Denials, Insults, and Rational Arguments – Sunday, 15.3.2009

Posted on 17 March 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 603 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 603

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

Norbert Klein

It seems that some issues, which need to be clarified, do not find any solution – not only because they are controversial, but because it seem to happen frequently that issues raised are not discussed – the detailed facts and concerns they raised are disregarded, they are put aside by flat denial, not touching at the presented facts at all. Or instead of dealing with controversial facts, the “other party” is served with an insult – and it is up to the reader to consider whether the insult carries enough conviction to override the arguments, or whether an insult, instead of an argument, backfires on the party which refuses to engage in a rational discussion.

We will bring here some reminders, where it seems that facts and opinions had been presented, and the public received responses. Some seem to have intended to close further discussion – though the discussion continues anyway. In some cases we hope to lead to further open discussion – inviting to consider some aspects which are not widely shared, but may merit more attention. We let “both parties” speak.

=

On 5 February 2009, the UK based organization Global Witness published a report entitled Country for Sale. The organization describes its general, global outreach, in the following way:

“Global Witness exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses. Global Witness was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds’ and awarded the 2007 Commitment to Development Ideas in Action Award, sponsored jointly by Washington DC based Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine.”

The content of the study, presented on 72 pages with detailed references, is described by Global Witness as follows:

“Cambodia – one of the world’s poorest countries – could eventually earn enough from its oil, gas and minerals to become independent of foreign development aid. The report, Country for Sale, exposes for the first time how this future is being jeopardized by high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage in the allocation and management of these critical public assets.

Country for Sale details how rights to exploit oil and mineral resources have been allocated behind closed doors by a small number of powerbrokers surrounding the prime minister and other senior officials. The beneficiaries of many of these deals are members of the ruling elite or their family members. Meanwhile, the findings suggest that millions of dollars paid by oil and mining companies to secure access to these resources may be missing from the national accounts.”

Among the details, Global witness says:

“Global Witness wrote to both Chevron and BHP Billiton in October 2008 to ask them to reveal any payments made to the Cambodian government or government officials. At the time of publication, Chevron had not responded. BHP Billiton however, did reply to say that BHP Billiton, Mitsubishi and the Cambodian Government have established a joint social development fund. The total contribution of BHP and Mitsubishi is to be US$2.5 million. BHP’s response stated: ‘BHP Billiton has never made a payment to a Cambodian Government official or representative and we reject any assertion that the payment under the minerals exploration agreement is, or the amounts contributed to the Social Development Projects Fund are, “tea money”.’ BHP also shared how much had been paid to the Cambodian government, adding: ‘In accordance with the terms of a minerals exploration agreement with the Cambodian government which granted BHP Billiton and Mitsubishi the right to explore for bauxite an amount of US$1 million was formally paid to the Cambodian government in September 2006.’”

The Cambodian Embassy in London responded to the publication of Country for Sale with a press release with a color graphic page, saying global witness – A Collection of Rubbish

“Reacting angrily to the report, the Ambassador of Cambodia in the UK, H.E. Nambora Hor, accused Global Witness of being poorly-managed and indulging in hugely-damaging smear campaigns. He called on the wide variety of international bodies which help fund Global Witness to demand an urgent review of its policies and activities. ‘It is naïve for Global Witness to imagine that Cambodia’s international donors are not fully aware of the way the Royal Cambodian Government’s conducts its affairs and its commitment to demonstrating the highest possible standards.’”

Details about this Social Development Projects Fund – who administers these huge amounts of money paid by some foreign companies, and for which purposes, and under whose public monitoring – are not known to the public.

