Malaysian “Investments” – Saturday, 15.5.2010

Posted on 17 May 2010. Filed under: Week 664 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 664

Note:

After having been knocked out late on Monday, 10.5.2010, by a bad, but not clearly identified intestinal infection, I am sorry that I could not earlier, and cannot more speedily, catch up again, but maybe it will be done by Monday, 17.5.2010, noon.

Because of the King’s Birthday National Holiday on 13.5.2010, which was extended into further days, it is now intended to have publications, during the current week, only for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Norbert Klein
Editor of the Mirror

I welcome to see Comments in response to publications on The Mirror. When there are Comments, I consider them not as “Letters to the Editor,” but as comments, and I hope other readers may also comment on the Comments.

But the the special situation of this week allows me to respond directly to one comment in detail.

In response to our translated article headline “Malaysian Investors and Investments Are Coming to Cambodia while Cambodia Is Still Unable to Export Its Products” on Monday, 10.5.2010, there was the following Comment noted:

“Do you find this investment not good to your country??”

The “you” is obviously not myself, but the journalist of Khmer Amatak who wrote the article – or all readers in Cambodia. But I will present some subsequent information from the local press.

Before the Billion-Dollar – US$! – deals were signed, there was not much known about their content, only that they would have a total volume of about US$1 billion. This is somewhat surprising, as Article 90 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia says: “The National Assembly is an organ which has legislative power, and performs its duties as provided for in the constitution and laws. The National Assembly shall approve the national budget, State planning, loans, financial contracts, and the creation, modification and annulment of tax.” As the financial contracts would also involve one between a Malaysian private company and the Cambodian government, some information towards the National Assembly and the public might have been expected.

All reports in the press welcomed this huge Malaysian investment – for example the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Phay Siphan, was quoted in The Cambodia Daily saying “he was aware of the deals and believed that the investment would be a huge plus for the Cambodian economy.”

The climate of the reporting changed later, however, after it was revealed that the major part of the deals – the contract between the Malaysian company Nexbis and the Cambodian government (to provide items to print, including identity cards, passports, and visa – the contract is with the Cambodian Ministry of Interior) was not a Malaysian investment, but a contract for which the Cambodian government will have to pay US$700 million – an amount which corresponds to about 35% of the Cambodian government’s budget for 2010. This payment obligation covers the major part of the “one billion deal” which had been considered to be Malaysian investments in Cambodia.

Some comments were reported in The Cambodia Daily:

  • “That’s a very sizable sum” – Bretton Sciaroni, chairman of the International Business Club.
  • “I am in darkness. I know nothing” – the spokesperson of the Ministry of Information, Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak.
  • No information provided – the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Koy Kuong.
  • National Police spokesperson Kirth Chanthatith said he did not know “what was going on.”
  • Ministry of Interior foreign police department in charge of visas Pen Piseth said he knew nothing.
  • Deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s passport department said he was completely unaware of the deal.
  • The director of the Immigration Department of the National Police Thong Lim: “I do not know about the deal.”
  • The Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance and Economy Hang Chuon Naron said he was unaware of the deal, “I don’t have any information about this. But I think it is not realistic.”

No surprise that now the question is raised, how this deal was concluded – obviously without an open process of competitive bidding. And the question of priorities, to find US$700 million for one of the biggest single deal ever entered into, has not been discussed in the National Assembly, responsible for the national budget.

And in addition, questions are raised about the nature of the company Nexbis – formerly Entertainment Media & Telecoms Corporation – which was hardly known in Cambodia. Now more and more information is coming from Australia, where Nexbis is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange – but it has not reported the Cambodian deal.

In closing, I repeat the Comment received. It is a question to the readers of The Mirror: “Do you find this investment not good to your country?”

