Archive for December 30th, 2008

No Need to Wait for a Law on Access to Information: The Press in Cambodia Faces Rejection When Trying to Get Information – Monday, 29.12.2008

Posted on 30 December 2008. Filed under: Week 593 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 593

“Phnom Penh: In an attempt to play a better role as conveyor of messages from citizens to the Royal Government and from the Royal Government to citizens, the Club of Cambodian Journalists held the Fifth Editors’ Forum of Cambodia under the motto ‘Assessments by Editors of the Situation of Access to Information’ in the evening of 27 December 2008 at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh, with a Secretary of State of the Ministry of Information, Mr. Nov Sovatharo, chairing. This important forum was supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation like the previous forums.

“There was an active discussion after four speakers – Mr. Puy Kea, a reporter of the Kyodo News Agency of Japan, Mr. Pen Bona, co-editor of Cambodge Soir, Mr. Net Phatra, representing the Phnom Penh Post, and Mr. Chea Sayna, the editor of Koh Santepheap – expressed their opinions related to easiness and difficulties related to ‘Access to Information and Problems Faced.’ At the end, the editors’ forum decided to release the following joint declaration:

Joint Declaration of the Fifth Editors’ Forum of Cambodia ‘Access to Information without Waiting for a Law about Access to Information’
27 December 2008
Himawari Hotel
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

All of us, 35 people (as seen in the attached list with our signatures [not included here]) editors, publishing both through newspapers and through radio and TV in Cambodia, met during the Fifth Editors’ Forum in Phnom Penh on 27 December 2008 to discuss and to assess the situation of access to information which we face in our professional work during the year, and to find solutions. Under the theme of ‘Access to Information and Different Problems Faced speakers raised problems, expressed views, and provided recommendations related to:

  • The situation of access to information for foreign news agencies in Cambodia
    • Access to information related to the Preah Vihear border disputes
    • Access to information at different provinces countrywide
    • Access to information at central level (in Phnom Penh, at ministries, at private companies)

    Then, the Fifth Editor’s Forum of Cambodia discussed, in general, all points raised in the forum by the speakers and joined to assess the situation of access to information in Cambodia with high responsibility.

    Problems Identified Limiting Access to Information

    After discussions and assessments by the Fifth Editors’ Forum, the following problems are seen:

    1. Spokespersons or Public Relations Officials, or Information Officials: Many ministries and other state institutions, like the National Assembly, the Senate, as well as organizations and companies, do not have spokespersons or public relations officials, or information officials who professionally fulfill these tasks. This becomes a major obstacle against the flow of information for the general public, as guaranteed by the Constitution of 1993.
    2. Provision of Documents: In general, official documents are necessary, to be sure that a report and its information is made correctly, official documents are mostly not confidential documents, official documents have to be published by individual institutions and ministries that have to provide information to the public, and to publish about their own activities…, but often, such documents are not provided or prepared for publication and provided to journalists, not even their annual reports, and reports about the orientation of their work in the new year.
    3. Different Programs, Activities, and Meetings: Meetings that should be open are often declared to be internal and confidential affairs of the institutions, and journalists are asked to leave the meetings. At the same time, the work plans of the leaders of ministries and of other institutions are usually kept locked away in a drawer in the administration’s office, so that it sometimes seems that leaders of ministries are more secretive than the prime minister – and sometimes they do not seem to work.
    4. Announcements of Information: A small number of ministries announce information about some important events. But, regrettably, most ministries and institutions do not announce information, and some information is announced unexpectedly late.
    5. Regular Meetings and Press Conferences: In contrast to what is done in other modern countries, most ministries and institutions do not hold press conference or meet with journalists at all, although there were important and big problems to be explained and published. This makes the public to feel uninformed about the activities and the work of such ministries or institutions.
    6. Websites: Websites are one of the most important sources of information in this era of information technology. Most ministries and institutions have their own websites. This is an encouraging start. However, regrettably, most websites of ministries and of institutions are not kept updated with new information. Therefore, their websites cannot provide information and do not indicate where information can be found.

