Week 544 – 2008-01-27: Reality, Appearance, and Perception
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 544
It is not the first time that we have mirrored information which shows that there can be a considerable gap between what might be considered to be hard facts of reality – and different dynamics originating from the same facts, because they appear differently to different people, and therefore they are also perceived differently.
This is important to consider in a democratic society, because at every occasions of elections, voters do not base their decions just on objective facts. This is so especially if it is difficult to verify the reality.
The Prime Minister warned the public, during this week, not to trust promises which may appear impressive, but in actual fact are empty promises, deceiving the people.
Such warnings are understandable, because many promises are made on the way towards elections, and if no clear and detailed plans are provided together with the promises how to implement them, such promises are not very convincing. Just to promise the elimination of corruption – the US ambassadors estimates losses of more than US$300 million per year through corruption – will not be very convincing if this is not accompanied by detailed and public plans, how this is to be achieved.
What makes such warnings against futile election promises crucially difficult, is the fact that the public has to be critical, in order to discern what exists only in its appearance, and what has the weight of reality. The words of those who call for vigilance will also be evaluated.
How is the public to understand the call of the Prime Minister to close down gambling sites, when during the same week announcements are in some newspapers that at the Grand Opening of a new high class gambling club, US$18,888,88 are waiting to be won?
More than one year ago, when Prince Ranariddh had been chairperson of the National Olympic Committee, the Prime Minister had sharply criticized this institution for having spent US$1 million for it activities, mainly for international group travel. Now it was announced that Cambodians, who win medals in international competitions, will be financially rewarded. And the four persons who will represent Cambodia at the Beijing Olympics in athletics and swimming, will get US$200 each. But they will be accompanied by 11 officials. And international media quoted the secretary general of the National Olympic Committee: “For the chef de mission and Olympic Committee President and Secretary General, guests such as wives or children can accompany us.” It is not only a question whether this large entourage of eleven persons accompanying four is necessary or not – it is a question what kind of perception the balance between the $200 and the total expenses will create.
There are allegations that there were irregularities in the operation of the bids for medical supplies for the Ministry of Health, and there are questions how contracts of the magnitude of US$1 billion, which will have an impact of the future of the national treasure of the Bokor National Park, were decided upon. And three more islands in Sihanoukville – public property – were contracted to private companies.
In spite of the many different concerned and opposing voices which have been heard in relation to the plans of filling up 90% of the largest lake in Phnom Penh – voices of directly affected residents, of highly placed experts, and of high office holder of the National Assembly and of the Cambodian People’s Party – the laying of the pipe systems to for ever destroy this part of the natural environment of the capital city continues. Neither the decision making procedures are transparent to the public, nor the financial dealings related to them.
Whatever the reality may be – the population and the public will observe and come to their conclusive perceptions, whether public resources are being cared for in the public interest, or whether it appears that private interests and private deals are going on.
Since several weeks, the question is repeatedly being raised in different media, whether of not the allegations of corruption in Telecom Cambodia have been either found to be groundless – or if not, what punitive action has been initiated.
This week brought also the belated news that the US President had already in December signed a law, which instructs the US State Department to identify foreign officials and their relatives, who are believed to have been involved in corruption relating to the extraction of natural resources in their countries. Again a result of the perception, created by the Global Witness report, with detailed allegations about deforestation related corruption . No outside source has verified the reality of these allegations – but also the government has no responded with detailed facts, proving the allegations as baseless, but instead prohibited the publication and distribution of the report in Cambodia.
It can only be hoped that the warning of the Prime Minister, quoted at the beginning, will lead to more careful considerations how dealing with facts – especially in a transparent, or in a non-transparent way – can build or undermine public confidence. Without such basic trust that justice will prevail, no hope into a better future of a society can be sustained.