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The Passing of the Anti-Corruption Law, and Planned Changes in Telecommunications – Sunday, 14.3.2010

Posted on 15 March 2010. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 655 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 655

As regular readers of The Mirror know, we often quote the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia to have a clear basis when trying to better understand certain actions and events. Today’s editorial is written hoping for discussions and explanations, and, if necessary, clarifications and corrections. Recently, there were actions and statements, which seem to call for explanations and clarifications, so that a common public understanding can be achieved. One issue is related to the Anti-Corruption Law, and the other to regulatory plans or decisions in the field of telecommunications.

As for the Anti-Corruption Law, this is not an attempt to analyze its content. It is only to share some observations, some of which seem to have implications related to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The first observation is related to formalities, as this is the Cambodian law which has been drafted for the longest time compared to other laws – since 1994, and with active support for this process by the United Nations since 2004. Then, in December 2009, the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers announced that the draft is now ready, but he disclosed only one point: that also the heads of NGOs would have to declare their assets, adding that the text would be available for consideration as soon as it would be at the National Assembly. This too took a surprisingly long time; because of timing problems, the parliamentarians of the Human Rights Party declared not to take part in the parliamentary deliberations of this draft, as they did not have enough time to review this important text, which was actually distributed only on 5 March 2010, while a session of the National Assembly was scheduled to be held already on 10 March 2010. And then the draft, under deliberation since 1994, was adopted very fast, without any amendments, in just one and a half days.

An Anti-Corruption Law had been awaited eagerly since years, as Cambodia was ranked 158 out of 180 countries on the latest list of the corruption perception index of Transparency International, and it was ranked the second most corrupt Southeast Asian country after Indonesia, in an annual poll by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.

The UN country team in Cambodia, made up of 23 specialized agencies, had expressed its concern that an extra-ordinary session was convened only days after the draft had been shared with the members of the National Assembly. But the Cambodian government considered the call by the UN country team for “a transparent and participatory” process to be “flagrantly interfering in the internal affairs of a UN member state,” and to be a statement outside of its mandate, though “good governance and the promotion and protection of human rights” is one of the four fields of the agreed UN Development Assistance Framework, on which the work of the UN country team is based.

But not only the timing gives cause to questions. The UN country team was also advised by the Cambodian government to “refrain from acting as if it were the spokesperson of the opposition parties.” We are not aware that this had been the case, but the press had also quoted the Prime Minister as saying, “if somebody wants this law to be amended, they have to wait until they win the elections.” We cannot verify that the Prime Minister said so, but these words seem to indicate that the constitutional principle, stated in Article 51, “The legislative, executive, and judicial powers shall be separate” is not considered to be applicable. In normal parliamentary proceedings under the separation of the three powers of the legislative, the executive, and the judicial, no executive can know – before the deliberations in the legislative – if a draft will be amended or not. This is not only something which may happen because of efforts of opposition party members, but also any active member of the parliamentary majority may scrutinize drafts and propose amendments, before voting on a draft.

Besides, the Senate, and the Constitutional Council, are additional important stages to consider legislation passed by the National Assembly – irrespective of party allegiances of their members – which may result in amendments, before a law is presented to the King. Such considerations may not only come from opposition parties, but they are foreseen as possible in the Constitution itself. The Senate and the Constitutional Council were not created just to rubber-stamp what the National Assembly has decided.

There is a second issue, which seems to be of a more technical nature – but it has fundamental implications for the free flow of information, and for the basic principles for the management of the economy of the country, as laid out in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

The Articles 56 and 63 of the Constitution say: “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall adopt the market economy system” and “The State shall respect market management in order to guarantee a better standard of living for the people.”

Two weeks ago, under the 28.2.2010, The Mirror had presented, in more detail, considerations under the headline of “Internet Governance, Censorship, and the UN Multi-Stakeholder Approach” about plans to force all Internet communication between e-mail users of different Internet Service Providers in the country through only one Internet Exchange Point [IXP]. A deputy director of Telecom Cambodia – the organization to operate the IXP – had said that a Web site that attacks the government could then be blocked. As the Minister of Information said: there is no legal basis for this.

