Fraud? International Cooperation for Transparency – Sunday, 25.4.2010

Posted on 26 April 2010. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 661 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 661

Cambodia entered into many different international relations since the new Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia was promulgated in 1993 and a new phase of history for the country began. International integration was one of the main policy goals of the government – regaining the seat for Cambodia in the United Nations, which had been held by a representative of the Khmer Rouge until 1991, long after the Khmer Rouge had lost their grip on the country, establishing new diplomatic relations, gaining membership in ASEAN, in the World Trade Organization [WTO], etc., and entering into many bilateral agreements – with other governments, with international organizations like the Asia Development Bank, and with Non-Government Organizations through the Ministry of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Some of these agreements have consequences in detail, which were not all foreseen or discussed with those who are affected – for example: the membership in the WTO will require that copyrights of international companies for computer software will have to be enforced from 2013 onward, and the import of goods and services from other countries has to be liberalized. Though this may have difficult consequences for some sections of the Cambodian economy, other sectors welcome it.

During the past week, a five-year Accountability in Governance and Politics program, financed by the USA, was inaugurated by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and the US Ambassador Carol A. Rodley, according to which the Cambodian government will cooperate, implementing specific projects, with the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. According to the nature of this program, international transparency will be necessarily be enhanced, even when this may relate to difficult challenges to be faced internationally.

What this can mean can be deducted from a difficult processes developing at present in the USA. Goldman Sachs – a full-service global investment banking and securities firm – one of the top financial institutions of the USA, is facing at present charges by the US Securities and Exchange Commission [“The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation”] of fraudulently having contributed to the wide breakdown of financial systems, by systematically entering into contract with people and companies who were supposed not to be able to pay back what they borrowed. To give a small-scale example: one internal e-mail, now leaked, says “I’ve managed to sell bonds to widows and orphans” making “some serious money” for the bank; one section manager made a profit of $1 billion for the bank – but then the whole system collapsed and needed much higher government assistance. The future will show how this will be handled.

Once international government agencies get involved, the chance of achieving real transparency is higher. Repeated corruption allegations raised, for example, by the non-government agency Global Witness in the UK were easily dismissed here as not coming from a government agency, without dealing with their specific documentations. They had also raised questions related to the role of the – then – head of the Forestry Department, Mr. Ty Sokun, which were quickly and strongly rejected as “nonsense” and “lies” at that time, but recently he was removed from his position. The situation will be different in a case which is receiving ever more prominence recently.

The Australian Company BHP Billiton – “the world’s largest diversified natural resources company” – entered into a mineral exploration agreement with the Cambodian government in 2006 to explore for bauxite in Mondolkiri – unprocessed aluminum ore; parts of the exploration site, a 996-hectare mining concession, were in protected natural forest areas. It had also been announced that this was just for exploration, a decision could be found only later, as the transport of bauxite, or the production of aluminum which requires huge amounts of electricity, need further studies. But this plan was abandoned in 2009 because the studies had shown that bauxite mining in Mondolkiri would not be cost-effective.

But recently, during this month of April 2010, BHP Billiton announced that United States Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating corruption allegations which may relate to Cambodia, though this is not yet sure.

According to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of the USA, a company which has made illegal payments, can be fined to pay “up to twice the benefit that it sought to obtain by making a corrupt payment,” and staff involved may have to serve five years in prison.

Neither the US Securities and Exchange Commission nor BHP Billiton has stated that there were actually illegal payments. But the present investigations are based on some reports dating back to 2007.

According to various sources on the Internet, the Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor had reported in the National Assembly at that time that the Prime Minister had informed him from Australia that BHP had paid US$2.5 million as “tea money” for the concession. BHP said, however, that this money was designated for a “social development fund” for health and education projects in Mondolkiri. According to other sources, BHP confirmed to have paid US$1 million to the government in 2006 to secure the concession agreement.

Later inquiries produced various incongruous pieces of information: that the money was not used, as designated, for health and education in Mondolkiri, but for irrigation in Pursat, and the records of the the Ministry of Economy and Finance show for 2006 only US$443,866 as income from mining concessions.

By Saturday, not only the US Securities and Exchange Commission was dealing with the BHP case, but also the UK Serious Fraud Office [“an independent Government department that investigates and prosecutes serious or complex fraud, and corruption. We are part of the UK criminal justice system”].

A “social development fund” of the Cambodian government had also been mentioned before, in relation to substantial payments from Caltex, having obtained the right for off-shore oil exploration. While one government argument, why an NGO law is urgently needed, was the request to gain more transparency about social and development funds (which are, for NGOs, regularly audited by public auditing companies anyway), we have not seen any similar reporting so far about the government’s social development fund – its purpose, its administrative arrangements and it’s oversight bodies, and its assets and disbursements.

