Archive for August 23rd, 2009

Laws, Regulations, and Orders – and What Happens in Reality – Sunday, 23.8.2009

Posted on 23 August 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 626 |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 626

There is no doubt – according to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, this is a country which is to live as a state of law.

But we are mirroring, almost every week, where laws of the country, or regulations pronounced by the government, or orders given by persons in positions of high responsibility are disregarded. This is a fact, but this should not happen. Of course small or big violations of laws happen in every country. When we mirror quite a number of such violations, we do not focus on what violations of the law are committed just by some individuals. But we focus on examples where violations happen within the structures of society and its administration by the government.

Without being based on a clear definition, the term of a “failed state” is often used in international political debate and in the media reporting about it. This negative term is in contrast to a positive definition of one basic characteristic of what makes a state: a state is an institution which claims to have a “monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders” – to use a widely used description in the political theory of states.

When a state loses its ability to exercise the use of force effectively – like at present in Somalia or Afghanistan, where regional warlords, or well organized armed groups, or strong terrorist networks, or pirates operate regularly, and the government is not able to effectively control them by using the legitimate force a state should have. Then the nature and existence of such a state is being doubted. But the term has also been used to describe a situation where not political, but criminal activities become dominant in some geographical regions or fields of society – like in some Mexican border provinces with the USA, where hundreds of people have been murdered by illegal drug trafficking organizations, and the legitimate forces of the state have not been able to control and to put an end to such violence.

In international media there is also a wider use of the term for situations where laws are not enforced equally, because of high crime rates, extreme political corruption, illegitimately applied strong bureaucratic social control, ineffectiveness of the courts, military mingling in politics, or traditional cultural powers exercising more force than the laws of the state (in some cases where the laws proclaim gender equality, but cultural factors maintain the dominance or even violent oppression by men over women).

Cambodia has seen many years of economic, social, and political developments which have overcome the dangerously conflicting situation where different political groupings – and their armed sections – were competing with words and with arms to establish legitimate statehood, with the power also to also use legitimate force. The presence of UNTAC 1992-1993 and the establishment of the Kingdom of Cambodia have brought an end to uncertainty – even as the military conflict with the Khmer Rouge in parts of the country continued until 1996.

All the more remnants of claimed independence from the rule of law, or just its disregard over extended periods of time, cannot be tolerated by a state of law. It is with this concern that the press reports when there is the perception of actions or actors to be above the law, and it is taking up such concerns, when we mirror such acts of defiance against the legitimate power of the state.

Last week, we reported, “The Prime Minister Warns Institutions Where Officials Take Anti-Aging Pills but Do Not Retire.” This is serious, because the institutions about which the Prime Minster speaks are not just some small private institutions, but he speaks about people with positions as public servants – employees of the state. They do not only not make space available for younger graduates to move in – maybe the retirement system as such is not taking care of the persons who should retire? However, a state of law cannot tolerate that the law is not being used to provide justice for all. But the Prime Minister adds a revealing observation, “But for officials who have support, have power, and have much money, the computers do not list them for retirement.” Corruptive power paralyzes the proper operation of a retirement system of the state itself, and does so with discriminating advantages for some.

We mirrored that “Community Forestry Committees in Two Provinces Ask the Government to Cancel Land Concessions for Tens of Thousands of Hectares” – as far as we know, there is a official limit of 10,000 hectares per concession. And there are also reports, again and again, that one big Cambodian company has by far much larger concessions. How can the perception be removed that having a lot of resources can make one to be above the law? What is true: Is there such a limit? Or: Is there such a company which controls much more than is legitimate for others? If both these pieces of information are true, there is a problem with the state of law.

There are positive signs. The press carries often reports about illegally cut wood being transported – with locations and dates given, and sometimes also reports about the attack on journalists who try to document such activities by taking pictures – and being attacked for it. Not often we have also reports like the following one: “Action Was Taken to Crack Down On Luxury Wood Worth Millions of Dollars within Three Days, and More Than 172 Cubic Meters of Wood Were Seized – Ratanakiri.”

But how often had the Prime Minister to call for an end to sand dredging – while actually an intervention by local authorities, on the basis of ministerial regulations or laws should be sufficient. But sand dredging still continues: “A Sand Dredging Company in the Keo Phos Region in Sihanoukville Is Violating Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Order to Halt Sand Dredging.” How much longer?