In the meantime additional information appeared and is discussed: Telecom Cambodia might get the right to operate a monopoly by becoming the only company in Cambodia with the right to internationally buy Internet connection, and all other Internet Service Providers would have to buy their international access from Telecom Cambodia, one of their competitors. Such interference into economic affairs is difficult to understand in view of the legal framework defined in the Constitution, where the state is ordered – rather than to interfere into the marked – to guarantee that the market can operate freely “in order to guarantee a better standard of living for the people” according to the forces of competition in the market.

It should be remembered that Telecom Cambodia was created in order to disengage the regulatory and the operational functions which formerly had been both combined in the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.

The second term government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, starting from 1998, had adopted as its key orientation a “three pronged strategy” – the second prong was the re-integration of Cambodia into the international community – the UN, ASEAN, and the World Trade Organization. The other two elements were “establishing peace and security,” and “promoting administrative and judicial reforms.”

In a speech of the Prime Minister to welcome the Third Asian-German Editor’s Forum on 31 January 2000, he referred to this principle, “I think it is best to give everyone of you the role as an evaluator for your judgment to be made on the current situation of Cambodia. What I can share in this efforts is the three pronged strategy which I have put out… Essentially, one needs to have a clear and correct vision before one can develop Cambodia as a process.” This orientation led also to extensive consultations with advisors of the World Bank about the situation of the telecommunication sector in the country, which the Prime Minister had identified on several occasions as a crucial field for the future of Cambodia, in a situation, where the costs of using the telephone and the Internet was – and still is – high in Cambodia, compared to neighboring countries.

The International Telecommunication Union [ITU] is about 100 years older than the United Nations, but it is now part of the UN system. In the ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Report of 1998 it is stated that previously, investment in the “telecommunication services sector have been limited by the fact that most countries had state-owned monopoly carriers. This era is now coming to an end. Since 1984, 44 Public Telecommunication Operators have been privatized… telecommunications has a dual role as both a traded product and service, and as a facilitator of trade in other products and services… What are the benefits of trade liberalization? Freer trade in telecommunications promises to deliver at least three economic gains: new and improved products and services, lower prices, and additional investment. Open trade in telecommunication services should result in more competition, lowering prices for most businesses and for many consumers and providing both with a choice of different service providers.”

The World Bank advice, at that time, for Cambodia, showed the direction. The following direct quotes are from the final report and presentation of its “Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility.”

  • World Bank project to strengthening the Cambodian Telecommunications regulatory framework with rules for fair competition – interconnection regime
  • Aims at cost effective communications – Doing nothing in not an option, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication – MPTC – as it is cannot long survive
  • Mobile vs. Fixed Phones: THE BIG DIFFERENCE:
    • fixed: state sector, no money, no autonomy, slow progress
    • mobile: private money, growing fast, light handed regulation
    • competition in mobiles has produced, good services
    • state management has produced poor service, stagnation and lost opportunities
  • Principal Institutional Problem:
  • MPTC is an integrated, policy, regulatory, operational and asset management agency
  • Expert advice is unanimous that this leads to
    • conflicts of interest
    • poor asset management
    • business decisions suffer from political intervention
    • political priorities suffer from a preoccupation with business issues
  • All Advisers Recommend
  • MPTC should have its current functions located in separate agencies:
    • policy – the correct function for MPTC is regulation, an independent function
    • business operations – Telecom Cambodia a commercial entity with operational autonomy, eventually private

The present intentions, to re-establish, a monopolistic role for Telecom Cambodia, would revert what has been achieved under the Prime Minister’s guidance, related to the second of his three-pronged objectives: to place the policies of the Cambodian government, after decades of international isolation, into the present international context. Telecom Cambodia was created as an operator under the rules of the market, to have competition among other operators, and to establish the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications as a technical regulator. To give a mandatory monopolistic role to Telecom Cambodia is contrary to the efforts of a decade, and is contrary to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