The Cambodia Daily carried on 24/25.4.2010 an article, “Precise Meaning of ‘Tea Money’ Up for Debate.” And Mr. Phay Siphan, the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, is quoted to have pointed to the new anti-corruption legislation which shows that the government is committed to “highlight transparency.” – He will surely be able to shed more light onto this affair.

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Within the Last 15 Years, Chinese Investors Control Projects Worth Up to US$6,511 Million – Wednesday, 13.1.2010

Posted on 14 January 2010. Filed under: Week 647 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 647

“Phnom Penh: Statistics over a course of 15 years show that Chinese investors invested the largest amount among all foreign investors in Cambodia.

“According to figures received from the Council for the Development of Cambodia late last week, China invested from 1994 to September 2009 as much as US$6,511 million in Cambodia.

“The same source added that after the Chinese investment, South Korea stands at the second position with total investments of about US$2,856 million; the third is Malaysia with US$2,199 million; the fourth [?] the European Union more than US$1,135 million; fifth [?] is the USA with US$1,179 million; sixth, Thailand with about US$748 million; seventh, Taiwan with about US$654 million; eighth, Singapore with about US$519 million; ninth, Hong Kong with about US$278 million; and tenth, Japan with about US$148 million.

“Most of the investment projects of the 10 investors focus on tourism and on industry.

“The same source went on to say that tourism received up to 48% of the investments, followed by 23% for the industry, and also 23% for services. However, there is little investment in agriculture, which received only 6%.

“Based on the above figures, within 15 years, it is noticed that in 2008 alone, foreign investment in Cambodia grew up to US$10,891 million, followed by 2006 with US$4,415 million; 2007 had about US$2,673 million, and by September 2009 it was only US$1,610 million.” Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5098, 13.1.2010

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Deum Ampil, Vol.4, #386, 13.1.2010

  • The World Bank Offers to Establish a Foundation to Increase Education Outreach at Schools for Cambodia [for poor children who are vulnerable and are living in remote areas; each of 36,000 students can receive between US$45 to US$60 annually from the World Bank to support their continued schooling]

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.9, #2149, 13.1.2010

  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen: This Government [the current Thai government] Will Not Last Long!
  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen Warned the Eight District Governors of Phnom Penh to Look at Gambling Sites [to stop them – otherwise those district governors will have problems]

Khmer Amatak, Vol.11, #716, 13.1.2010

  • [Prime Minister] Hun Sen Criticized Inactive Officials Who Try to Seek Much Money to Put into Their Pockets, but Send any Problems in Their Work to Higher Levels Asking for Help to Solve Them [being incompetent; he warned that such officials, if they reach retiring age, they should be retired, others should be reappointed to positions suiting their capacity]

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.4, #578, 13.1.2010

  • [Eighteen] Parliamentarians and Senators from the Sam Rainsy Party Asked [Minister of Interior] Sar Kheng to Allow Them to Visit Two Villagers in Detention [over the removal of Cambodian-Vietnamese border markers]

Koh Santepheap, Vol.43, #6856, 13.1.2010

  • A New Survey of the [US] International Republican Institute Shows that 79% [of Cambodian citizens] Said the Government’s Performance Is Right [about the government led by the Cambodian People’s Party]
  • The Head of the Government [Prime Minister Hun Sen] Reacted against a Claim [by a Thai official of Foreign Affairs quoted in the Thai newspaper The Nation] that the Preah Vihear Temple, the Khmer Pagoda [Keo Sekha Kiri Svarak Pagoda], and the Area around the Temple Belong to Siam [Thailand]

Phnom Penh Post [Khmer Edition], Vol.2, #88, 13.1.2010

  • [The Prime Minister] Mr. Hun Sen: [Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs] Kasit Piromya Is a Terrorist [because he was involved in demonstrating at the airports in Thailand]; He Waits for a New Government to Reconnect Diplomatic Ties
  • [Local] Citizens Claimed that Drugs Are Sold like Candy in Sampov Lun District [and asked the local authorities to suppress drug dealers and abusers – Battambang]

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5098, 13.1.2010

  • Siamese [Thai] Black Clad Soldiers [of the special border protection units] Shot a Khmer Man and His Son to Death [when they went to cut trees] and Came to a Prohibited Border Point [buffer zone, but withdrew later on]
  • Within the Last 15 Years, Chinese Investors Control Projects Worth Up to US$6,511 Million
  • A Passenger Car Came off the Road, Killing Three People and Injuring Fourteen [Siem Reap]

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When Is It Possible to Trust, or Not to Trust the Law? – Sunday, 20.12.2009

Posted on 21 December 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 643 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 643

Several events during the past week provide a lot of food for thought. Some cases have been extending over several weeks before they came to a surprising end, others started only recently – but in their mutual links, they leave the public with a lot of questions.

It is not the task of the media to respond to many of these question – but to collect information and to share it publicly. How the answers have to be found, for the whole society, is clear according to Article 51 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia: “The Cambodian people are the masters of their own country. All power belongs to the people.” This is the starting point, so the people need to know what is going on.