Recently, several Khmer newspapers had reported repeatedly about chicken meat of dubious quality being imported from Thailand without intervention by the authorities. This week we had even a report about the wider extent of such activities: “Law on Food Safety and Quality Is Not Implemented, Making Cambodia a Trash Basket for Foreign Leftovers.” Finally it was now reported that 10 tonnes of rotting chicken meat was confiscated and disposed of. Thanks to the continuing reporting in the media, the authorities finally also moved into action.

The press has to be praised to share information with the public, and to raise critical questions, where the authorities do not take the required action in time and on their own initiative, based on the law. Recently it had been reported: “Expert Official: Kompong Speu Deputy Governor and Oknha Tong Seng Constructed a 10-Floor Building opposite the Cambodiana Hotel in Phnom Penh, Violating a Ban by the Authorities” – according to this expert’s information, buildings in the area close to the Royal Palace must not be over 30 meters high. Finally, it was even reported: “Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Bans Citizens to Rent Rooms in the Illegal 10-Storys-High Building.”

When the former operator of the Renakse Hotel – immediately in front of the Royal Palace – got her 49 years contract retracted, there was also talk that the new owner Alexson Inc., to whom the property supposedly had been sold (we do not remember that there were any reports about an open bidding process before the sale), would demolish the building. What would be constructed instead was never officially announced, but when commercial developers in Phnom Penh took over property in the city, they normally had plans to build business centers or high rise housing. It is surprising anyway that a historical building, in front of the palace, is to be destroyed for commercial use. This will definitely be a much more serious intervention into the environment of the Royal Palace than the 10-floors building hundreds of meters away, in front of the Cambodiana Hotel.

Ten Floors Building - higher than 30 meters

Ten Floors Building - higher than 30 meters

What is highly surprising, however, is the fact that the construction of this building was going on for many months – and after the bare construction had been finished, work was going on to equip the building and to paint it. But the authorities in charge of supervising all construction activities in the capital city did not intervene, Only now, after the building is finished, questions are raised. How comes the authorities did not realize a problem much earlier? Who is responsible fo rthis oversight? Which laws will be applied to call the persons who failed to responsibility?

The media had also raised similar questions about the timing relation between the planning of the new building for the Council of Ministers – and the harsh criticism not only for poor workmanship, but also for its internal layout and its external access arrangement. As a result of such observatins at the end, its originally intended use will not be realized. The media, which asked for some explanation, for the public, at that time, were left guessing. Even so, the hope always continues that there will be more openness in sharing information – a natural feature for any successful democratic state.

Office of the Council of Ministers

Office of the Council of Ministers

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The Number of Boeng Kak Lake Residents Protesting against Their Eviction Declines Steadily – Saturday, 22.8.2009

Posted on 23 August 2009. Filed under: Week 626 |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 626

“The Daun Penh authorities had agreed to wait seven more days before evicting people from Village 2 and Village 4 of the Boeng Kak community. The delay was made following the decision during a meeting with the Daun Penh authorities on 20 August 2009, when also the Phnom Penh Municipal deputy governor Koet Chhe joined the event. In the meantime, the number of people protesting against their eviction has declined steadily.

“On 20 August 2009, forces deployed by the the Phnom Penh authorities, dispersed citizens of 70 families, to stop them protesting in front of the Municipality, and yesterday [21 August 2009], there was a report that only 40 families [instead of 50] keep on protesting, and the number might still be smaller on 28 August 2009.

“Different news said on 21 August that some citizens stated they better die by the hands of the Khmer authorities, than agree that their houses are demolished by force by the machinery of the authorities.

“Boeng Kak residents said that the protest by citizens from Village 4 in the Boeng Kak region in Phnom Penh aimed to demand the Shukaku company of Oknha Lao Meng Khin, a Senator from the Cambodian People’s Party, to offer an in place development [as this was originally also discussed as a possibility]. This demand was raised again during the protest in front of the Phnom Penh Municipality on Thursday 20 August 2009, but the protesters were then chased away by the authorities.

“A representative of the 70 families in Village 4, Mr. Pov Toury, said that his villagers have not given up protesting, but they stay quietly at their house. If there is an action to remove their houses, they will struggle to death. He said, ‘If they come to remove my house, I will struggle to death… I cannot go anywhere else, because, you know, our houses are our lives.’