I have observed these developments during the last two weeks form abroad, participating in the meetings of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers – ICANN – the institution coordinating the assigning and the functioning of the Internet addresses, which was held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

In a reception by the Communications Commission of Kenya – the main telecommunications regulator of the country – we received the following bag to carry our documents. It is inscribed with the words which show that the monopolies have been abolished in the telecommunication sector, and the results ensure fairness for all – and much lower costs than in Cambodia:

Fairness

Fairness


Ensuring fair play

Kenyan Broadband Pricing

Kenyan Broadband Pricing

.

The public is invited to sign up for Internet connections in this developing country in East Africa at a fair, low price:

1499 Kenyan Shilling per month, that is US$20 for unlimited broadband Internet access at a speed of 256 Kilobit per Second – how long will this remain a distant dream in Cambodia?

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Mr. Sam Rainsy Responded to Hun Sen, Saying the Cambodian Leader Himself Fakes Maps and Does Not Even Know Where the Country’s Border Is – Friday, 26.2.2010

Posted on 26 February 2010. Filed under: Week 653 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 653

“The war of words from the Cambodian Prime Minister, whose angry reaction is surprising, leads to questions among observers – when he blasted Mr. Sam Rainsy, his opponent and president of the biggest opposition party in Cambodia over border issues, it led to different reactions trying to clarify. Khmer people have questions, and national and international observers as well as diplomats want to know why the powerful Prime Minister of Cambodia cannot agree upon other ways to clarify things between Khmers and Khmers, but rather make accusations to have border documents faked.

“In a new interview with Radio Free Asia aired yesterday morning, Mr. Sam Rainsy, a parliamentarian from Cambodia and now in France to continue a mission struggling to protect the territorial integrity of Cambodia from loss, because of the improper setting of border markers, said he is doing it to respond to the Cambodian Prime Minister, Mr. Hun Sen, who accused him of faking map documents of Cambodia.

“During the interview with Radio Free Asia on 25 February 2010, Mr. Sam Rainsy stressed, ‘I know that I have a clear basis for my arguments, unlike the current leader of Cambodia. I stand on the Khmer side in these border issues. We must express that we saw them (the neighboring countries) trying to create a new border that is wrong, and they want to absorb Khmer territory. Therefore, I stand on the Khmer side as a Khmer national, and I protect the territory.’

“Mr. Sam Rainsy added, ‘Those who accused me that I am wrong and said that it is on Yuon [Vietnamese] territory [where the border markers stood] do not serve Khmer interests. Those people stand on the side of the Yuon.’

“He went on to clarify that his political struggle follows a model of major leaders of the country for the nation, which does not specify any time or place for its activities. Mr. Sam Rainsy said, ‘…Where do we stand, and for what? Do not just say what the current leader said, accusing me that I, Sam Rainsy, fake mapping documents. He himself fakes maps. He himself does not even know where the maps and where the borders of the nation are.’

“Prime Minister Hun Sen reacted in anger, using serious words accusing Mr. Sam Rainsy, who had raised border issues at the East with Vietnam, to be a traitor. It is an accusation that observers from civil society and among diplomats described as ‘too extreme.’

“Mr. Hun Sen’s reaction in anger was described by observers and by Khmer citizens in general as a mood that cannot be controlled any longer, as he said, ‘Diplomats in Cambodia, please bring this map, supposedly published on the Internet, which the opposition party is referring to, to be reviewed and compared with the real map, then we will see what will happen.’ He also announced what can be understood as a preparation to take action to arrest Mr. Sam Rainsy, to be jailed – another surprising attitude, according to various observers.

“What the Prime Minister said, whether intentionally or unintentionally, intends to show the power he has over the legislative body of Cambodia, as he said, ‘The National Assembly needs not to be afraid, because we cannot answer unclear questions, because if the questions are unclear, the answers would be also unclear’ (Sic).