The next point is (still according to the same Article 51): “The people exercise these powers through the National Assembly, the Senate, the Royal Government and the Judiciary” – about which the constitution adds an important point of clarification: “The legislative, executive, and judicial powers shall be separate.”

The people elect the legislative, which appoints the executive, and the judicial power cares that new laws conform to the Constitution and are implemented properly.

The past week saw several events where the public cannot easily understand how public procedures work and laws and applied – and this is in some cases made more difficult because the press does not cover some areas in detail. The following is just a series of descriptions. How they are to be understood is not clear in all cases.

An employee handling air traffic control information at the airport shared information over the telephone about the Flight Plan of the private jet-plane of Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra. This employee was convicted to seven years in prison for allegedly having engaged in an act of spying. But according to some public media reports, information about the flight plan was shared with the Thai embassy only 20 minutes after the plane had already landed. In addition, in many countries, flight plans are in principle public, not secret (except for military aircraft in combat or military training). Were flight plans not publicly available, in national and in international Flight Information Regions, there would be a lot of near or real accidents in flight. We tried to find any information in the press about the legal status of Flight Plan related information – we did not see any.

In this, and in some other of the cases, the Mirror does not claim to have all information publicly available, though we try. If there is important information publicly available but we missed it, we are always grateful to receive additional information in the form of Comments.

The legally convicted spy was freed by a Royal Pardon within less than a week – in response to requests by representatives of the opposition party of a neighboring country, and, as the Prime Minister said, also in view of the concerns and the love of the mother of the convict to her son. That the convicted spy was set free was welcomed widely, including by the Thai government.
As a general reaction, the Sam Rainsy Party Parliamentarian Mr. Son Chhay said that the Prime Minister had suggested a Royal Pardon to the King, though the court had claimed to have enough evidence for a legal conviction to serve seven years in prison, so the Prime Minister might also initiate the procedures to have the Khmer people set free, now in prison over land disputes, who were jailed when they just protested when the land they were living on for many years was taken away.

Surely there are many mothers caring for their sons in a similar way as the mother of the convicted Thai spy.

The former Thai prime minister, Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, now often also identified as a billionaire because of the huge economic gains of his telecommunications companies during his time as prime minister, had been ousted from office by a bloodless military coup. But later, he was also convicted for corruption – related to the sale of public property to his wife, and three of his lawyers were arrested, arrested of leaving about US$60,000 to officials at the Thai high court, handling his case. During the appeal process, he asked for bail to leave the country for some business in China for some days – but he did not keep the conditions of the bail agreement and stays ever since in other countries.

When Mr. Thaksin, in legal terms a convicted fugitive, was invited to Cambodia as an adviser to the Prime Minister on economic affairs, the Thai government made an extradition request based on a Cambodian-Thai extradition agreement. The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was reported to have refused to even receive the documents from the Thai embassy, claiming the conviction by the Thai courts was politically motivated. Interpol sees this differently: Interpol is prepared to help locate Mr. Thaksin as a convicted fugitive.

On Saturday, 19 December 2009, the Cambodian authorities arrested and handed over 20 Uighur people to the Chinese authorities, that had asked for their extradition, claiming they are criminals (though two of them are said to be children). They applied for recognition as refugees with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR – in Phnom Penh, but the UN interviews with them had not yet been finished. They were not, in legal terms, convicted for anything in China, there had been no court hearings on them. “They were led to Cambodia by the leader of a terrorist group, but I do not want to mention the name,” Mr. Khieu Sopheak, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, is quoted. And the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Phay Siphan, is quoted to have said that they were deported to China “because of Cambodia’s obligations as a sovereign state.” Obviously this would apply to both China and Thailand.

In addition, Cambodia has signed the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, adopted by the United Nations in 1951. The regional spokesperson of the UNHCR called the deportation, before the end of the interviews, a “grave breach of international refugee law” – to which Cambodia had actually subscribed.

The Thai government declared that a normalization of diplomatic relations with Cambodia would require that Cambodia terminates the agreement with Mr. Shinawatra as economic adviser, and not to continue to call a legal conviction for corruption as politically motivated. But the spokesperson of the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said these conditions are “nonsense.” Prime Minister Hun Sen added that relations with the Thai government cannot be normalized, unless the present Thai government is replaced.

Such statements are of a dimension which has never existed before in ASEAN, with a tradition of not interfering into the internal affairs of another country, like calling for a change of government. Even in relation to the present military leadership of Myanmar, ASEAN states have only called for the institution of a democratic process in Myanmar.

The Nation of Bangkok wrote in an analysis:

“The dispute is one thing, but the most important thing is that the incident not pose a risk to Asean solidarity,” Tommy Koh, chairman of the grouping’s task force, was quoted as saying by [the Chinese] Xinhua News Agency. “I’ve asked my colleagues how they would have felt if [a neighboring country] had done to us what Hun Sen did to Thailand,” said one Asean diplomat even before the Thai-Cambodian conflict deteriorated into a spy farce and relations sank to new lows. An expert on Asean affairs said: “No other Asean leader in the grouping’s long history has ever called for the destruction of a neighboring government. This is beyond everything we have experienced.”