“But after that protest there was information that 30 families had agreed to remove their houses.

“An official of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Mr. Chan Soveth, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia yesterday morning that the authorities do not respond to the demands of the residents, disappointing many observers.

“A Daun Penh district councilor from the Sam Rainsy Party, Mr. Heng Samnang, said that the authorities do not care to solve their demands. He said, ‘I also raised the case, but I do not have much power.’

“On 20 August 2009, a special working team of the Housing Rights group held a press conference to announce that citizens of Village 4 had agreed to accept the option of development-in-place offered by the government in 2007. But they do not agree to leave the Boeng Kak region for four years before they can return, because they fear that they authorities would forget the promise.

“Since the development plan of the Shukaku company started to move on, after the permission for the investment plan was granted in 2007, citizens of two villages of the Boeng Kak region have been affected. Some had finally agreed to remove their houses in order to avoid to be tormented by the authorities through violent actions as had previously happened to other villagers in Phnom Penh.

“Human rights officials from non-government organizations said that the inhabitants of at least four more villages will face eviction from that region.

“It should be noted that Amnesty International released a statement late last week, asking the Khmer authorities to immediately stop evicting citizens from Village 2 and from Village 4 in the Boeng Kak region.

“The statement of Amnesty International asked the authorities to reconsider the plan to evict citizens and move them to live in the Damnak Trayueng region, a suburb of Phnom Penh, because in that region, there are no proper shelters, there is no utility system, no toilets, no water pipe system, no health center, and no possibility to find jobs.

“Amnesty International asked also for clarification about the development on that total region of 133 hectares, and asked the Khmer authorities to specify clearly the date when the inhabitants are required to remove their houses, and to guarantee the citizens their right to return to the Boeng Kak region after the time of their temporary relocation is over.

“Furthermore, Amnesty International appealed on the Cambodian government to adhere to its obligations under international human rights treaties, which do not allow forced evictions, because they will lead to human rights violations.

“According to information from the authorities, so far 30 more families have removed their houses from the Boeng Kak region, and there are only about 40 families remaining. Thus, the delay until 28 August 2009 might make more families to agree to remove their houses. The authorities expect that it will be like the case of the inhabitants of 78 Group, where there was a delay until all citizens agreed to remove their houses.” Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #474, 22.8.2009

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 22 August 2009

Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #269, 22.8.2009

  • The National Authority for Combating Drugs Rejects a Report about 60 kg of Heroin [that was confiscated in Indonesia, with the claim that it was transported from Cambodia]
  • 200 Prisoners [from among 3,000 in total] Were Transferred from the Prey Sar Prison [in Phnom Penh] to Prisons in Siem Reap and in Banteay Meanchey [as the Prey Sar Prisons cannot house them all]

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.8, #2029, 22.8.2009

  • Siamese [Thai] Amy Commander [General Songkitti Jaggabatara] Plans to Come to Meet with Cambodian Army Commanders [on 24 August 2009, to discuss about troops and the border issues]
  • Four People Died and Four Others Were Wounded in a Horrific Accident [where two trucks crashed into each other – Kompong Cham]
  • Drunken Driving Police Officer Who Fatally Hit Is Summoned to Appear in Court on 26 August 2009

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #474, 22.8.2009

  • The Number of Boeng Kak Lake Residents Protesting against Their Eviction Is Steadily Declining

Koh Santepheap, Vol.42, #6735, 22-23.8.2009

  • In [Phnom Penh] City, 67% of Traffic Accidents that Happened during Daytime Were Due to Over-Speed Driving, and 50% of the Accidents that Occurred during the Night Were Due to Drunken Driving [in May 2009, 131 people died countrywide in traffic accidents]
  • Southeast Asia Is Being Threatened by Sea Pirates [according to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An]
  • Disabled Athletes Returned from Malaysia [after joining the ASEAN Para Games] with One Gold Medal, Nine Silver Medals, and Five Bronze Medals

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4979, 22.8.2009

  • Canada Is Happy to Continue to Help in Land Title Registration for Cambodian Citizens [by providing aid for this field]
  • A Woman [a currency changer at the Samaki Market] Was Shot to Death to Rob Her Money Bag [with about US$3,000; two perpetrators escaped – Phnom Penh]

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