Archive for June 25th, 2007

Sunday,2007-06-24: A Financially Successful Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum Meeting

Posted on 25 June 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 513 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 513

The financial results of the two days Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum meeting – pledges of assistance by the international community of more than $689 million for Cambodia in the coming year – is being welcomed by many voices, in the country and abroad. But many press reports about this event in many different countries, which can also be found on the Internet, mention prominently in their headlines that the pledges of financial assistance were combined with a lot of criticism about the scale of corruption in the country. Often it is also added in these international reports that the promise of the Cambodian government, repeatedly made during past years, to adopt an anti-corruption law, was again not kept. And while the report by Global Witness, with detailed allegations of illegal deforestation activities, committed by persons with high standing in society, has been banned from distribution in Cambodia, the media in many other countries reported part of its content, and especially also that it was banned.

The financial success of the meeting with donors, and the negative international image created by the banning of this report, together with other allegations, stand in sharp contrast to each other.

Recent reports about the huge discrepancy between the development aid given to Cambodia by Japan – from 1992 to 2006 approximately $1,177 million – and the amount of private investment from Japan – only $22 million – show that a negative image can have very real consequences; we presented details about the reasons for this gap on 23.6.2007.

To focus mainly on the financial aspects of international cooperation will not help to face the real problems that exist, which also the Prime Minister acknowledged. Two cases can serve as reference.

  • The NGO Forum of Cambodia had elaborated a statement with the intention to make a constructive contribution to the development of Cambodia, but it was rejected by the Cambodian People’s Party, saying that this NGO statement will not reduce international donor’s aid. The NGO paper had not recommended at all that the amount of aid should be reduced.
  • When a group of eight persons – why does it matter that they are foreigners from different countries? – peacefully drew the attention of the public to the fate of two people arrested and imprisoned under the accusation of having murdered a labor union leader, the President of the National Assembly is quoted to have said, “They do not want the donors to give money to develop the country” – but what they had actually appealed for was not a reduction of assistance, but a revision of the court decision which has widely been seen as having not been achieved as a result of taking account of many defense witnesses. Also the former King had, at other times, expressed his doubts whether justice has been done in this case.

We present here events from our neighboring country of Thailand from this week, where severe allegations of corruption are being investigated.

Allegations were made that senior judicial officials related to the Constitutional Tribunal, which recently had dealt with the accusation of electoral fraud against the two most important political parties, had been approached with bribery in order to influence the decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal. As could be expected, the judiciary reacted negatively to this accusation, which was worded vaguely and did not contain any elaborate documentation – as in the case of the prohibited report in Cambodia – neither mentioning the names of persons alleged to have offered, or of the persons alleged to have received bribes.

Instead of dismissing these generally worded allegations as a rumor, the President of the Supreme Court of Thailand established a high-power panel to investigate the allegations. And he declared that he too is prepared to be investigated, if the panel should find reason to suspect him also.

The Bangkok Post, a Thai newspaper, commented:

“Allegations have been whispered from time to time about judges taking bribes. Rarely do such allegations make it into print or are made public for fear of being slapped with contempt of court.
In light of the judiciary’s increased role and the widely held belief in the judiciary as the last resort for the public, it is essential that all its officials be seen as clean, honest, fair, and impartial.”

When representatives of rural communities come to Phnom Penh to appeal for justice, after the land on which they used to live or which they used to farm was taken away from them, they are mostly reported to try to present their case to the Prime Minister and not to the court. This reflects their assumption that their last resort is not the judiciary, but the head of the government. The fact that they believe in him as the last resort of justice is proven by the fact that they often carry pictures of the Prime Minister.

The Thai press comment continues:

“The new investigation will be beneficial to the judiciary as a whole and to the Constitutional Tribunal in particular. If the allegation is proven baseless, the probe will enhance their credibility and image. On the contrary, if it is proven true, then it would provide an opportunity for the judiciary to weed out any black sheep among them.”

Sooner or later, similar lines of argument – to investigate even vague accusations and not to suppress even those ones which come with detailed documentation – can hardly be avoided also in Cambodia.

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