The present situation will probably be remembered in the history of ASEAN as a new turning point, testing the very fabric of the ASEAN community.

Finally, the meaning and the role of the law is extremely tested in another way in Cambodia itself: There are two cases, where the president of the largest opposition party, and leader of the government, are quoted to have said that they have no respect for the calling of a court:

  • The opposition party president, Mr. Sam Rainsy: I Do Not Care about the Court That Serves the Ruling Party Only [he was sued by the Svay Rieng Municipal Court for removing temporary Cambodian-Vietnamese border markers]
  • Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that all recently summoned witnesses, who are presently holding high offices in the Royal Government – like the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Economy and Finance and he himself – do not need to cooperate with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

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A 30 Years Commemoration – Civil Society in Cambodia – Sunday, 29.11.2009

Posted on 30 November 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 640 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 640

The past weak saw a special anniversary celebration, which is in no calendar of national events: 30 years since NGOs started to work in Cambodia. Nowadays, when the participation of NGOs – foreign and national – is assumed as a regular feature of life in society, it is surely not easy to understand the extraordinary nature that foreign NGOs came to Cambodia in 1979. At that time, the majority of UN member states considered the Cambodian government to be illegal. The so called “Western” countries and the People’s Republic of China agreed on the point that the Khmer Rouge representative continued to legally represent Cambodia at the United Nations until 1990. Seeing this agreement between these two world powers normally not much in agreement, many Third World countries went along with this understanding. Only the socialist countries (except China) and India established diplomatic relations with the government in Phnom Penh after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. And US citizens, working in Cambodia, even if their salaries did not originate from the USA, had to pay “punitive taxes” in the USA.

30 Years NGOs in Cambodia Celebration

30 Years NGOs in Cambodia Celebration

Eva Mysliwiec, now the director of Youth Star Cambodia, who had came to Cambodia in May 1980, spoke at the commemoration, on behalf of the NGO Organizing Committee, about the three decades of NGO partnerships with the people and government of Cambodia, saying,

“It is very moving to look around this room and to see so many people who have contributed to the Cambodia in which we live today. How far we have come since 1979!

I remember well my arrival in May 1980, in a country devastated by war and genocide. I remember vividly my first meeting with Samdech HUN Sen who was then Foreign Minister and 28 years old.”

There were only five NGOs, who had dared to break the boycot of their home governments: the American Friends Service Committee, CIDSE, Church World Service, OXFAM, and World Vision – now, as the Prime Minister announced in his speech, there are 3,207 NGOs and associations, that is 1,933 NGOs and 1,274 other associations. Eva Mysliwiec continued:

“The core of NGO work was focused on massive relief, meeting health needs and restoring agricultural production in order to prevent famine. Because of the embargo imposed by the Western Community and with precious few resources, NGOs found themselves in a unique role where they had to provide massive infrastructure assistance as well… NGO work in the eighties spanned virtually every sector of Cambodian society and economy, from the restoration of urban and rural water supply, to the rehabilitation of infrastructure, the provision of basic agriculture, education and health inputs, etc. – the list is endless.”

But in spite of all this emphasis on practical actions, she said:

“In my view, the most valuable role the NGOs played in the eighties was solidarity: bearing
witness to the suffering of Cambodian people, bearing witness to the unearthing of mass graves, bearing witness to the continuing hardship caused by the embargo and isolation and especially bearing witness to the resilience, ingenuity and determination of people to rebuild their country. They created a bridge between Cambodian people and the people in countries whose governments did not recognize Cambodia.”

This history has to be remembered, when nowadays, sometimes the opinion is expressed that NGOs have one role only: “to provide humanitarian assistance” – quite different from the wide variety of activities NGOs are engaged with in other countries of the world.

All the more it was interesting that also the keynote speaker, Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS (“Promoting a worldwide community of informed, inspired, committed citizens who are actively engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity” – with member organizations in 110 countries), described the fundamental task of civil society not just in terms of development or humanitarian project implementations, but located their role in the present situation, after the collapse of many schemes based on an free-market system, where human rights an democratic are more under threat than before.