=

On 25 February 2009, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the US Department of State published a 2008 Human Rights Report: Cambodia, part of the 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The 16,000 words report on Cambodia states initially:

“The government’s human rights record remained poor. Security forces committed extrajudicial killings and acted with impunity. Detainees were abused, often to extract confessions, and prison conditions were harsh. Human rights monitors reported arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention, underscoring a weak judiciary and denial of the right to a fair trial. Land disputes and forced evictions were a continuing problem. The government restricted freedom of speech and the press and at times interfered with freedom of assembly. Corruption was endemic. Domestic violence and child abuse occurred, education of children was inadequate, and trafficking in women and children persisted. The government offered little assistance to persons with disabilities. Anti-union activity by employers and weak enforcement of labor laws continued, and child labor in the informal sector remained a problem.

On February 15, the government passed and promulgated a comprehensive Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation containing provisions criminalizing all forms of human trafficking. By year’s end the Cambodian National Police had arrested perpetrators in 48 trafficking-in-persons and related cases, and the courts had convicted at least 12 persons on trafficking-related charges.”

The Mirror had carried a related report from a Khmer language newspaper on 27 February 2009. On 14 March 2009, we carried a report from another Khmer newspaper, saying:

“The Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dismisses the US Department of State’s Report [on the human rights situation in Cambodia] on behalf the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia.”

But later, another Khmer newspaper reported in its 15/16 March 2009 edition: “The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association – ADHOC – said that tens of thousands of families of Khmer citizens suffer human rights violations.” And reports in the Phnom Penh Post of 16 March 2009 show a 9 year old boy standing in the wreckage of his house – sixteen houses in the Rik Reay Community – “Happy Community” – were torn down, and the area is being fenced in. A teacher, living there, said he had received a death threat. “This mistreatment is to force us to agree to their compensation package,” he said. “I am now worried for my personal security because I heard a company staffer on the walkie-talkie saying they would kill me because I am a community leader. I want to tell you that if I die, it was not at the hands of anyone else but because I was murdered by the staff of Bassac Garden City.”

=

On 12 March 2009, we carried the headline from a Khmer newspaper, reporting Dalai Lama: Tibet under Chinese Control Is Like Hell on the Earth. And in order to elaborate, we added a link to the original text of the March 10th Statement of H.H. the Dalai Lama, where he says:

“Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising against Communist China’s repression in Tibet. Since last March widespread peaceful protests have erupted across the whole of Tibet. Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride… We pay tribute and offer our prayers for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships, including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.

“Around 1949, Communist forces began to enter north-eastern and eastern Tibet (Kham and Amdo) and by 1950, more than 5000 Tibetan soldiers had been killed…

“Since the re-establishment of contacts in 2002, we have followed a policy of one official channel and one agenda and have held eight rounds of talks with the Chinese authorities. As a consequence, we presented a Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People, explaining how the conditions for national regional autonomy as set forth in the Chinese constitution would be met by the full implementation of its laws on autonomy…

“We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. Fulfilling the aspirations of the Tibetan people will enable China to achieve stability and unity. From our side, we are not making any demands based on history. Looking back at history, there is no country in the world today, including China, whose territorial status has remained forever unchanged, nor can it remain unchanged.”

But while the voice of the Dalai Lama receives wide attention in the international press, there is also another aspect of the history of Tibet, which is not addressed, but to which the People’s Daily Online refers: Dalai Lama’s utter distortion of Tibet history:

“The Dalai Lama also alleged at a gathering in India’s Dharamsala to mark his 50 years in exile that “these 50 years have brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet.

“Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama has not only been on the wrong side of history, but also has got the history upside down. Miseries of ‘hell on earth’ and ‘untold suffering’ occurred nowhere but in the slavery Tibet symbolized by the Dalai Lama.

“Even from historical books written by Western scholars, people can draw the conclusion that Tibet under the rule of the Dalai Lama clique was a society of feudal serfdom that trampled human rights and easily reminded visitors of the dark age of medieval Europe.

“The feudal serfdom had truly brought ‘untold suffering and destruction’ to the serfs and slaves who accounted for 90 percent of the then population.