    Conclusion

    The weaknesses and gaps mentioned above are problems working against the access to information, and therefore the efficiency of different services, especially of public services, is questioned. Nevertheless, these problems can be addressed without waiting for a law about access to information. Corrections can be made through a change of behavior of some officials, and by a reorganization of the working structures at different institutions and ministries. The Royal Government has done a lot of work for people’s wellbeing and for national development, but the above shortages seems to swallow all achievements and accomplishments, when they are not shown to the public: to know, to hear, and to see. In the meantime, some facts in the social and economic life are ignored or are not solved in time, and consequently, everyone is a loser, both the Royal Government and the citizens.

    Appeal in a Situation that a Law about Access to Information Is Not Yet Adopted
    1. The Fifth Editor’s Forum of Cambodia would like to ask all ministries and institutions to appoint information officials or public relations officials, or spokespersons, and to organize their work so that they can work professionally and can fulfill their different tasks, such as to provide documents, to provide data about the work and about their activities, and especially to be able to respond to questions from journalists.
    2. All ministries and institutions should hold press conferences or meet with journalists regularly, to provide information about their activities and about the work of their ministries and institutions, and they must be conducted at least once per month.
    3. In cases of emergency, all ministries and institutions should release timely information for publication for the sake of the public. The publication of timely information can sometimes avoid danger and damage.
    4. All ministries and institutions should create their own websites to provide information to the public. As for some ministries and institutions that already have their own websites, they have to update information on their websites every day when there is new information.
    5. The Fifth Editors’ Forum of Cambodia will observe and assess the provision of information, and the Sixth Editors’ Forum, to be held again in 2009, will promote and strengthen the role of the Cambodian press in Cambodian society and in the international arena.

    Phnom Penh, 27 December 2008”
    Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6537, 29.12.2008

    Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
    Monday, 29 December 2008

    Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1832, 28-29.12.2008

    • Siem Reap Court Detains Three People, including a Journalist [of Sangkum Khmer], over a Land Dispute in Chi Kraeng District [for using violence against a real estate owner, and for provoking crimes, while residents said that they are arrested unjustly]
    • Pakistan and India Send Troops to their Border, Increasing Tension
    • China Sends Warships to the Gulf of Aden [to help fight Somali pirates]

    Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.2, #314, 28-30.12.2008

    • Secretary of State of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology Tan Vanthara Appeared at a Gambling Site of the Phnom Penh Hotel
    • [Former military police officer] Chea Ratha Said Something about the Place Where She Is Hiding [she is living in a pagoda in a foreign country], Adding that She Is a Victim Regarding the Acid Attack [on the aunt of Ms. In Soklida, a well-known film star, with whom she had an affair]
    • [Former Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs] Noppadon Pattama Will Raise the Preah Vihear Temple Problem, to Attack [new Prime Minister] Abhisit Vejjajiva [during the meeting of the Thai parliament]

    Khmer Sthapana, Vol.1, #170, 28-29.12.2008

    • Dey Krahom Community Residents Face Eviction on 30 December 2008 [after the Chamkar Mon district office issued the last notice for the rest of 91 families (of 1274 families) at the Building Block area to leave by 30 December 2008]

    Koh Santepheap, Vol.41, #6537, 29.12.2008

    • No Need to Wait for a Law on Access to Information: The Press in Cambodia Faces Rejection When Trying to Get Information
    • Negotiation with Siam [Thailand] Is Still the Position for Border Issues and It Is the Most Appropriate Choice to Avoid War [said spokesperson of the government and Minister of Information, Mr. Khieu Kanharith]
    • Red-Shirt Demonstrators [supporters of the ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra] Start to Surround the Thai Parliament [to prevent the presentation of the policy statement by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva]
    • Israel Attacked Hamas in Gaza Causing Many Deaths [as revenge for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel – at least 271 people were killed and more than 620 others were injured. – Status on 29.12.2008: 1 soldier and 3 civilians were killed in Israel; more that 310 persons were killed in Gaza, and hundreds wounded]
    • More Than 98,000 Civilians Killed in Iraq [since 2003]

    Meatophum, Vol.52, #716, 29-31.12.2008

    • If [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Mr. Hor Namhong Does Not Assign His Son, Whom Should He Assign? [he will appoint his son, Hor Monyrath, to be ambassador in Japan from 2009]

    Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3651, 29.12.2008

    • The Spokesperson of the Government [Mr. Khieu Kanharith] Said that If an Armed Clash Happens along the Khmer-Siamese [Thai] Border, Cambodia Would Need 20,000 Troops
    • Members of the European Parliament Prepare to Sue Yuon [Vietnamese] Airline [for preventing them, Mr. Marco Panella and Mr. Marco Perduca, to board a plane from Cambodia to Vietnam]
    • The Director of the Cambodia Mine Action Authority Was Removed from His Position Related to Corruption [over the collapse of financing for the mine-sniffing dog raising and breeding program – Mr. Sam Sotha was replaced by Mr. Chum Bunrong, an advisor of Prime Minister Hun Sen]

    Rasmei Angkor, Vol.15, #1336, 29.12.2008

    • The Public of the [Phnom Penh] City Welcomes that the Authorities Curb Down Illegal Motorbike Pawn Shops [because such places are said to increase robberies in the city – nearly 2,000 motorbikes were found, 70% do not have number plates or tax stickers]


    Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4780, 28-29.12.2008

    • The Ministry of Interior Starts to Release Money instead of Rice to Police in 2009 [because of quality problems, late delivery, and loss of rice – instead of 1 kilogram of rice Riel 2,800 is paid – approx. US$0.70 – no information given how many kg in total are provided per month]
    • The Setting of Cambodia-Vietnam Border Markers Is Delayed until 2012 [the Cambodian-Vietnamese border of 1,270 km needs to be marked with 370 markers, worth more than US$15 million, and Vietnam is responsible for the whole expenses]

    Have a look at the last editorial – you can access it directly from the main page of the Mirror.

    And please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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    Links and Lessons from Far Away Africa – Sunday, 28.12.2008

    Posted on 30 December 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 592 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 592

    When we mirrored, on 26 December 2008, that Captain Moussa Dadis Camara had declared himself president of Guinea, after a coup following the death of President Lansana Conte, 74, I first did not think that this deserved much attention in the Mirror.

    Then I remembered some connections: on 19 June 2008 we had mirrored that the Cambodian Prime Minister had decided to sell 120,000 tonnes of rice and to send agricultural experts to Guinea, responding to a request by the prime minister of Guinea. At that time I had wondered what kind of link might exist to this small country in Africa – hardly anybody knows where it is located.

    But already in 2001 an ambassador of Guinea had presented his credentials and diplomatic relations were established – though Cambodia does not have an embassy anywhere in Africa, while having diplomatic relations with 17 countries in Africa.

    In March 2008, 15 artists from the circus school in Guinea “Centre d’Art Acrobatique Keïta Fodéba” were in Cambodia for 3 months.

    In November 2008, during the opening of the Least Developed Countries Ministerial Conference in Siem Reap, the Prime Minister spoke about new possibilities of cooperation at a time of rising prices for rice: “I have looked at the list of participants and it reminds me of a number of countries in Africa that I visited in the times when I was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs [1979 to 1990]. Recently Guinea contacted Cambodia to purchase some agricultural products. This has made me think that in time of crisis there are always opportunities as at the time of fuel and food crisis, Cambodia could see the opportunity of expanding production to provide food for both local and the world.”

    Research brought to light more and more facts that seem worthwhile to consider in relation to Cambodia. Guinea is obviously a country which has had a lot of problems. The death of the president was considered by a group of younger military leaders as a chance to act They seem to have seen no other possibility to rectify the situation but a coup d’etat – against the constitution and the laws of their country, though completely without bloodshed or using force.

    What had happened?

    Guinea is in West Africa, about one third bigger than Cambodia, but with only 10 million people compared to Cambodia’s 14 million. It is rich in minerals and has the world’s biggest reserves of bauxite, which is the basis to create aluminum. At present it is fourth in the world in bauxite production, after Australia, Brazil and China. It has also diamonds, gold, iron, nickel, and uranium.

    Since its independence from France in 1958 – five years after Cambodia – it has had only two presidents: Sékou Touré until 1984, and General Lansana Conte, who seized power after the death of his predecessor; the support of the armed forces was essential for his power throughout the years. During these years, multi-party elections were held for the first time in 1993 when General Conte, as head of the military government, was elected president of a civilian government – this was the same year that the elections organized by UNTAC were held in Cambodia. Conte was reelected in 1998 and in 2003, but all three elections were said to have had irregularities. In the meantime, an electoral term was extended from 5 to 7 years, after the president’s party had won 91 of the 114 seats. It is said that “he ruled the country with an iron fist for 24 years.”