“In Latin America, Africa, Eurasia and Asia authoritarian governments are being permitted to crack down with impunity on civil society and media freedoms through new, draconian legislative and fiscal controls if they control access to energy resources, investment or markets… Funding for defending these rights, for strengthening civil society architecture and for building solidarity across civil society groups is also much harder to come by as donor resources are stretched by increasing domestic needs and by more immediate humanitarian needs…

“The possibilities of mounting a coherent challenge to the economic paradigm of market fundamentalism and the patent inequity of the institutions of global governance have never been greater. For the first time in history peoples from Michigan to Manila, Madrid to Mali, and Mumbai to Moscow can share the realization that the root causes of their individual problems, and hence their interests, are in fact, identical. From slums to forests, fishing communities to assembly-lines, indigenous peoples to suburbia – the people we so often refer to as ‘ordinary’ are increasingly aware of the connectedness of their causes. It’s up to us as civil society to provide the means for them to mobilize in solidarity with each other. We have unprecedented access to the information, networks and technologies that permit us to support their struggles against tyranny and injustice…

“Speaking in Moscow a few months ago, Barack Obama affirmed that ‘meeting these challenges requires a vibrant civil society; the freedom of people to live as they choose, to speak their minds, to organize peacefully and to have a say in how they are governed; a free press to report the truth; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; a government that’s accountable and transparent.’

“We know from experience that active citizenship is the only antidote to this takeover of governance and that investing in the creation, nurturing and protection of civil society rights is the only vaccine. We know, or ought to, that empowering people to defend their own freedoms to exist, engage and express is not only the most sustainable development strategy but the only morally defensible one…

“Despite, or rather because of, our lack of hierarchical command and control structures, our diversity and belief in values-led approaches, civil society is better equipped to grasp, respond to, and evolve collective solutions that require a fundamental shift in world-view than either governments or businesses. And possibly better at displaying the humility required to build the cross-sectoral partnerships without which we cannot possibly resolve these crises…

“Doing so will take more than a business as usual approach from us. It will take each of us as individuals, organizations and alliances setting aside our egos, our brands, our narrow self-interests and our differences to come together in unprecedented levels of collaboration and genuine partnership that focuses on amplifying the voices of those least heard, and of finding common cause across boundaries of nationality, geography and thematic interest.

“If we can aspire to that ideal, we may, just may, address the stupendous challenges before us and even realize the goals you have all dedicated your lives to, whether you approach that goal through the lens of volunteerism or human rights, faith or secularism, charity or human rights – the overarching goal of civil society in all its forms – a world based on equity and justice.”

Such a challenge to reflect, to consider a clear fundamental orientation for the day-to-day work of civil society is important. And it is equally important that civil society communicates clearly to the other sectors of society its claims and commitments. It is important to see what the suggested orientation is: “to struggle against tyranny and injustice, and for equality.”

The address of the Prime Minister dealt, according to reports, a lot with the planned NGO Law. There is some apprehension among the NGO community, because a current draft is not available for public discussion in the community.

Some examples given, why an NGO Law is important – like to prevent terrorist acts planned under the cover of NGOs – were widely not seen as convincing: the intended terrorist attack against the British Embassy had been stopped in time, and the Indonesian terrorist Hambali was arrested – both without an NGO law.

The following reported concern of the Prime Minister is surprising. There are detailed and elaborate forms from the Council for the Development of Cambodia – CDC – where NGOs have to describe source of funding and work plans – on the national level and in the provinces – which serve exactly this purpose since many years ago, though the Prime Minister said now:

“The Royal Government wants to know where NGOs get the money from and how they use it for what. ‘Just this they do not want to tell.’”

Here are obviously some misunderstandings about administrative processes involved. In addition, most donors, providing financial resources to NGO, have requirements for professional auditing, and the results are not secret. Compared to the recent calls by the Prime Minister to curb multiple remuneration payments to government advisers, combined with the repeated calls by the Prime Minister to economize gasoline usage by a better control on the use of public vehicles, allows the assumption that the handling of finance in the NGO world is comparatively well organized and transparent.

What is important, therefore, is the clear statement of the Prime Minister, that the NGO Law will not interfere with the normal activities of NGO: “I guarantee that it is not an action to restrict the freedom of NGOs, please believe me.” Should lower level authorities try to act differently, civil society can appeal to this public promise of the Prime Minister.

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Cambodia and India Organize a Commercial Exhibition for the First Time – Thursday, 12.11.2009

Posted on 13 November 2009. Filed under: Week 638 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 638 – Thursday, 12.11.2009

“Phnom Penh: The first Cambodian-Indian commercial and investment exhibition in Phnom Penh is being organized with the participation of 20 Indian companies.

“The Minister of Commerce, Senior Minister Cham Prasidh, stated during the launching of the exhibition on 11 November 2009 that it is the first time that both countries organize an exhibition to help investors and businesspeople from both countries to understand each other better.

“He said, ‘This is the greatest opportunity for Indian investors and businesspeople to seek investment opportunities and markets in Cambodia.’

“According to Mr. Cham Prasidh, the trade between Cambodia and India amounts to about US$56.32 million, where Indian imports of products from Cambodia is only US$2.87 million, while the exports of India to Cambodia are US$56.32 million.

“Based on these figures, Mr. Cham Prasidh said that the amount of this commercial relation is still low, and he encouraged both countries to try to study further market exchange possibilities, in order to strengthen and improve the commercial ties.

