Can Changing Priorities Change the Law? – Sunday, 8.3.2009

Posted on 13 March 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 602 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 601

Apologies for the delays in publishing – due to my international travel. I try to catch up as soon as possible.

Norbert Klein

The life of a society is not like a mechanism which works according to preset laws of physics or chemistry. The different agents in a society – all the people, and some people with special functions – may see different things getting more important, and they change their mind. But not every change of mind can lead to a change of the rules according to which a society works.

Some of such changes are surprising. We take some examples from quite different fields, just to show that a direction was taken, or a result was reached, which had not been expected at all.

On 22 January 2009, General Ke Kim Yan was removed from his position of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander-in-chief by Prime Minister Hun Sen. This had triggered concerns among some generals at military garrisons and at divisions, being afraid that they too might be removed, but Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Tea Banh had affirmed that there are no such shifts to come -m but they came. Later, on 7 February 2009, we mirrored a report that the Prime Minister had explained that the removal of the commander-in-chief was part of the ongoing military reform. The rumors that there might be more involved showed up in the press on 13 February 2009, claiming that the Prime Minister had ordered to take legal action against Mr. Ke Kim Yan. More detailed information reached the public, when the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported three days later that the government criticized the press for publishing leaked information (without denying its content). According to the minutes, “the Council of Ministers has been informed and commented on the termination of the position of commander-in-chief of HE Ke Kim Yan based on two reasons: First, reforming the RCAF rank and file by adhering to work effectiveness in the military rank and file. Second, involvement with land issues by a top and powerful person in the military rank and file and doing business by using the name of military for personal gain.” The minutes went on to describe a resolution by the Council of Ministers to have both military and government bodies investigate Ke Kim Yan’s land dealings.

And the end? This week came the final clarification: The Prime Minister announced that Mr. Ke Kim Yan will be the 10th Deputy Prime Minister, heading the drug control administration.

The 14th ASEAN Summit was held from 27 February to 1 March 2009, in Hua Hin, Thailand. After the ASEAN Charter had come into force in December 2008, the summit was under the heading ‘ASEAN Charter for ASEAN Peoples,’ to start a new era of ASEAN with people at the heart of cooperation. It had therefore been expected that the summit would focus on human rights, but the global financial crisis moved up to the top of the agenda.

Nevertheless, it had been foreseen because of this orientation of ASEAN – being for the ASEAN people – some people not from the governments, but from civil society, would also have a chance to meet and to discuss with government leaders. But as it was reported, the government representatives of Cambodia and Myanmar threatened rather to boycott this meeting than to discussion the creation of an ASEAN human rights institution with civil society persons. So the persons from Myanmar and from Cambodia withdrew, in order not to be an obstacle to this important discussion.

Even so, by the end of the summit, it had not been possible to find an agreement about the nomination of an ASEAN human rights commissioner, also the creation of the ASEAN human rights organization did not progress well. The plan originally announced was not achieved.

But the final declaration of the summit continues to uphold the vision of ASEAN as “a rules-based community of shared values and norms, a cohesive peaceful, stable and resilient region with shared responsibility for comprehensive security, as well as a dynamic and outward-looking region in an increasingly integrated and interdependent world.”

The confidence, that events and decision will be proceeding according to set rules, is basic for the stable development not only for an international community like ASEAN, but for every society. That is why the events described above are confusing for the public – for “the people” – because the rules according which events proceeded, and the values and norms applied, are not transparent to the public.

Now there is another field where it is not clear how rules-based proceedings – a state of law, as another terms says – were applied in the closure of the gambling chain CamboSix, which was announced by the Prime Minister on 24 February 2009 during a graduation ceremony, explaining the negative social consequences of gambling. But CamboSix had, after all, a license to operate, issued by the competent authorities of the government, valid until the year 2011. Now, about an estimated number of 6,000 to 8,000 workers lost their jobs, and the Minister of Finance was quoted that though the government had issued a license, there are “no particular contract links between both parties.” But the international partial co-owners see this differently: CamboSix, partly owned by foreign companies, claims to have lost more than US$12 million in investments made before the withdrawal of their license, and they will ask for compensation according to the legal protection provided to investors in general.

Raising this question is not giving an endorsement for gambling. But how is the public to understand this action? Just five days prior to this suspensions, the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Economy and Finance Chea Meng Chhieng had stated the 2009 goals of the state to collect a 12.5% tax, to produce more tax income over the 2008 figures: US$20 million, tax income from all kinds of gambling.

As we had reported on 24 February, the Prime Minister had ordered the Ministry of Economy and Finance to observe all hotels that have entertainment clubs and all types of electronic entertainment centers, as they are required to prohibit Khmer citizens to enter for gambling. “If there is any violation of the rules, like permitting Khmer citizens to enter, the Ministry of Economy and Finance must revoke their licenses and immediately stop their operation within 24 hours.”

Police in Phnom Penh, who do not understand the difference between computer based gambling and computer games, have closed also about 20 of the 160 shops hosting the role-playing game Justice X-War 2, though this is a game where the participants do not bet and cannot win any money. Even the Secretary-General of the government’s National Information Technology Development Authority, Dr. Phu Leewood, was quoted in the Cambodia Daily to regret this confusion: “Gambling is betting, while gaming is not. I used to play games a lot when I was at university.” But shops stay closed, and many people who wanted to register for the upcoming game tournament at the Cambodia ICT World Expo, scheduled for 3 to 5 April 2009, do not dare to come forwards, as they are afraid to be mistaken to be gamblers.

So far, there are many reports how the soccer-betting company CamboSix is affected. Is this regulation also be enforced where a hotel has a gambling room with slot machines? According to recent observations, there does not seem to be such checking in force at the Naga Casino – the biggest such establishment in Phnom Penh.

On 4 September 2007, we had mirrored a Khmer newspaper report that a door was opened too late for a Cambodian 4-Star General to enter the casino, so he called four police vans and had three Malaysian Naga Casino foremen handcuffed – followed by a report one day later that $150,000 were spent for the release of these three Malaysian employees of Naga Casino.

On Friday, we carried a headline that the Prime Minister apologized to the public for the late action of closing gambling institutions. There are also reports that there is an understandable wide public support for this action. It might falter again, if the public will see – as in the past – that the enforcement of sudden government decrees, and the enforcement even of laws, continues to be selective.

In spite of the failure of the recent ASEAN summit to nominate an ASEAN human rights commissioner for the ASEAN human rights organization to be created, the vision of ASEAN as “a rules-based community of shared values and norms” remains as a hope that all member countries will make progress, if this vision is upheld, and will be “peaceful, stable and resilient, as well as dynamic and outward-looking” as the final ASEAN summit document says for the whole community.

Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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