“That the Prime Minister gave a clarification instead of the National Assembly [to which Mr. Son Chhay had directed this questions], and ordered the National Assembly not to give any responses to the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians, is against the law. Therefore, the fact that he said, ‘We cannot answer an unclear questions, because if the questions are unclear, the answers will also be unclear,’ makes the responses from the government representative, Mr. Var Kimhong, at the National Assembly also unclear, just as a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, Mr. Son Chhay, who had asked the question, observed.

“Observers said that both Mr. Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen had shown an intention to review maps. Thus, the solution that the leader should provide, should not be to arrest Mr. Sam Rainsy and jail him, but they should find a third party of international standing to review the maps to bring this problem to an end.

“Analysts said that intention to have Mr. Hun Sen review the maps by diplomats, proposed by Mr. Sam Rainsy, reflects the impression that the diplomats probably view the Cambodia Prime Minister as an involved party, and assumes that they believe Mr. Sam Rainsy’s claim. Mr. Sam Rainsy said, ‘Therefore, we take the documents and put them onto the only legal map of 1952, with a scale of 1:100,000, and it will be seen that in 1985, there was no invasion at the point where we visited.’

“He described the geography of the Khmer territory in the Samraung commune, Chantrea, Svay Rieng , saying that in 1985, there was no such loss, and what was set later as the border with Vietnam overlaps the demarcation in the map of 1952, which means that territory was lost later on, and Mr. Sam Rainsy claimed it resulted from the improper use of maps and the faking of mapping documents by the border committees of the two countries, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“Different from the accusation made by Prime Minister Hun Sen and by the head of the Cambodian Border Committee, Mr. Var Kimhong, saying that Mr. Sam Rainsy used faked maps, therefore the government will sue Mr. Sam Rainsy again, Mr. Sam Rainsy explained his position, that he works with the help of technical groups for mapping, and national and international experts, specialized computer experts using modern technical devices, including satellites, and his statement, that the review of the border area in Svay Rieng had shown a loss of Cambodian territory, is based on their findings.

“This reminded an observer to recall a notice by Dr. Mathews Verghese, a Singaporean scholar, who used to be the Singaporean Ambassador to Cambodia some years ago. Mr. Verghese wrote in The Straits Times of Singapore in 2004 that the border line of Cambodia with neighboring countries is moving into Cambodian territory.

“Mr. Sam Rainsy said that he will continue his struggle abroad, like what Samdech Norodom Sihanouk did during the period of his struggles, but he will not come to Cambodia to be jailed by Yuon [Vietnam]. If there would not have been a struggle, there would not have been the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia [UNTAC], nor elections. He will follow this model, saying, ‘I use my influence. What I can do is to help until justice is given to Cambodia and to the Khmer people who are victims.'” Sereypheap Thmey, Vol.18, #1882, 26-28.2.2010

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 26 February 2010

Deum Ampil, Vol.4, #420, 26.2.2010

  • A New Initiative Was Announced to Tackle the Impact of Climate Change in Cambodia [Cambodia received US$8.9 million from the UN, the European Union, and Denmark, to launch the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance to fight global warming]
  • Samdech Hun Sen: Though Cambodia Faces Many Major Problems, Including Aggression by Siam [Thailand], Cambodia Is Still Stable
  • The European Union Granted US$25 Million for Agriculture and Food Security in Cambodia [according to the Chargé d’Affaires of the European Commission to Cambodia, Mr. Rafael Dochao Moreno]

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.9, #2187, 26.2.2010

  • A French Electricity Engineer Was Convicted to Serve Seven Years in Prison and Then to Be Deported from Cambodia [for buying child prostitution – Phnom Penh]
  • [The United States of] America Issued New Forms for Visa Applications to [the United States of] America [for non-immigrant visas, using the newly developed DS-160 web based application forms, starting from 1 March 2010]

