show its weights and dollar values are similar to the UN Comtrade data. Now the MC would appear to reject its own handiwork.

Another strategy is to argue a variance is typical. Tina Dith is right when pointing out variances between exporting numbers and recipient numbers within the UN Camtrade data base are normal. This is due to a number of factors including usual time lag between shipments leaving an exporting port and their arrival at the recipient port, unless they adopt an accrual accounting system. However, the variances at any cut-off point for any period are relatively immaterial, and can be easily reconciled in both the exporting and importing ledgers. But the variance of concern here is the jumbo $747m.

Still, Tina Dith demands the principle of presumed innocence before proven guilty from those who jump onto corruption. This principle would work if there were an investigation. But there is none.

The elephant of $747m in the room is irrelevant. Anti-corruption head Om Yentieng will not investigate unless there is a complaint. Taxation department’s Holl Thirith declines to comment on taxes collected from sand-dredging companies that are required to pay a 20 percent profit tax. MME minister Suy Sem early this year claims documentations on sand exports are securely kept with full accountability – without producing any documents. Tina Dith assures only competent authorities have access to them, pushing others into justifiable speculations. He also says the MME’s priority lies elsewhere, not the missing millions; it seems more beneficial to secure the stable door after the horse has bolted. Perhaps, a decisive factor for ignoring the elephant is that two of Hun Sen’s daughters are also involved in sand-dredging business, which is cited in the MC company register webpage before being removed in response to a Global Witness report on Hun family’s business empire.

It is the jumbo elephant of $747m in the room, buried in the sand.

Ung Bun Ang

By The Way

“[Choup Samlap] did not confess and was stubborn, because, from what I understand, our law cannot do anything to him unless we do it in a peaceful way [sic]. What I understand is, if we call in Comrade Duch, he would make a confession.”

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak, 12 August 2016, The Phnom Penh Post

Is suspect Choup Samlap is really tough, or the authority is really weak? Or are they simply in the same boat with a mastermind?

The mastermind must be frustrated that the murder of Kem Ley was not cleanly executed, leaving Choup Samlap to remain a pain in the butt. When a crowd was chasing the suspect and arrested him, they had no idea what he had done. Had the mastermind planted a message in the crowd that he had just shot dead Kem Ley, the mob would have killed the suspect there and then. There would be no pressure on the authority or the mastermind to think of Comrade Duch, and to go through a whole charade of investigation and prosecution.

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