“The slavery in Tibet was just ‘hell on earth’ as Charles Bell, who lived in Lhasa as a British trade representative in the 1920s, observed that the Dalai Lama’s theocratic position enabled him to administer rewards and punishments as he wished. That was because he held absolute sway over both this life and the next of the serfs and coerced them with that power.

“In 1959, after the failed rebellion by the Dalai Lama and his followers, the central government of China carried out the long-delayed emancipation of millions of serfs and slaves in Tibet…

“But just as the rebellion by the Dalai Lama clique failed disgracefully 50 years ago, its fantasy of ‘Tibetan Independence’ is also doomed to failure, because of the firm opposition from the Chinese people, including the Tibetans in Tibet.”

But the Dalai Lama does not speak of Tibet’s independence, but of national regional autonomy as set forth in the Chinese constitution, and this within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. Both sides do not hear each other in detail to reach mutual understanding. It is easier to maintain an old antagonism than to find ways to a common understanding – a much more difficult task.

=

On 13 March 2009, the Mirror carried an article “IMF: Cambodia Cannot Avoid the Consequences of the Global Economic Crisis!” (with reference back to similar IMF statements which we had mirrored on 13 February 2009):

“The Cambodian economy is in a negative status… We are talking about a period of dramatic decline in economic activities. So far, what we have seen is that the depth of the downturn is worse than expected.”

Since many weeks, there were many voices echoing the IMF concerns, even more so, since the Prime Minister had publicly questioned that the international economic downturn – in the so called economically rich countries – has the same social effects in a country like Cambodia. His comparison of rich and poorer countries with elephants and sheep may turn out to be a clue not only to understand the differences, but also to find ways to mitigate the economic problems in Cambodia, in a way industrialized countries cannot do:

“Growth in agriculture can surely prevent Cambodia from falling into an economic crisis, even though some major sectors of the Cambodian economy encounter a downturn.”

A foreign businessman, living in Cambodia, shared his appraisal on 12 March 2009, Putting It in Perspective:

“Now that the U. S. has shed 4.5 million jobs in the past 18 months alone and unemployment stands at 8.1 %, the conventional wisdom is that garment exports will go down substantially as the U. S. is the main market for Cambodia. The current figures appear to prove it, with a 27% decrease in exports for the month of February alone. Last December it was 30%…

“Likewise, tourist arrivals show a 2.9% reduction over the same month last year…

“According to the latest statistics the construction sector is holding sort of firm, although it was reported that some 3,000 to 5,000 jobs were lost there too.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen finds fault with all those predictions, saying that all those number are altogether not that important. What’s important is that people won’t go hungry in Cambodia. All those factory workers that lost their job can go back to their native village where they will find a rice paddy to cultivate, and a family that will take care of them…

“So the garment factory girls come back and find their wooden houses, a functioning family structure, and food to eat. They don’t have problems with heating or air conditioning… They wear simple clothes. There is one communal cell-phone which provides contact to the outside world. Yes, this is a simple life, and Westerners can only look on with widened eyes wondering how people can live like this. But let’s face it – this is reality, not only in Cambodia, but in most of South East Asia. And rural areas are exactly where the majority of the factory workers come from.

“So the fact that people can go back to their village is actually a boon for them. Yes, they are poor but they have to eat. And in this context let’s not look at the social problems, e.g. lack of health care and fundamental education. This is for another, hopefully not too far off, time.

“The Western alternative is no laughing matter. People losing their jobs, lose their homes, their savings along the line, their health care, practically their freedom. In my view it’s much more dire in the West. Recession hits people in the industrialized world much harder.”

Not all readers shared his appreciation of the Prime Minister’s perspective. He responded, “I like a good discussion with contrarian viewpoints, but they need to make sense.”

It is in this same spirit that this issue of the Mirror presents contrary and controversial views. We hope also for a good discussion – but the points put forward need to make sense. And this requires to research complex facts, and to engage in open, rational thinking.

Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

Back to top

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

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.

Please recommend us also to your colleagues and friends.

Back to top

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...