“The Indian Ambassador to Cambodia said that Indian investors from 21 companies attend this exhibition. Most companies are companies from the fields of information technology, medicine, industry and mines, machinery, agriculture, engineering, and infrastructure.

“He added that this exhibition will be held for two days from 11 to 12 November 2009.

“By now, the products Cambodia imports from India are agricultural products, medicines, and some raw chemicals, and Cambodia exports also some raw materials.” Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #5045, 12.11.2009

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 12 November 2009

Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #334, 12.11.2009

  • [Prime Minister] Hun Sen and [Thai ousted prime minister] Thaksin Shinawatra [newly named personal adviser of Prime Minister Hun Sen] Will Attend the ASEAN-US Summit in Singapore [with the participation of US President Obama on 15 November 2009]
  • The Downgrading of the Cambodian-Siamese [Thai] Diplomatic Relations Does Not Affect Cambodian Tourism
  • Jackie Chan [The Chinese and Hollywood superstar] Will Return to Cambodia for Filming [he arrived at Cambodia as a UNICEF/UNAIDS goodwill ambassador on 10 November 2009, and promised he will come back again]

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.8, #2096, 12.11.2009

  • The Thai Embassy Sent a Letter to Request for Extradition of Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, and Khmer Officials Sent the Diplomatic Note Back to Reject This [the Thai Prime Minister, Mr. Abhisit Vijjajiva, reacted to this by ordering a review of all agreements with Cambodia]
  • Cambodia Welcomes Negotiations with Thailand [to solve border and other diplomatic disputes], but Thaksin Shinawatra’s Case Should Not Be on the Agenda [said Prime Minister Hun Sen]
  • A 60-Year-Old Man Raped a Woman Who Suffers from Mental Disorder [he was arrested – Phnom Penh]

Khmer Amatak, Vol.10, #673, 12.11.2009

  • The Permanent Committee of the National Assembly Will Hold a Meeting Immediately and Confidentially This Morning about the Suspension of the Immunity of Sam Rainsy [the president of the Sam Rainsy Party; as the Svay Rieng Municipal Court filed a complaint against him because of his participation in the removal of six temporary wooden border markers on the Cambodian-Vietnamese Border]

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #527, 12.11.2009

  • [Thai Prime Minister] Abhisit Vijjajiva Asked Cambodia to Arrest Thaksin Shinawatra Temporarily, but [Prime Minister] Hun Sen Rejected It

Koh Santepheap, Vol.42, #6803, 12.11.2009

  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen: From Now on Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra Can Come to Cambodia Anytime Openly
  • Extradition Rejection: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Rejected the Request from the Thai Embassy to Arrest Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra [considering Mr. Thaksin’s case to be political
  • The Municipal Court Decided to Detain a Jordanian Woman and Two Turkish Women for Stealing and Collusion [in a restaurant in Phnom Penh]

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #5045, 12.11.2009

  • Cambodia and India Organize a Commercial Exhibition for the First Time
  • There Might Not Be an Opportunity of a Meeting between Hun Sen and Abhisit Vijjajiva during the ASEAN-US Summit in Singapore [Prime Minister Hun Sen said he will go there only to attend the summit]
  • The Situation at the Cambodian-Thai Border Is Quiet
  • The Acid Attack on [the former actress] In Soklida’s Aunt [where the Municipal Court had ruled to dropt the charges against the former national military police officer, Ms. Chea Ratha and her accomplices] Will Be Brought for another Hearing to the Court of Appeals Again on 27 November 2009
  • A Motorbike Hit a Truck Transporting Cows, Resulting in Two Deaths and One Injury under the Prek Tnot Bridge [Phnom Penh]

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Independence Day – Monday, 9.11.2009

Posted on 10 November 2009. Filed under: Week 638 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 638

National holidays are not all the same. We are just behind the Water Festival which brings big crowds from the provinces to the capital city for several days. This year, 391 boats had been registered to participate in the boat racing, and 6,500 police were prepared to keep things organized and safe.

And there were special health concerns – more than in other years, because of the danger of A/H1N1 virus infections, and the Communicable Disease Control Department of Ministry of Health had prepared 500,000 leaflets with information and advice how to protect oneself from this disease – “covering up cough and wash hands among others” – as well as, as every year, from HIV/AIDS, for which the Population Service International’s 1,000 volunteers were to distribute 250,000 condoms during the three days of the Water Festival.

A big, traditional event where up to a million people from all provinces participate.

Quite different: Independence Day. Everybody knows the Independence Monument, the landmark at the crossing or the Norodom and the Sihanouk Boulevards. But Independence Day? Talking to people, one gets the understandable impression that this is an “official” holiday for people in public office and politics, but as for real life, it is something from the distant past.

“Cambodian Independence day today? That is just another holiday. Not bad.”

But it is interesting that Cambodians abroad also celebrate it – like the Cambodian community in Lowell in the USA, and a group of Cambodian students in Japan:

“Gathering the Cambodian community at our university for an Independence Day Celebration! Cheers to all Cambodians! Cheers for the independence of Cambodia from French colonization!”

