Dredging fee fraud alleged

A French-Canadian businessman was charged on March 29 with defrauding a sand trader of more than $300,000 by promising to arrange official permission for a dredging operation. Interior Ministry police officer Chea Pesith said Seang Metta, 52, of Boeung Keng Kang II commune in Phnom Penh, claimed he knew many high-ranking officials in the Environment Ministry and other ministries.

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Data quality vital for economy

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, in collaboration with the National Institute of Statistics, on March 29 conducted a workshop for all relevant government agencies on strengthening the economic statistics of Cambodia. The aim of the workshop was to strengthen capacity building on economic statistics to supply solid, reliable data to investors, researchers, policymakers, government and the people. Ministry of Planning secretary of state Rin Virak said that economic statistics played a crucial role in managing the macroeconomy. He said the workshop would provide input on building the National Economic Statistics Development Plan.

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Higher skills for a busy aviation sector

In its first two months of regular operation Cambodia’s first civil aviation training centre has provided certificates to dozens of aviation officials and airport staff, helping to raise the skill level of personnel in the Kingdom’s fast-expanding aviation sector. Sinn Chanserey Vutha, spokesman of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said the $10.1 million facility, built with South Korean funding and supervision, held its first training course in early February ahead of its official opening last week. He said the specialised training centre has already provided certificates to 40 aviation officials and airport staff, with another 47 participants due to complete their coursework next week.

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ASEAN talks South China Sea in Siem Reap

Chinese and ASEAN representatives are meeting in Siem Reap to begin hammering out a code of conduct for the highly contested South China Sea. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry said Cambodia was hosting the director-general-level meeting on March 29-30. China has openly dismissed an international tribunal’s determination that the sea’s rocky outcrops cannot be used as the basis for territorial claims, though ASEAN members such as Vietnam and the Philippines, both of which are embroiled in the territorial disputes with China, applauded the decision. While the disputes persist, Beijing has consistently expressed interest in finalising a code of conduct for the region among its neighbours.

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Oil firm ready to ink production-sharing agreement

Executives at Singapore-listed energy firm KrisEnergy Ltd say they have settled terms with the Cambodian government and are ready to sign a long-awaited production-sharing agreement that would pave the way for the first-ever extraction of petroleum from Cambodian territorial waters. Kelvin Tang, KrisEnergy’s chief operating officer and president of its Cambodia operations, said on March 29 that a contract has been finalised that will govern the extraction of offshore oil and gas from the Block A oil field in the Gulf of Thailand. KrisEnergy holds a 95 percent stake in the 4,709-square-kilometre offshore block, while the Cambodian government holds the remaining 5 percent. According to Tang, KrisEnergy and Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy have agreed to terms on a production-sharing agreement, “but everything is only set once all parties have signed the relevant agreements”. He added that the company was simply waiting for the government to call and set a date for the signing.

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Swedish aid agency offers funds for SMEs

Sweden's development agency will provide $7 million to foster the development of small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in Cambodia, according to state-run news agency AKP

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Open call for proposals: data journalism and property rights grants

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The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has issued an open call for proposals for data journalism projects focused on land rights and property rights. Applications are open until May 1, 2017. Read their full release below or at their blog.

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The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a grant-giving non-profit organization that supports independent global journalism, is seeking applications for data-driven journalism projects related to land rights and property rights. 

We are eager to see proposals that use open data to reveal new perspectives on property rights issues related to land tenure, indigenous land rights, transparency in land transactions and concessions, resource rights, or overlapping land use rights—just to name a few. 

We are seeking data-driven stories that utilize the tools of the trade—satellite imagery, 360° cameras, drones, sensors, data visualizations, and interactive maps/graphics—but ultimately how to tell the story is up to you.

We encourage applicants to experiment with open data from a variety of sectors, for example: health data, investment data, law enforcement data, data from offshore and illicit financial flows, agribusiness data, development aid data, or population data to reveal new stories and under-reported issues related to land tenure and property rights. We will also welcome proposals that seek to vet or verify datasets related to property rights generated by NGO’s, governments, or multilateral development banks. After publication, when possible, the datasets created during this grant period will be released for the public good.

During this special opportunity, we will select three separate data-driven story proposals for grants. We will consider projects of any scope and size. We will award three grants for a total of $75,000. Please choose a team leader to submit the proposal, and submit only one project per journalist, data design team, or newsroom.

This grant opportunity is now open, and applicants are encouraged to submit their proposals for this opportunity by May 1, 2017. Apply here. Be sure to select the box marked "Data Journalism and Property Rights" on the application.

