Voices in Conflict – Sunday, 30.11.2008

Posted on 1 December 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 588 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 588

Some of the recent statements of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng are new and surprising: they contain not only some general statements that there is some corruption somewhere – but in a speech in front of many civil servants he named a department of the Ministry under his control by name and used quite clear language:

He “warned police officers of the Ministry of Interior that they should eliminate the culture of preparing documents to ask for insignia of rank and positions, and he warned officers who commit wrongdoings that not only their appointment to a certain position may be revoked, but also they will be dismissed from the the list of staff.

“The Deputy Prime Minster Sar Kheng asked how many economic crimes the Anti-Economic Crimes Police is involved in fighting so far? He answered himself that there are none. He said that he has not received any reports about the achievements of the Anti-Economic Crimes Police, but only reports of complaints against them.

“Regarding this problem, the Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng called on Khmer citizens to help report any real information related to the Anti-Economic Crimes Police to be dealt with, to end the present situation.

“Mr. Sar Kheng asked, ‘If we fail to eliminate it, who will be cursed?’ It is the Prime Minister and the Minister of Interior only; therefore, if it would be allowed to continue, our police would lose their respectability.’ ”

The response? It was reported that Mr. Run Rath Veasna, the head of the Anti-Economic Crimes Department, called a meeting in order to tell those assigned by him not to listen to, and not to follow the Minister’s orders. We look forward to further clarifications.

We mirrored also another voice which spoke up on corruption.

“A few days ahead of the meeting between big donor countries and international organizations and leaders of the Cambodian government, an organization, also big in the world – Global Witness – issued a statement for international donor countries to put pressure on the Hun Sen Cambodian People’s Party government to change the tradition and to eliminate corruption.”

We quote here some sentences of the Global Witness statement:

“Ambassadors from donor countries – which provide the equivalent of half of Cambodia’s annual budget – are scheduled to meet in Phnom Penh next week for a yearly review of the government’s progress in meeting reform targets set at their last meeting. Hardly any of the commitments made by the Cambodian government for improving governance and human rights in the past five years have been met, yet development aid has continued to flow…

“Global Witness has surveyed Cambodia’s oil and mining sectors and found that the small number of elite powerbrokers who run the state have sold off potentially valuable concessions to foreign companies in a manner that is non-transparent and highly dubious. So far, at least 60 mineral exploration licenses have been allocated to private companies, many of which are owned or beneficially controlled by members of Cambodia’s political and military elite. All of the offshore oil concessions in Cambodian territory have been allocated and at least one of Cambodia’s onshore oil blocks in the Tonle Sap basin has been granted for exploration.

“To date, basic transparency or anti-corruption provisions in the allocation of the state’s public assets have not been met. The government has not held any public open-bidding rounds for oil or mining rights, has failed to publish information on which companies have been awarded access to the resources, and has backtracked on endorsement of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.”

The Cambodian embassy in London published a response for immediate release to the Global Witness report. The statement under the heading “Reducing Poverty Reduction with Oil and Gas Revenues: A Commitment by the Royal Government of Cambodia to play a leading role in making best use and managing potential revenues from the discovered oil and gas reserves” says among other points:

“The Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the United Kingdom found the press release by Global Witness a little curious and inflammatory, just days before the upcoming Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum. If we are talking about the improved governance and transparency of Cambodia’s oil and mining sectors it may be splitting and coloring Global Witness Campaigns Director Gavin Hayman’ hairs to concentrate only on malicious report designed to start, once again, their villain campaign to discredit the image of Cambodia.

“In order to have a balanced reporting on the issue raised by Global Witness, the Embassy should have an equal number of positive reports to contradict the actions and insinuations made by Global Witness Campaigns Director.”

The statement continues to refer to an International Conference, Fuelling Poverty Reduction with Oil and Gas Revenues – Comparative Country Experiences where Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said, ‘The Cambodian Government intends to play a leading role in managing potential revenues from the country’s recently discovered oil and gas reserves and has appealed for continued knowledge sharing from different stakeholders…’

“The Deputy Prime Minister said Cambodia’s petroleum companies would endeavor to involve local people and businesses as much as possible in their operations…”

Thus, while the statement by the Embassy did not respond to the questions raised by Global Witness, and there is no commitment to apply the guidelines of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the the Deputy Prime Minister is quoted as announcing plans to involve local people in the future. It will be interesting to see how such involvement will happen without the government answering the questions raised by Global Witness or without adhering to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative guidelines.

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