Cambodia and Thailand Should Re-discuss OCA

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition

កម្ពុជា-ថៃ គួរចាប់ផ្តើមជជែកឡើងវិញរឿង OCA

Prime Minister Hun San shook hand with Tanasak Patimapregom, Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs at Peace Palace last month. Hong Mina
Prime Minister Hun San shook hand with Tanasak Patimapregom, Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs at Peace Palace last month. Hong Mina

On 30th and 31st October, the Royal Government of Cambodia will welcome the arrival of The Thai Delegation led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Phnom Penh. Both parties are going to sign three memorandums of understanding (MOU) regarding the issues of tourism cooperation, human trafficking elimination and victim support, and railway connection between the two countries. However, the overlapping claims area (OCA), in which lie the oil reserves, along Cambodian-Thai sea border, is excluded from the discussion.

This is a good opportunity for the two governments to re-discuss OCA. Especially, the National Assembly and the Senate should give the forum for the debates over the national resources and how the two countries can gain mutual benefits from them, rather than allow its workers, along with their advisors and assistants (of course, also their henchmen/nepotism) to have too much spare time, enjoying their high pay. Notably, some of them are just the secretariats of the Parliament or Senate, but they have so many advisors, whose positions are even equal to those of the under- secretary, although very few of them come to work. Most of them come to the office only on their payday.

In 2001, the Head of Cambodian and Thai governments signed an MOU, which stated their agreement to co-govern the 27000-klometer-square OCA, located in the Gulf of Thailand, yet Thai party imposed the suspension of this agreement in 2009 due to Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra [former Thai Prime Minister] had been designated to be the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Economy Advisor. After a group of Thai delegates visited Cambodia in September this year, the senior official of Thailand’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and Environment reported the a Thai local newspaper The Nation about discussion on the Cambodian-Thai OCA. Cambodian senior official of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, on the other hand, said we did not talk about this topic. But it is good to discuss on OCA issue.

When the oil and natural gas were under management of Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), the related information seemed to be or partially anonymous. How many Cambodian citizens know about the existence of the oil and natural gas? Do the “higher ranking officials” get much money from them? Does the government keep the fact that they have given the licenses to the private companies to explore those resources hidden from the citizen? What was the money used on? We have no answer to these questions. Meanwhile, the Anti-corruption Unit can only caught the “Small Fish” while the “Big Fish” are swimming freely and peacefully in the water.

“Furthermore, the CNPA authority who worked under the Council of Ministers, seem to have no transparency. They even drafted the false speech for the prime minister Hun Sen, which said that the first drop of Cambodian oil would appear at 12 o’clock on the twelfth of the twelfth month of 2012, bringing him the unforgettable embarrassment.

The case above shows the consequence of centralized power system, which requires the consent from the Council for any decision, including any biding for big projects such as road or bridge constructions. Even the bidding for rubbish collection service in Phnom Penh is also held there; apparently, they want to gather all the under-the-table money there for themselves.

Currently, the oil and gas matter is improving, as those resources are now under the management of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The ministry can get some profits from the oil and natural gas reserves in Cambodian territory. From example, Chevron oil company who has invested approximately $160 million in studying and exploring the oil and natural gas extracting capability in area A in the last decade, sold the 65-million-worth share to Kris Energy Ltd. of Singapore in August this year.

In the meantime, areas B-F are all seems to have their owners by the control of Chinese and/or Japanese companies. Nonetheless, the information about the incomes earned from the negotiations, the permission to explore oil and natural gases, and the bid remains confidential. Considering this aspect, the Ministry should prove the transparency and accountability in revealing the data of income and the Anti-corruption Unit also track down the “Big Fish”, even when there is no complaint. Moreover, the drafting of law on monitoring oil reserves has been postponed since 2010. When will the law be adopted? When will the data about the income be revealed to the public? How much money was gained from those resources and how is it spent?

For the ones who commit embezzlement, I want you to stop your evil deed or you might suffer from, so to speak, the curse of oil, just like Nigeria, a large oil producing country, in which people have conflicts with one another. Cambodia should learn from the other ASEAN member states’ experience of settling the dispute arising from OCAs.
For instance, the documents recorded and complied by the describe the settlement of the dispute emerged from the oil and natural gas reserves in Malaysia-Thai OCAs. This dispute began with an MOU from 1979, but because both parties had continually negotiated and thus improved their relationship, they finally agreed to allow the corporations of both countries to divide the benefits from the resources equally (50%).

The fifty-fifty formula could be the ideal choice for the issue of Cambodia-Thai OCAs because it could allow us to know the size and depth of the reserves if one of the two parties claims that their share is bigger. In case that still happens, there could be no solution, as one party may drill to the side of the other. Oil and natural gas are non-renewable resources; if we do pay no heed to them, they may become exhausted in no time. Besides, Cambodia does not have enough experience and expert regarding this issue; therefore, all it can do is to accept the advices of the other countries, which may bring disadvantages. If there is another MOU of OCA, both Cambodia and Thailand need to create the clear-cut boundary between politics and business.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.