To apply, please include the following:

  • A description of the proposed project, including distribution/publication plan, no more than 250 words. If you have a letter from interested producers or editors please include it.
  • A preliminary budget estimate, including a basic breakdown of costs.  Include travel costs, software, satellite/GIS, or hardware costs.  Please do not include stipends for journalists/team members who are in the employ of newsrooms or are being paid by a publisher.  If you are a journalist collaborating with a data designer and/or data visual specialist you may include consultant fees in your budget.
  • Three samples of published work by you (or someone your project team) —data visualizations, infographics, and/or data-driven stories.
  • Three professional references. These can be either contact information or letters of recommendation.
  • A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Applications may also include a more detailed description of project, but this will be considered as optional supplement only. The most important part of the submission is the 250-word summary.
  • If you have questions about this call for applications please email us at contact@pulitzercenter.org.
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IDI releases report into World Bank’s investments in SE Asia

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Inclusive Development International, in collaboration with Bank Information Center, Accountability Counsel, Urgewald, 11.11.11, Ulu Foundation and Tarkapaw Youth Group, has released an investigative report into the International Finance Corporation's hidden investments in Southeast Asia. Read their full release below.

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Out of control: The World Bank’s reckless private sector investments in Southeast Asia exposed

Dozens of harmful and high-risk projects in Southeast Asia have received hidden funding from the World Bank Group, an ongoing investigation by Inclusive Development International has revealed. The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private-sector arm, is surreptitiously channeling money to these projects through for-profit financial intermediaries, such as commercial banks and private equity funds.

The IFC’s financial-sector clients have funded some of the region’s most destructive projects, contravening the Performance Standards, the institution’s social and environmental guidelines. These projects include mega-hydropower dams in Vietnam and Cambodia, dirty coal-fired power plants and mines in the Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar, and massive agro-industrial land grabs in Cambodia and Laos.

Inclusive Development International, in collaboration with Bank Information Center, Accountability Counsel, Urgewald, 11.11.11, Ulu Foundation and Tarkapaw Youth Group, has today released a report detailing these findings, Reckless Development: The IFC’s Dodgy Deals in Southeast Asia. The report is the third installment of an ongoing investigation, Outsourcing Development: Lifting the Veil on the World Bank's Lending Through Financial Intermediaries, which follows the trail of IFC money globally and looks at how it impacts people on the ground in developing countries.

“Once again we have found that outsourcing the World Bank Group’s development mandate to private financial institutions is a recipe for disaster,” said David Pred, Managing Director of Inclusive Development International.

The report confirms the most damning conclusions of a monitoring report released last week by the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), the IFC’s independent watchdog. The CAO report found systemic non-compliance by the IFC with its policies and procedures across all stages of the investment process in a sample of financial intermediary investments. 

“IFC does not, in general, have a basis to assess [financial intermediary] clients’ compliance with its [environmental and social] requirements,” the report states. This is “highly problematic” in high-risk projects where the IFC “does not have assurance” that its requirements are being implemented in the projects funded by its intermediaries, the CAO concludes.

“When we look at the actual projects that IFC’s intermediaries are funding in Southeast Asia, we see no evidence that IFC’s standards are being respected,” Pred said. “On the contrary, we see a trail of human suffering and environmental devastation from the Indonesian archipelago to the highlands of Laos and Vietnam.  This is the bulk of IFC's business, and its out of control.”

The IFC’s due diligence failures have exposed the development bank to harmful projects across the region, according to this latest research.

In Vietnam, the IFC owns a large stake in Vietinbank, a majority state-owned commercial bank that has funded destructive hydropower dams, including the devastating Son La project, which was estimated to have displaced 91,000 people without providing adequate compensation and resettlement assistance. Vietinbank has lent billions of dollars to Son La’s owner, Electricity of Vietnam, which also has a stake in the highly controversial Lower Sesan 2 dam in Cambodia. Lower Sesan 2 is expected to profoundly harm the Mekong River’s fish stocks and damage food security for hundreds of thousands of people.

Vinacomin, which has also received Vietinbank funding, owns bauxite mines that have polluted and decimated large swathes of the country’s pristine Central Highlands. In addition, Vieitinbank has financed coal plants and the companies that operate them, including the controversial 6,224-megawatt Vinh Tan project, which have evicted landowners and polluted the air and water.

Meanwhile, in Laos and Cambodia another Vietinbank client, Vietnam Rubber Group, has developed massive industrial rubber plantations on the ancestral domains of the region’s indigenous peoples, resulting in widespread deforestation, forced displacement, and other human rights abuses.

In Indonesia, the IFC owns approximately 20 percent of an infrastructure finance facility that has funded a number of problematic projects, raising widespread concerns among Indonesian civil society groups. The facility has failed to implement IFC standards on information disclosure, consultation, and environmental and social protection.

In Myanmar, the IFC is exposed to the Ban Chaung coal mine, which is expected to harm 16,000 indigenous people in a region that experienced 70 years of civil conflict. The project is polluting water sources, contaminating agricultural land, and causing uncontrollable fires that release toxic fumes. The IFC is exposed to the project through equity investments in two large commercial banks, Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank and The Postal Savings Bank of China.