    Guinea’s immense riches have attracted the major mining companies from different countries: AngloGold Ashanti (from South Africa), Billiton (the world’s largest mining company, from Australia – since 2006, Billiton is also conducting bauxite exploration in Mondolkiri, with “the exclusive rights to negotiate a mining agreement with the government” at the end of their study, and there is also a Billiton Petroleum office in Phnom Penh), Global Alumina (from the USA), Rio Tinto (UK and Australia), and RusAl (from Russia). Some pictures show how the bauxite is collected by big machines, and then transported to be shipped out of the country. A major contractor on the Guinean side says:

    “In collaboration with the Government and people of Guinea, Guinea Alumina Corporation will develop a world class alumina business that provides value to shareholders, sustained economic and social benefits to the people of Guinea, and a quality supply of alumina to the world.”

    But in spite of such lofty declarations and the riches of the country, Guinea is listed in position 202 when comparing the per capita income in different countries – lower than Cambodia. Cambodia is in position 180 on the same list of 225 countries.

    A lack of transparency about how “the people of Guinea” benefit from these riches, compared to the share taken by the international companies, led to dissatisfaction, accusations of high level corruption, and strikes in 2006 and 2007, and violent protests.

    When Captain Moussa Dadis Camara declared himself president and suspended the constitution, he stated as the justification the mismanagement and corruption of the former government. He created a 32-member National Council for Democracy and Development – replacing the ministers with 26 military officers and 6 civilians – and promised to hold elections in two years. There had been tensions in the military since several months, when younger officers had expressed their opposition to the corrupt practices of some of the higher level officers.

    During the coup nobody was arrested, but the members of government were dismissed, as well as 22 generals close to the former political powers. It is reported that Captain Moussa Dadis Camara met with politicians, religious leaders, trade union representatives, and members of civil society, declaring that the main motive for taking power is to fight corruption and to secure the interests of the country: all contracts with international companies, which had invested billions of dollars, will be canceled for review, to root out corruption; whoever has misappropriated state assets or personally benefited from public resources will be punished.

    The international reaction? A voice representing the international companies said: “It is very likely that the new regime may seek to extort monies from current operators and prospectors and that a new democratic regime may try to impose heavier royalties and taxes,” even calling it “extortionary pressure” if the new government would try to negotiate more balanced agreements about their own resources being sold abroad.

    It is interesting that voices from the international community, which had not questioned the corruption involved in the arrangements of “exporting” the mineral wealth of the country without transparency and without benefits for the people, is now raising mainly the concern about having violated the results of the electoral system of the country.

    It is remarkable, however, that President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, one of the neighboring countries, is calling to recognize and to support the new government, because of its positive goals.



    Considering this history of Guinea – allegations of corruption based on bad governance and misuse of resources, which finally led to an effort for a radical new beginning – it is appropriate to remember that Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly spoken about his concerns of a similar situation for Cambodia: growing dissatisfaction by people who do not see that the society provides them justice, who might resort to attempts to bring about a radical change. On the other hand, he has also raised concerns that people who see their chances of illegal enrichment too much controlled by the government might attempt to grab power in order to exercise their greed without restraint. These statements shall not be forgotten.

    In 1999, the Prime Minister had said: “Should we not manage the land issue in a good manner, we might have to face a farmers’ revolution.” He mentioned this again in 2004, addressing the National Forum on Land Management in the presence of national and international representatives.

    In 2002, opening the Consultative Group Meeting between representatives of the Cambodian Government and representatives of cooperating countries and international institutions, he said:

    “We are conscious that corruption in the public machinery, be it judiciary or administrative or any other, increases transaction costs for everyone and reduces predictability in law enforcement and implementation of the government’s policies… The government believes that enactment of adequate laws and regulations to prevent and punish corruption is crucial for addressing this problem. In this spirit, the Royal Government is committed to finalize the draft of the Anti -Corruption Law before the end of June 2003.”

    In February 2007, the Chinese People’s Daily Online quoted the Cambodian Prime Minister:

    “The land grabbers dare to get a lot of land illegally while we have always appealed again and again to stop… The land grabbers are not simple people, they must be powerful people in the government. I asked the question, do they dare to conduct a coup d’etat in the future?” And he is quoted to have replied himself that they really dare to do so. “So before they conduct a coup d’etat, we need to take action against them.”

    What happened in Guinea should not happen in Cambodia. The political action necessary has been pointed out by the Prime Minister clearly enough.

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