Koh Santepheap, Vol.43, #6894, 26.2.2010

  • Knot-Tieing Ceremony between Armed Forces and State Institutions and Civil Society Was Organized [state institutions, the authorities, and companies can voluntarily assist specific units of the Armed Forces with funds, food, or materials, to contribute to reducing difficulties of military units and to strengthening national unity. – But it was reported that there were also companies listed as supporters, where the leadership did not know how they got onto the list; having a policy not to support the military did also not prevent a company to be publicly listed as a supporter.]
  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen: Discipline Must Be Strictly Implemented [if police officials commit wrongdoings], and the Use of Positions and Power to Commit Wrong Act Is Completely Prohibited [he said during a convention of the Ministry of Interior]
  • [Former Phnom Penh police chief] Heng Pov, Convicted to Serve 94 Years in Prison, Was Brought to Court over a Bribery Case of US$40,000 relating to the Release of a Women Who Had Been Accused of Smuggling Drugs [he is accused to have been involved in a bribery case – he may have taken a bribe from the woman accused as a drug smuggler – for which he might receive an additional conviction if found guilty]
  • Japan Granted US$275,439 for Maternal and Infant Health Services

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.4, #3818, 26.2.2010

  • [Opposition party president] Sam Rainsy Appeals [against the conviction by the Svay Rieng court to jail him two years for removing border markers] as the Government Prepares to Sue Him in Two More Cases This Morning [for faking public documents and for disinformation over border issues]

Phnom Penh Post [Khmer Edition], Vol.1, #120, 26.2.2010

  • Cambodia and Vietnam Step Up Setting Border Markers amid Strong Criticism [eight border markers will be posted along the border in Ratanakiri]
  • More Prisons Are Established while the Number of Prisoners Keeps Increasing [the spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Khieu Sopheak, said that the prisons countrywide can house 8,000 prisoners only, but by 2009, there had already been 13,325 prisoners]

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5136, 26.2.2010

  • “Tivea 06” [nickname of a police official] Was Sent to Court after He Was Found Putting Drugs into Beer [poisoning five police, where one of them died – Phnom Penh]
  • Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen Suggested to introduce Direct Flights from Indonesia to Cambodia [to boost tourism]

Sereypheap Thmey, Vol.18, #1882, 26-28.2.2010

  • Mr. Sam Rainsy Responded to Hun Sen, Saying the Cambodian Leader Himself Fakes Maps and Does Not Even Know Where the Country’s Border Is

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Outlook into 2009 – Sunday, 11.1.2009

Posted on 12 January 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 594 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


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The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 594

Observing a wide range of discussions about the future, there are two fields which get most prominent attention: the economy – and the state of law.

As the Cambodian economy – internationally – depends much on the export of garment products and on international tourism, and on a construction boom, we did mirror related reports:

The garment industry was a sure bet in the past – in every of the previous years, this sector grew by 15% to 20%. But this was not an assurance for the future. The situation is bad, but not too bad, some observers say:

In Cambodia 73 factories were closed in 2008, making nearly 25,000 workers unemployed. But 64 new factories opened, absorbing 10,000 new workers. – The export of garments to international markets dropped by 2%, while before, it was expected that it would drop by between 5% and 7%. Therefore the global financial crisis affected this sector very little.

Others are more careful to express their hope: While at present the future looks really to dark, things may change:

Presently received orders will be finished by February and March 2009, and there are no buying orders for May and June 2009.

But buyers from the United States of America probably wait until the new president takes his position in mid January, then they will continue buying.

Investments in the construction industry are also facing big problems:

All construction projects of high rise buildings to develop the city to become a modern city are mostly based on foreign investment in Cambodia. Therefore large scale investments, like those by Korean investors planning constructions for the city, are delayed.

The labor unions say that 30% of the construction workers are laid off, and various projects are suspended; and it is forecast that in 2009 the decline will continue.

And tourism?