Distance changes the perspective with which one sees things, and even fosters closeness.

We close with the text from a foreign newspaper – the Manila Bulletin from the Philippines – sending not only formal congratulations for the day, but being interested in and recapitulating Cambodian relations in a friendly way:

Kingdom of Cambodia National Day

The Kingdom of Cambodia celebrates its National Day on 9 November, Monday. On this day in 1953, King Norodom Sihanouk declared the country’s independence from French colonial rule.

Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Cambodia were formally established in 1957.

Although our relations were affected by the Khmer rouge regime in 1975, the Philippines and Cambodia have maintained cordial ties since the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1995 and the reopening of the Cambodian Embassy in Manila in 1999. The two countries have concluded agreements on economic and trade relations, agricultural and agribusiness collaboration, and tourism cooperation.

Cambodia is a member of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2004 and attended the inaugural East Asia Summit in 2005.

Cambodia has established diplomatic relations with numerous countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, and Russia. As a result of its international relations, various charitable organizations have assisted with both social and civil infrastructure needs.

We congratulate the people and government of the Kingdom of Cambodia headed by His Majesty, King Norodom Sihamoni, and H. E. Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, and its Embassy in the Philippines led by Ambassador In May, on the occasion of their National Day.

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Bangkok Got Angry and Downgraded the Cambodian-Thai Diplomatic Relations to the Lowest Level – Friday, 6.11.2009

Posted on 7 November 2009. Filed under: Week 637 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 637

“Immediately after the Cambodian government appointed Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra as Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen’s and the government’s adviser, Bangkok was angry and summoned its ambassador back to Thailand as a so-called diplomatic retaliation. The Thai ambassador left Cambodia in the night of 5 November 2009. In response, the Minister of the Council of Ministers, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, summoned the Cambodian ambassador to return to Phnom Penh. He considers that this is a normal reciprocity measure between government and government. Regarding this diplomatic dispute, there has not been any new report about border tensions between the two countries.

“Relating to Thailand recalling its ambassador, Mr. Sok An said that this is not the cutting off of diplomatic ties. When Thailand sends its ambassador to Cambodia again, we will send our ambassador to Thailand. He explained that there is no problem in the relations between both countries’ citizens and in commerce.

“He noted that Thailand did so, following a demand from the yellow-shirt group [of government supporters].

“He explained also that it is an internal affairs of Cambodia to nominate Thaksin Shinawatra, and Cambodia had appointed foreigners as advisers before, for example the current president of South Korea. He had also been an adviser of Samdech Dekchor.

“He criticized that Thailand has hurt Cambodia by sending troops to invade the Preah Vihear border areas in Cambodian territory. The second point is that when Cambodia proposed to list the Preah Vihear Temple as a world heritage site, Thailand had sent partisans to disturb it.

“Contrastingly, [Thai] Deputy Prime Minister Sutheb Thaugsuban asked, ‘What would Cambodia think if Thailand nominated [the opposition party president] Mr. Sam Rainsy as adviser?’ Mr. Sok An answered, ‘Cambodia would welcome such a nomination, because Cambodia has a citizen appointed by foreign country. Therefore, Thai people should be happy as one of their citizens is named adviser.’

“The decision of the Bangkok government to summon their diplomatic official like this, pushed the diplomatic ties between both countries to fall to a terrible level, threatening even political, economic, and cultural relation between both countries, as well as the solidarity in ASEAN.

“Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva said that Thailand summoned their ambassador back to Bangkok as a sign of first diplomatic retaliation toward Cambodia for appointing Thaksin Shinawara as adviser, and for rejecting to extradite him. He said that Thailand wants Cambodia to know the dissatisfaction of the Thai people.

“Immigration officials at the Phnom Penh International Airport said that the Thai ambassador boarded the plane at around 9:00 p.m. to travel back to Bangkok.

“Political analysts said that the decision of the Bangkok government will make ASEAN to be viewed as a quite fractioned institution, making the initative to establish the ASEAN community by 2015 to be in hazard, and it is necessary that there is a regional mechanism to restore the situation.

Cambodian Troops Are Prepared to Defend the Country from an Invasion

“At the border, the commander of special Intervention Unit 3, Mr. Srey Dek, said that the Cambodian troops are always on alert. He added, ‘If they dare to enter only half a millimeter, we will attack (open fire) immediately. But he said that so far, there is nothing abnormal.

“The Banteay Meanchey governor, Mr. Ung Oeung, said that the border situation remains normal. But there might be some psychological war coming relating to border closings. But there is nothing visible yet.

