Archive for April 6th, 2008

Week 554 – 2008-04-06: National Confrontations for Global Problems

Posted on 6 April 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 554 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 554

This is written on the day for which the Sam Rainsy Party had predicted that 5,000 people would follow their call for a demonstration. The demonstration is not only to highlight the plight of the people faced with increasing prices for fuel and food, and to demand “that the government decrease the price of goods or increase the salary for government officials and workers, commensurate with the inflation of the price of goods,” but also to denounce that “corruption and incompetence are the reason behind the problem.” On the other hand, government authorities have criticized the planned demonstration as leading to social instability without offering a solution, as the increase in the price of goods is a global phenomenon. The Prime Minister gave detailed arguments and “rejected criticism concerning the request that the government should fix the price of goods.”

Looking beyond the borders of Cambodia, into the region and into the whole world, is necessary. Doing so makes us painfully aware that the problems faced are much more serious than they appear when looking only at the local situation.

Already on 16 October 2007 – World Food Day – the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director General Jacques Diouf had asked: “If our planet produces enough food to feed its entire population, why do 854 million people still go to sleep on an empty stomach?” He added that “a right is not a right if it cannot be claimed.”

Since then, more and more elements show that the world is facing a crisis:

  • The world’s wheat stocks are lower than they have ever been during the last 30 years.
  • The price of grain has been rising for the last 5 years.
  • Global food prices rose 35% from January 2007 to January 2008.
  • Australia, one of the main grain exporting countries, has suffered drought for two years, reducing grain production.
  • Concern about climate change, and about the limited nature of oil resources and the resulting price increase, has led to an expansion of the bio-fuel industry. In many countries, more and more agricultural products are being turned into bio-fuel. It is estimated that a quarter of the corn production in the USA is turned into fuel for cars. Many other countries are moving in similar directions – for example, Indonesia and Malaysia turn palm oil, part of the daily food supply, into bio-fuel. The only country which has strongly denounced turning food into fuel is Cuba.
  • Countries which have achieved an enormous economic growth – like China – experience major changes in the quantities and types of food their increasingly wealthy citizens eat. More staple foods like rice, soybeans, and other grains are purchased, and also much more meat and milk than before. In 1985, the average meat consumption per year per person in China was 20 kg, it is now about 50 kg. And to produce 1 kg of meat commercially requires about 7 kg of grain as animal food; the same amount of grain can feed many fewer people if they eat it as meat instead of as grain.

It is no surprise that, during the last weeks and months, the international media have reported about serious tensions and sometimes riots related to the shortage of food:

During the past year, there were disturbances in several states in India because production of onions had decreased and the prices doubled.

  • In December 2007, there were huge demonstrations in Mexico, when the price of corn was raised.
  • There have been clashes over food prices in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Morocco, and Senegal.
  • In March of this year, the president of Egypt called on the army to increase the production of bread, after the market price of bread had risen 26% since the beginning of the year and some people were killed in the resulting social unrest.
  • During the past week, three people were killed and 25 injured during a riot over food prices in Haiti.
  • In Yemen, also during the past week, the government brought tanks to the streets against demonstrators protesting that the price of wheat had doubled since February.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has noted that this growing crisis may lead to widespread problems – especially for the most vulnerable, the poorer sections of society.

But there are no easy solutions, and probably none can be found in isolation from regional and world wide cooperation. The increasing populations in many countries, and the increasing prices for oil, have cummulative effects: the production of food and its transportation and processing get more expensive. The stronger economies can afford to pay more for oil and food, and the spiral of prices continues.

So the challenge in Cambodia is to find ways to meet these increasing international prolems. First of all, it is surely not adequate to simply dismiss allegations of government corruption and incompetence – it is unacceptable that anti-curruption legislation, which has been in various drafts for many years, and its final presenting to the National Assembly for discussion and adoption had been promised repeatedly, may again not be sent to the National Assembly before it recesses in view of the July national elections. It is also not encouraging that, although detailed allegations of large scale corruption in the telecommunications and electricity industries have been in the press often, it is not transparent to the public what the law enforcement agencies are doing – either transparently investigating and dismissing the allegations, or informing the citizens about how illegal personal enrichment is being brought to justice. Similarly, only open access to information for the media and the public, and decisive action by the government when needed, can adequately answer specific allegations of incompetence.