The Minister of Tourism recognized that the global financial crisis and the confrontation with Thailand in the Preah Vihear region slows the number of tourists to Cambodia down, but Cambodia will make all efforts to guarantee the safety of tourists, and to promote the further growth of tourism.

The loss of everyday jobs and income for the families is a consequence resulting from the decline in the number of tourists to Cambodia since July 2008.

Such reductions in the economic possibilities are also reflected in the cautious employment policy of the government for new graduates, in spite of the fact that their number is increasing year by year:

The Cambodian government decided to reduce the recruitment of new civil servants from 9,000 to 8,000 to work at different ministries and departments in 2009.

To reduce employment alone will not be sufficient. We will watch out for reports about other determined decisions how to contain and to save expenses.

The plan to spend US$10 million on public lighting in Phnom Penh is surprising in this context. Even if it is intended to do this with a foreign loan, it is not only a liability to be paid back; after the investment is done, a lot of electricity will have to be paid for. Public taxpayer money will have to be spent regularly for the electricity, and this money will go to the producers of electricity; more and more private companies will profit from this.

Of course there is the hope for big oil money in the futue. And the international community has pledged around one billion dollars of aid for 2009.

The scholarly wisdom from the field of Economics and of Business Administration has not prevented a global economic meltdown of a size never before experienced. Now there are many efforts under discussion, what kind of political will and political action is needed to control the economic problems so that they do not get totally out of control. The myth about the “self-regulatory powers of the market” led into global crisis; new bold legislation and new government interventions are now being called for internationally.

There is new movement also in Cambodia in the field of the role of law.

The new year started with an almost unexpected news from the past: after five years of doubts and mistrust in police and in court actions, related to the 2004 murder of the labor leader Chea Vichea, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were released on bail, because, as the Supreme Court judge Dith Munty explained, there is a lack of clarity: the case needs further investigation, as there were gaps in the procedures, and there is insufficient evidence.

There will have to be a lot of explanation to be done, why previous investigations were not done correctly, and how it was possible that gaps in the procedures – which had been pointed out by many, including by the former King – could not be rectified without keeping two persons in prison for five years.

Now the police waits already one whole week for the green light from the court to start the new investigation. It is probably the correct procedure now to wait for the court again. When there is a lack of clarity, new investigations are to be made, according to the law, independently from any outside influence, also independent from the executive branch of the government, according to the Constitution of the country.

Article 51 of the Constituton says:
“The Cambodian people are the masters of their own country. All power belongs to the people. The people exercise these powers through the National Assembly, The Senate, the Royal Government and the Judiciary. The legislative, executive, and judicial powers shall be separate.”

But it is at least surprising that the effort by three persons, accredited by the Bar Association of Cambodia to act at the courts in Cambodia, met with difficulties when hey tried to file a law suit. They want to initiate a clarification by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court about allegations of irregularities at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. They had not been able, in spite of their efforts over several months, to receive certain pieces of information – as we had mirrored on Friday, 9.1.2009, in detail from the Khmer press.

What is even more surprising – not based on any legal expertize, but just on common sense – is that the appeal to a court of law to bring clarity, is not welcome, but is met by an expression of regret. The national judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia criticized this appeal to a court with the argument, that they had entered into service at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal on the basis of a Royal Decree, signed by the King.

This case brings a basic problem of perception to the public, whether this society will live up to its constitution, where an independent judiciary is to find out what is right and what is wrong, or whether positions of rank will have precedence. Do the national judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia not trust that the courts can fulfill their duty?

The fact, that a person had an illustrious career to which he was properly appointed, is no reason not to clarify by the courts and on the basis of the law in a transparent way, whether a person has acted properly or not. When Heng Pov, who was, over the course of time, undersecretary of state, and assistant to the Minister of the Interior, and then police commissioner of the city of Phnom Penh – who had had all the proper appointments – was put to the test by the courts, he failed and is now in prison.

Whoever is innocent, should be happy to have this finally confirmed by a normal, public court. Why not?

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