Week 541 – 2008-01-06 – Expectations for the New Year
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 541
It makes sense to think ahead at the beginning of a new year about what to expect in the coming year. There are many different way to look ahead, but maybe it is enough to say there are mainly three categories for such an attitude towards the future: negative – things are going to stay bad; unclear – we do not now what will happen anyway; or to look ahead with some hope.
Without hope – how could we look into the future? Of course, we are also all aware that hope can be frustrated, and then the result is often an extremely negative view of moving towards the future.
Last week, a big market was destroyed in Sihanoukville. Some people expressed their assumption that this may have been a case of arson – trying to force the present roughly one thousand sellers at the market to accept newer, modernized arrangements – of course at a higher price. But so far there is no proof that criminal and fraudulent activity initiating the fire.
But it is reported that those who lost all their stocks of merchandise in the market fire sent a delegation of about 300 representatives, the majority of them women, to Phnom Penh, with confidence that the Prime Minister could help, appealing for help, to recover the former basis of their economic life. In the meantime it has been reported that the Prime Minister donated – without waiting for time consuming administrative procedures – US$200,000 from his own resources to reconstruct the roof, the main structure of the burnt down market.
Where disaster has struck – whether it was an intentionally evil act, or an accident – a way was has been found to restitute the situation.
There are several other cases where restitution is waiting, including some high ranking personalities, who are equally waiting, together with the press and with the public. We refer here to the case where very serious accusations have been made against the highest ranking officer of Telecom Cambodia. Questions have been raised by his own staff. They also pointed out that some of their concern which they addressed, with the same confidence as the market sellers from Sihanoukville, to the Prime Minister, had been stuck on the way through different offices and did not easily reach the eyes of the Prime Minister. Fortunately, a newspaper printed a report, so that the questions became public. Now it is reported that not only other organizations and embassies are waiting for further clarifications, they wait also for action by the National Anti-Corruption Commission, and it is reported that even the President of the National Assembly asked the Prime Minister to check what happened at Telecom Cambodia. The allegation that huge amounts of public funds were used for personal interest requires public clarification.
There is another, quite different field where the Prime Minister recently took the initiative to bring order into the – as it seems – not at all transparently organized use of public funds: the way, in which gasoline, provided for government work, is either used in not thrifty ways, of it is even used for personal purposes. Without clear procedures for regularly writing down data about the use of vehicles, and procedures how to monitor and supervise these procedures, and how to take corrective action or even punishment when the procedures are violated, control is not possible. The population, paying taxes, can expect that the officers of the state give public account how they use public funds.
There were grave allegations of misuse: keeping a car regularly at home and not coming regularly to work at the office, to use public cars for personal family purposes driving children to school or wives to go shopping, hinting that all the gasoline allocated to a certain ministry was used by a minister only. But these allegations were not straightforwardly rejected by providing information about the documentation, showing how the fuel and the cars were actually used. This seems to be a first indication about how unorganized the state of affairs is in some cases – otherwise such misuse would have been intercepted long ago by weekly or monthly supervision of the records for the use of such vehicles and for the fuel put into them.
But even now, when the Prime Minister called on all state institutions to be thrifty when using fuel, to save resources so that they can be used for the public sector, the newspapers say that this appeal was motivated by internationally high oil prices and not by internationally used principles to keep log-books for all vehicles in public service, noting down every day: who used the vehicle for which purpose, how many kilometers were driven, entering into the same log-book all expenses incurred, for fuel, repairs, and maintenance, for insurance, and for taxes. No private enterprise, which has to control it expenses in order to stay competitive, can do without such regular cost control. Many years ago, when I was working in a non-government organization, we did not only write down these data for all vehicles – what was more important was that we had reporting and supervisory procedures in place to regularly – weekly and monthly, on different levels – monitor the use and the cost of the vehicles, and to intervene with corrective measures, where necessary.
It is surprising that the Prime Minister “called on state institutions which use state fuel, that they should use fuel economically and not use it for work which is not work for the state, for example, gasoline of the state should not be used to go for a private drive on Saturdays or Sundays.” It seems that the Prime Minister is quoted to imply that such gross irregularities happen, but that they are not been supervised, stopped, and the perpetrators are not punished.
The market women from Sihanoukville came with confidence to appeal to the Prime Minister, and they were not disappointed. The public expects clarity and decisive actions also in other cases – especially after the allegations at Telecom Cambodia met also with the concern of the President of the National Assembly, and the Prime Minister himself made the responsible use of fuel in the public sector to a matter of his own personal concern.