Sunday,2007-09-23: Conflicting Situations, Conflicting Views, Conflicting Powers

Posted on 24 September 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 526 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 526

Laws and regulations are being violated in all countries in different degrees. This is normal, though any violation of a regulation or of a law needs to be corrected – whether it is an innocent violation like when a motorcycle-taxi driver told me that he really did not know the meaning of the STOP sign, as he cannot read, or whether a violation happens by simple oversight. It should not happen again. There are criminal acts which happen secretly, and the perpetrators hope they will not be identified and punished. Sometimes a victim is threatened not to tell anybody what happened – combined with an additional threat what will happen, if the victim does not keep silence. Such things happened throughout the ages and they happen in all different countries and cultures.

What is worrying, however, are the blatant violations of the law which happen frequently, about which the press reports publicly and regularly. But not much seems to happen. We collected some examples during the week:

Smuggled Gasoline Illegally Sold on National Road 6A
During Prohibited Season, Tonnes of Fish from Fishing Lot 5 Are Caught and Transported to Vietnam Every Day
Police Confess that They Cannot Suppress Robbers Who Use AK-47 Guns, because They Have Highly Placed Protectors
Trucks Transport Wood Out from Koh Sla Area Day and Night because They Are Allowed by Officials [Kampot]

Maybe somebody might dismiss these examples, as most of them relate “only” to property violations and, in most of these examples, nobody is killed. Some such actions have also an impact on the environment, or on public finance – and where guns are used to threat victims, the criminals are also using them, human life is destroyed when they cannot have their way. Even the police feels helpless in face of the better firepower of criminals with automatic weapons.

What is fundamentally frightening, however, is that newspaper report that the police says that these highly dangerous criminals have “high placed protectors” – or that regular, day and night operating trucks transport dubious wood, because “they are allowed by officials.”

When those who should enforce public order are violating it, it is difficult to see with hope into the future. The accusation that there is a lot of impunity in Cambodia will not stop, as long as reports about blatant public violations, violations of regulations and laws, are not followed by timely reports that the law enforcement agencies have taken care of such reported violations.

Many countries, many modern democratic constitutions, have accepted the principle of the “separation of powers” as defined by the French political scientist Montesquieu in the 18th century: that a state is operating best when its three branches – the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial – operate mutually independently.

In many countries this works well, especially when “the fourth power” – the press and the other media – have a proper role to play. That means: the Executive and the Judicial will watch if the press is lifting up some past or present problems, or when it reflects suggestions of the population for the future, the Legislative will discuss – not necessarily accept – it.

What does it mean that media reports do not have this described effect in Cambodia? The reported blatant public violations are only in exceptional cases followed by subsequent reports, saying that the reported problem is now under control. It is time and again reported that the press tries to play its role, by following up on problems reported. But as long as the press has to report: the concerned ministry referred to another ministry, but the spokesperson there referred to another officer who said he is too busy to talk to a journalist – and his deputy is reported to have used another strategy to face the public: by hanging up the phone as soon as the caller was identified as a journalist.

Such courses of events are reported frequently. Such events do now show an understanding of the role of public servants in a state, as described in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which declares who holds the highest power in the country:

“We – the people of Cambodia – inscribe the following as the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.” (according to its Preamble).

“Any suggestions from the people shall be given full consideration by the organs of the State” (according to Article 35).

“The Cambodian people are the masters of their own country. All power belongs to the people. The people exercise these powers through the National Assembly, the Senate, the Royal Government, and the Judiciary. The legislative, executive, and judicial powers shall be separate” (according to Article 51).

The courts cannot make policy, but the executive can also not tell the courts what to do. And there is no place for any “high placed protectors” to hinder law enforcement officers to do their job.

If the people, also through the voice of the media, cannot effectively monitor and raise what they see and hear – and get attention – how can the Constitution be implemented?

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