But attention to alleged problems of corruption and incompetence alone cannot solve the problem of rising food and fuel prices. That requires addressing fundamental question: what kind of consumer and producer society is the goal for Cambodia: What is the vision? What is the framework for a just distribution of the wealth that Cambodia produces? What are Cambodia’s policies and procedures in relation to its own resources, in relation to its neighbors, and in relation to the rest of the world?

The president of Germany said, at the occasion of the World Food Day 2007:

“Hunger is not an inescapable destiny, but it can be eliminated by wise policies.” This requires that governments of developing countries make food security a priority. He said “all people have a right to healthy food, produced in a sustainable manner appropriate to their culture. Democratic participation by the people is the best guarantee that governments will genuinely understand people’s basic needs and will take these into account.” He noted that people should have an adequate supply of food from their own fields and the surrounding region, which requires a type of agriculture based on “ownership” in developing countries and on functioning local structures and know-how.

Maybe such an aim, for as much self-sufficiency as possible, within a realistic understanding of the global context, can be one of the guideposts for the difficult discussions and decisions Cambodia has to make.

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Saturday, 5.4.2008: Ministry of Interior Permits Demonstration in Front of the National Assembly

Posted on 6 April 2008. Filed under: Week 554 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 554

  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen wished Sam Rainsy to reach the age of one hundred years
  • Leaders of the opposition party may face legal action
  • Sam Rainsy asked 24 lawmakers to return to Phnom Penh to hold a demonstration on 6 April 2008
  • Latest information: The Ministry of Interior permitted demonstration in front of the National Assembly
  • “Phnom Penh: The Ministry of Interior decided on 4 April 2008 that the demonstration, which will be led by the Sam Rainsy on 6 April 2008, can be held in front of the new National Assembly building. However, it does not allow any march. Mr. Sam Rainsy, the president of the opposition party, has not made a final decision whether or not the Sam Rainsy Party [SRP] will also march during the demonstration. Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen wished Mr. Sam Rainy to reach the age of one hundred years, so that he will continue to compete with him on the stage of Cambodian politics.

    “A reliable source said that in the morning of 4 April 2008, Phnom Penh municipal authorities convened an urgent meeting under the direction of Mr. Kep Chuk Tema, the Phnom Penh municipal governor. The meeting aimed to watch over the demonstration of the SRP planned for 6 April 2008. District governors, chiefs of police, and chiefs of military police from all seven districts were present at the meeting.

    “Sources from the meeting said that Mr. Kep Chuk Tema told the participants to be prepared, in order to ensure security around the clock. All equipment to be used must be prepared and made available in the related districts and in the related areas, such as markets, and particularly around the headquarter of the SRP.

    “Mr. Kep Chuk Tema gave orders for the time of the demonstration, ‘Our police and the authorities of the seven districts must have enough forces available at any time to prevent illegal acts. The municipal authorities must prevent the opposition party, opportunists, or dishonest groups from doing anything that causes difficulties, insecurity, social disorder, and fears to the million of people who are living in Phnom Penh. Such problems can be caused by a handful of people.’

    “However, according to the same source, Mr. Kep Chuk Tema said that this year there is no ‘die-hard volunteer activist’ who opposes the government and the Phnom Penh municipal authorities, as it was in 1998 and 2003. For the last several days, the SRP hired moto-taxi and tuk-tuk drivers to distribute leaflets to appeal to people to participate in the demonstration on 6 April 2008. Also, Mr. Sam Rainsy turned around and sought activists in the provinces to help. Therefore the district authorities and the police must observe everywhere in Phnom Penh. If there is any mobile force from the provinces entering Phnom Penh, the authorities must stop such potential forces.