Thaksin Is Happy while Abhisit Is Pale

“The Thai former prime minister, Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, said on Thursday that he accepted the position as economic adviser of the Royal Government of Cambodia, and he expressed appreciation toward Prime Minister Hun Sen for offering this honorable position. He said on his website, ‘I can refresh my brain while I am not yet able to serve the Thai people. I will ask for the permission from Thai people to provide economic advice to the Cambodian government, based on the appointment by King Sihamoni, until I can go back to my country. In fact, I have already become adviser of a government. I accept this position in order to keep my brain to remain fresh, otherwise it would become lame if I don’t keep it up to obtain new ideas and new developments. I want to work with the Thai people, but I cannot. The Thai government does not even allow me to carry a Thai passport.’

“Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra added, ‘Our neighbor is not an enemy. We must be close to each other forever. It is good that we are friends.’

“In the mean time, a legal adviser of Mr. Thaksin, [the former minister of foreign affairs who resigned after the high court found he had violated the Thai constitution] Mr. Noppadon Pattama, spoke to the former prime minister, regarding the issue that Thaksin Shinawatra feels that he has received a great honor, and he will provide advice on how to solve Cambodia’s economic problems and overcome poverty.

“Mr. Noppadon Pattama added that it is not necessary that Mr. Thaksin comes to live in Cambodia, because he can give advice through the telephone or the Internet. He said, ‘Thaksin Shinawatra has no plan to go to Cambodia at this time. Therefore, the government needs not worry or feel afraid, because it is not a political affair or seeking asylum. Mr. Hun Sen decided to appoint Thaksin, because he sees his value and ability.’

“Nevertheless, Thailand does not understand it as Mr. Noppadon does. On 5 November 2009, Thailand summoned their ambassador back to their country immediately as a move of disapproval of Cambodia for offering a position to Thaksin.

“The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva said to journalist, ‘We have summoned our ambassador as the first diplomatic retaliation toward the Cambodian government so as to let the Thai people’s dissatisfaction known. The announcement of the Cambodian governments disrespects the legal system, and does influence the feeling of the Thai public.

“Abhisit said also that [Thai] aid for Cambodia will be suspended also, but the border between both countries are still open, and the relations between the people will not be affected.” Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #5040, 6.11.2009

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 6 November 2009

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.8, #2091, 6.11.2009

  • Cambodia and Thailand Decided to Downgrade Their Diplomatic Ties; [the Thai ousted prime minister] Thaksin Shinawatra Thanks Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen after He Was Nominated Adviser
  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen Will Attract More Japanese Investors to Cambodia [during his visit to attend the Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo on 6 and 7 November 2009]
  • Sihanoukville Governor, Mr. Sbang Sarath Was Accused because of Illegal Constructions

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #523, 6.11.2009

  • The Khmer Government Rejected the Demand of Siam [Thailand] to Control Two Thirds of Seabed Mineral Resources
  • The Sam Rainsy Party: The Prime Minister Does Not Deal with the Existing Internal Affairs of Cambodia, but Thinks about Siamese [Thai] Issues

Koh Santepheap, Vol.42, #6798, 6.11.2009

  • The Thai Prime Minister [Mr. Abhisit Vijjajiva] Summoned the [Thai] Ambassador Back, to Leave Cambodia, and He Opposes Thaksin Shinawatra’s Nomination [as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s and the governments economic adviser]
  • The Appeal Court Will Hold a Hearing This Morning over the Acid Attack Case [where the actress In Soklida’s aunt was attacked]
  • [More than 200] Romorque Motos [and Tuk-Tuk] Drivers Protested in Front of the Municipality to Demand a Delay to Make Number Plates and to Fine Them
  • A Man like an Animal Raped Three Daughters Two Times Each [he was arrested – Sihanoukville]
  • Within More Than One Week, Four People Were Killed by Murderers [four perpetrators were arrested – Battambang]

Phnom Penh Post [Khmer Edition], Vol.1, #40, 6.11.2009

  • The Diplomatic War between Cambodia and Thailand Regarding Thaksin Shinawatra’s Case Leads to the Withdrawal of the Respective Ambassadors
  • The Government Explained the Increase of the Military Budget [from US$223 million in 2009 to US$277 million in 2010 to civil society organizations, saying that the budget will be used to strengthen the national defense capacity in order to improve the military sector in Cambodia; however, civil society representatives said that the government should address root problems in the military sector, rather than increase the budget]
  • Mr. Sam Rainsy Announced to Lodge Complaints [at international institutions, against neighboring countries] over the Loss of Territory

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #5040, 6.11.2009

  • The Khmer Rouge Tribunal Announced Places in 19 Cities and Provinces for Investigations over the Case 002 [involving five Khmer Rouge leaders: Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, Khieu Samphan, and Nuon Chea]
  • More Than 300 ATM Machines of Different Banks Have Been Set Up in Cambodia
  • Guards of Fishing Lot Number 10 Shot a Man to Death [two perpetrators were arrested and police is seeking to arrest another guard – Kampong Chhnang]
  • Wild Animals [67 turtles and 22 pythons] Loaded in a Car from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh Were Seized by Moung Russey District Police [the car driver was arrested – Battambang]

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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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