Reviews and Revisions – Some Almost too Late – Sunday, 30.8.2009

Posted on 31 August 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 627 |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 627

Whenever there are large scale development actions planned, there are almost always also some people affected negatively, everywhere in the world.

The following report about how a Ratanakiri deputy governor publicly speaks of the need to carefully weigh positive goals and unavoidable negative results, is an example that is worth of being taken care of widely in the country: “Development cannot avoid certain impacts that we try to steer clear of.” – “First we need to assess the impacts on the society, the economy, and the environment, especially to organize plans with the participations from all relevant institutions and from the communities, before any projects are finally decided.”

It is to be seen how this basic attitude will be applied in dealing with the may open questions which have been raised in relation to the Sesan Krom II Hydro-Electric Dam. As we also mirrored during the week, the Sesan V Hydro-Electric Development Project has already been canceled. The reasons are not completely clear in detail – it is reported that the plan was given up “as it would not provide economic benefits.” Economic benefits for whom? For the regional society? For the economy of the whole country? Or for the economy of the implementing company? And what about the overall economic results for the affected communities?

Surely it is extremely difficult to present an overall financial evaluation for the economic results of such plans, when the situation of the local people, and of the macro-economic benefits for the whole country are at stake.

This may lead to overly simple decisions, using the data which can more easily be estimated and calculated: the cost of the construction, and the estimated income from the sale of the electricity. The price of giving up the living environments of villagers, and the monetary value of loosing their ancestral sites is different. It cannot be calculated.

Was a similarly careful consideration made before starting to destroy the Boeng Kak lake by filling most of it up with sand from the Mekong river-bed, and displacing thousands of inhabitants? Was the plan for destroying the lake made, as the Ratanakiri deputy governor suggests, “with the participation from all relevant institutions and from the communities, before any projects were finally decided?” It seems that things went quite differently in Phnom Penh, before a company got the contract without public bidding, without a broad consultation among the wider Phnom Penh population affected – not only the families who used to live around the lake are affected – and without public evaluation of the price paid by a private company for a lot of public property.

Now flooding starts again in parts of Phnom Penh. Many months ago, it had been reported that the city started to build – with public funds – extensions for the management of excess water which cannot find temporary storage in the lake, as it was usual formerly, before the Boeng Kak lake was filled in.

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When families were made to move to make room for big constructions plans, it was always claimed that the relocation sites offered, had all the basic necessary amenities. That was also the case when the remaining people from the Dey Krahom region were forced out on behalf of the 7NG company. – Now we had the following headline: “The Shukaku Company Donates US$10,000 through the 7NG Company to Create a Clean Water System for 185 relocated families in Damnak Trayueng village, Chaom Chau commune, Dangkao district, Phnom Penh.” Now, the Shukaku company – involved in filling up the Boeng Kak lake, donated a clean water system – which was obviously still missing – through the 7NG company, and last week the Phnom Penh municipality negotiated on behalf of the Shukaku company with the last remaining families to leave the Villages 2 and 4 at the lake. How are the interests of these three entities, private and public, related to each other?

On Thursday, The Cambodia Daily had a detailed report about the situation in Damnak Trayueng, where also 335 families relocated who had been “renters” at Dey Krahom and therefore did not get compensation offered. The report describes rampant sicknesses among children and adult in the partly flooded area, where children can no longer go to school since relocation, and the adults find it difficult, 15 km away from town, to find jobs.

A revision of this situation is not yet in sight.

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Should the following cases me mirrored as “revisions” of past decisions? This is not really appropriate, because the relevant institutions and persons in the bureaucratic administration of the court and prison system failed to take the necessary decisions. Quite simply: the case files of arrested suspects were not only misplaced – nobody seemed to care that the papers were misplaced and two people were kept in jail against the law:

  • “A Man Had Been Detained for Four Years without Being Presented to a Judge, because His Case File Had Been Lost [he was arrested for stealing a mobile phone worth US$15 in 2005 – Kandal]”
  • “A Woman Had Been Temporarily Detained for Around Three Years without Any Hearing Yet, and It Is Suspected that Her Case File Had Been Lost”

We have not found any reports – neither that the persons who were held illegally, will get a monetary compensation for the injustice suffered, nor that the culprits in the bureaucracy will be punished. But this scandal is at least receiving attention higher up: “The Minister of Justice, Mr. Ang VongVathana, Reminded Judges and Prosecutors Not to Lose Case Files Again.”

And there are more cases – about which the Mirror had reported in the past – where court decisions are called up for reconsideration, without going into Appeals Court procedures:

  • “The King Asks the Minister of Justice to Check the Decision of the Municipal Court on Mr. Hang Chakra” [the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, who was sentenced to serve 12 months in prison for defamation and disinformation against government officials]
  • “The Dispute about the Renakse Hotel in front the Royal Palace Reached the King” [after there had been a request for his intervention, but the King referred this case to Prime Minister Hun Sen to make a decision]

And finally, there is the case of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, jailed for the murder of the labor leader Chea Vichea in January 2004. The Court of Appeals confirmed their sentences of 20 years in prisonment in 2007. In December 2008, the Supreme Court released them on bail, In August 2009, the Court of Appeal ordered a review of the case against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Ouen, and bail for them was extended.

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At the time of this writing, the exit poll reports from the elections in Japan are coming in. On Saturday, we had mirrored voices from Cambodia, considering: “Will Cambodian-Japanese Ties Change if Japan Has a New Prime Minister?” The Japanese voters cast their votes, first of all, for internal concerns, responding to the intentions of the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan to fundamentally review and revise the 50 years of government by the Liberal Democratic Party, which until now held 303 of the 480 seats in the outgoing parliament, while the Democratic Party of Japan had only 112. Now the Japanese media estimate that, based on exit poll analysis, the situation will be reversed: the Democratic Party of Japan will probably get 300 or more seats. And that will mean a reorientation from a policy of supporting the bigger corporations to a focus on consumers and workers, strengthening the public welfare system, and reforming the power structure of the bureaucracy.

Whether this will lead also to a revision of the Cambodia related policy of Japan or not, as discussed on Saturday, only the future will show. But it is sure that Cambodian politics will carefully observe why such a fundamental change in the public opinion happened in Japan. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party said, in his own words, that the election brought a “revolution,” as the people were “fed up” with the governing party.

Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

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