    “The Phnom Penh municipality is afraid that on 6 April 2008, if the demonstration still proceeds marching, leaders of the demonstration cannot control the demonstrators, and the demonstration could become violent, as demonstrators walking might take things from other people in their houses, shops, and markets. All demonstrators could then face legal action.

    “The municipality has arranged three lawyers to manage any cases relating to the demonstration planned for 6 April 2008.

    “Mr. Kep Chuk Tema gave an absolute order that the municipality does not allow any [marching] demonstrations, whether they are violent or non-violent, because such demonstrations are not a solution. The demonstration can not solve any problem, such as the increasing price of many goods and rice; and the government and the municipality are taking measures to deal with these problem.

    “Mr. Sam Rainsy said that the SRP told its 24 lawmakers who are in their fieldwork to return to Phnom Penh on Saturday, 5 April 2008, to participate in the demonstration scheduled on Sunday, 6 April 2008. Mr. Sam Rainsy added, ‘I will participate as well, but we have to wait for the information from the negotiators with the municipality.’ He said that SRP lawmakers, including Ho Vann, Nou Sovath, and Sok Sothy, may continue to negotiate with the municipality even in the afternoon of 5 April 2008, but he has not yet received any information about the status of the negotiations. After the municipality had stated its firm position to prohibit a [marching] demonstration, Mr. Sam Rainsy has not yet decided whether or not the demonstration would be held with a march or just at one place, or whether it would be canceled. He has to wait for information from the negotiators with the municipality. He said, ‘We cannot do anything based on the decision made by only one person. We must talk with those who are in charge and with the government.

    “Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen wished the president of the opposition party to reach the age of one hundred years .

    “Samdech Akak Moha Senapadei Dekchor Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, wished the president of the opposition party the great strength to compete in upcoming elections.

    “Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen sent Mr. Sam Rainsy such a wish during the inauguration of Meanchey University in Banteay Meanchey, in the morning of 4 April 2008.

    “Samdech Dekchor said, ‘I want to compete with the strong, not with the weak.’ He added, ‘I don’t want to compete with those who are not strong and who are weak.’

    “Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen said that he wished the president of the opposition party good health up to the age of one hundred years. If he continues to be the leader of the opposition party, Samdech will continue to be leader of the ruling party. He said, ‘Provided that you continue to be the leader of the opposition party, I continue to be leader of the ruling party. There is nothing wrong if the prime minister is the same person, because the president of the opposition party is also the same.’

    “Samdech Hun Sen added that the selection of a new prime minister, to have the same one again, or to change, is up to the decision of the Cambodian people.

    “According to the latest information, the Ministry of Interior agreed to allow the SRP to conduct a demonstration in front of the new building of the National Assembly, but it did not allow any march.” Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4559, 5.4.2008

    Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
    Saturday, 5 April 2008

    Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1611, 5.4.2008

    • Satellite Television Network (Dekchor DTV) Officially Inaugurated in Cambodia [3 April by Cambodia DTV Network Limited under cooperation with Cambodian National Television]
    • Sam Rainsy Struggles to Use 24 Parliamentarians’ Immunity to Demonstrate
    • Agriculture Is Still Leading in Economic Growth
    • Kuoy Ethnic Minority Community to Demonstrate, Asking to Establish a Ban on Gold Mining in Their Rovieng District [Preah Vihear]

    Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6315, 5-6.4.2008

    • National Election Committee Instructs Parties; Political Parties Must Deposit Riel 15 Million [approx. US$ 3,750]; in Case They Get at Least 3% of the Votes, They Will Be Refunded

    Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3431, 5-6.4.2008

    • Mr. Sam Rainsy Call Citizens to Vote to Change a Leader Who Is Incompetent to Prevent the Increase of Prices of Goods, and Incompetent to Prevent Corruption

    Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4559, 5.4.2008

    • Ministry of Interior Permits Demonstration in Front of the National Assembly
    • Vietnam Seizes Wood Worth Nearly US$2 Million [allegedly] Transported Illegally from Cambodia

    Have a look at last week’s editorial: “using an iron fist to administer justice”
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