“After 70 years of civil war, the people of Ban Chaung are trying to rebuild their lives again from zero. But rather than focusing on community development and improving education, health and livelihoods, we have had to spend five years fighting with this company that is trying to take away everything,” said Naw Pe Tha Law of the Tarkapaw Youth Group.

These investments in Southeast Asia fit a global pattern. The IFC is increasingly outsourcing its development funds to commercial banks and private equity funds, which generate enormous profit for the World Bank Group. Although these IFC clients are required to apply the Performance Standards to their investments, there is little evidence that this is occurring. In 2016, the IFC made more than $5 billion in new commitments to financial intermediaries, bringing its total outstanding commitments by year’s end to $20.4 billion.

"It is time for the directors of the World Bank to bring the IFC under control,” said Kate Geary, Forest Campaign Manager for Bank Information Centre, Europe. “This murky lending is resulting in appalling human suffering and environmental damage, so first steps must be for the IFC to open up about where its money goes, and curtail its high risk lending until it can show it does no harm."

Reckless Development: The IFC’s Dodgy Deals in Southeast Asia can be downloaded here.

Further reporting from the Outsourcing Development investigation is available here

IDI's database of IFC financial intermediary sub-investments with serious social, environmental and human rights risks and impacts is available here.

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ODM to host Open Data Day Vientiane

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In coordination with the International Open Data Day, Open Development Mekong, in collaboration with the Faculty of Forestry Science, National University of Laos, is hosting an event in Vientiane to begin to build a community of open data* enthusiasts among students, researchers, professors, and civil society professionals. This event is open to the public.

* For the benefit of those who are new to the concept, open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.

Schedule:

13:30 - 14:00 : Registration and networking

14:00 - 14:30 : Introduction to open data concepts and how it benefits research

14:30 - 15:00 : Interactive quiz with audience members -- top five winners will be rewarded with prizes

15:00 - 16:00 : Introduction to information sharing and open data platforms offering information related to environment and natural resources for students and researchers

16:00 - 17:00 : Participatory translation exercise of key open data terms and demonstration of ways to contribute translation of the Open Data Handbook into Lao

Foods and non-alcoholic drinks will be provided throughout the sessions.

This event will be highly educational for all involved, giving everyone a chance to learn about and discuss the possibilities of open data and open development for Laos. Please share the invitation with those who might be interested.

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SERVIR-Mekong seeks Science and Data Lead

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Open Development Initiative partners SERVIR-Mekong are seeking experienced candidates for a key position in their team. Please see below for their call for applications, and see their website for more detail on how to apply.

The Science and Data Lead is the principal technical expert in the SERVIR-Mekong hub and the primary technical contact with the NASA science team. The Science and Data Lead reports directly to the SERVIR-Mekong Chief of Party. S/he will take a leadership role in the development and delivery of scientific products and maintain an active network of clients and technical partners in the region. Primarily, s/he will lead the efforts of the wider SERVIR-Mekong technical team to develop new, high quality user-tailored data, tools, applications, and models to address on-the-ground priorities of the Lower Mekong region, but s/he will also contribute to capacity-building of clients, facilitate improved information sharing and active use of geospatial information for decision making in the region, and help ensure sustainability of hub functions at ADPC. 

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ODM, Land Portal host Open Data Festival in Yangon

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You're invited! Phandeeyar, Open Development Mekong and the Land Portal Foundation are pleased to invite you to an International Open Data Festival on 26 February from 5 p.m to 9 p.m at the the Phandeeyar event space.

The festival has a dynamic program featuring a talk show with renowned Thomson Reuters Journalist Thin Lei Win from Thailand, Muchiri Nyaggah, open data expert and Executive Director of the Local Development Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, interventions from OneMap Myanmar and others.

The program also includes ‘lightning talks’ from local and international initiatives focused on open data. If you would like to present your open data project as a lightning talk please let us know.

Organizations from Myanmar and around the world will have information tables and share information about their work. If you would like to reserve a table to share your work with the international and local open data communit, let us know too.

An evening meal will be served free of charged. Local music/entertainment by will be provided by a DJ.

Registration: https://www.eventnook.com/event/opendatafestival/home

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Earthrights International releases statement on IFC/Tata Mundra coal plant case

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EarthRights International has released a statement on the status of their case against the International Finance Corporation in federal court in Washington D.C.

"Local fishing communities and farmers represented by EarthRights International (ERI) are suing the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in federal court in Washington, D.C. over the destruction of their livelihoods, loss and damage to their property, and the threats to their health caused by the IFC-funded coal-fired power plant in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India.​"

Read their statement in full and access a range of resources about the case and the Tata Mundra coal plant here.

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