The General Public Criticized the Action of the Authorities to Arrest Children Selling Newspapers at Traffic Lights, Saying if They Cannot Help Those Children with Anything, They Should Not Destroy Their Rice Pots – Monday, 2.8.2010

Posted on 4 August 2010. Filed under: Week 676 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 676

“Homeless and poor children and orphans in Phnom Penh do different things to earn their living. Some steal, as they are too poor and cannot find enough food to eat. Some beg to survive, though it affects the social atmosphere.

“But after one year of being restricted, while receiving general education, many of these homeless and poor children and orphans turn to take up appropriate and honorable jobs again in the city by selling newspapers and flowers at traffic lights and along congested roads in Phnom Penh. These small jobs allow these homeless and otherwise inactive Khmer children to get away from misery and poverty and have better living conditions, where they can buy enough food to eat, which is welcome. Even travelers are pleased with those jobs of the children. They help to buy newspapers and flowers, and often they give them extra tips, as they see that these children can create honest jobs on their own. Compared with previous years, often many beggars were found at traffic lights, taking away the attention from the traffic lights.

“But it is regrettable and disgusting, that within the week, police tried to chase the children away who sell newspapers along the roads and at traffic lights, as if they were thieves. It is not known whether police received orders and from whom. These acts of the police make the children to live in fear. Some were sitting at the roadside, holding their newspapers and flowers and cried and felt hopeless for their lives, that just had started with some new light. The general public traveling along these roads condemned such bad actions. Some said that if the authorities cannot assist the children with anything, they should let them have their rice pots.

“In the heavenly modern cities of Singapore, Prey Nokor [Ho Chi Minh City], Bangkok, or Kuala Lumpur, in those highly developed cities, there are people selling things or distributing commercial advertisement at traffic lights. Why is it so different in Phnom Penh, which is heading toward modernity?

“What the authorities do is not different from just taking away the rice pots of those homeless and poor children, many are also orphans, and it is like pushing them back to return to their previous way of living.” Koh Santepheap, Vol.43, #7023, 2.8.2010

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 2 August 2010

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.9, #2316, 1-2.8.2010

  • The Prime Minister Dismissed Information Published by The Cambodia Daily [on 30 July 2010, saying that there is a casino allowed to be operated by the Korean company Intercity Group in Siem Reap, and he suggested that the paper should correct this information]

Koh Santepheap, Vol.43, #7023, 2.8.2010

  • The General Public Criticized the Action of the Authorities to Arrest Children Selling Newspapers at Traffic Lights, Saying if They Cannot Help Those Children with Anything, They Should Not Destroy Their Rice Pots

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.17, #3947, 2.8.2010

  • Human Rights Officials [of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association – ADHOC] and [Sam Rainsy Party] Parliamentarians Called for the Release of Twelve Citizens in the Chi Kraeng District Who Will Be Sentenced This Morning [over different accusations, when they protested over a land dispute in 2009 – Siem Reap]
  • Cambodian and Yuon [Vietnamese] Officials Suggest a Meetings to Be Organized Every Two Years to Monitor the Application of Existing Agreements, while the Sam Rainsy Party Warned They Will Review the Border Agreements if They Win the Elections

Nokor Wat, Vol.1, #19, 1-2.8.2010

  • A Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam Mr. Pham Gia Khiem [Phạm Gia Khiêm] Will Visit Cambodia [from 2 to 5 August 2010 to talk about cooperation between both countries in the border provinces]
  • Cambodia Faces Many Challenges to Adjust to as a Member of the World Trade Organization [for example, some kind of food export is not possible as Cambodia cannot assure safe and sanitary processes of food production according to international standards, according to a secretary of state of the Ministry of Commerce, Mr. Hem Sithon]

Phnom Penh Post [Khmer Edition], Vol.1, #227, 2.8.2010

  • Cambodia Drafts a Royal Decree about Regulations for Military Reservists
  • A Canadian Man Was Found Guilty of Having Sex with [Cambodian underage] Girls [and was sentenced to 11 years in prison]
  • The Government Will Spend US$1.5 Million on Tuberculosis Research [its prevalence in Cambodia; Cambodia is among the 22 countries with the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in the world]

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5265, 1-2.8.2010

  • Civil Society Official [Mr. Chan Soveth, a senior investigating official of ADHOC] Said that within the First Six Months of 2010, Land Disputes Declined [there were 86 land dispute cases, where 40 cases were big, between citizens and companies and military officials; compared with the same period in 2009, there were 200 land disputes]
  • Cambodian Army Commanders Inspect Troops at the Front Line, as Thailand Is Sending More Troops to Its Front Line near the Preah Vihear Temple
  • Within the First Six Months of 2010, Cambodia Encountered a Trade Deficit of US$0.8 Billion [the export amounted to only US$2 billion, whereas the import was US$2.8 billion – according to the National Bank of Cambodia]

Have a look at the last editorial – you can access it directly from the main page of the Mirror.
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Voluntary and Charitable Donations – Sunday, 16.5.2010

Posted on 18 May 2010. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 664 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 664

In many societies it is usual that corporations, and rich and not so rich individuals make donations for causes they consider important for the public good. During the past week it was reported that more than US$7 million was collected as donations during the celebration of the Cambodia Red Cross and Red Crescent Society’s anniversary on 8 May; it is the largest humanitarian organization in Cambodia, having also individual Members, and Volunteers. This is an impressive organization which has collected an impressive sum. To see whether or not this is the beginning of a spirit of voluntarism in society, it would be good to know how much the same charitable donors are making available to lift up the economic situation of orphanages, to create and maintain scholarships for needy students from the provinces, to support organizations engaged in the promotion of awareness of the endangered environment and its protection, and many similar endeavors.

In many countries, the Red Cross is one not-for-profit NGO like any other NGO – it receives private and corporate donations, like other NGOs receiving private and corporate donations; often these are encouraged by special tax reduction or tax exemption regulations for supporting such causes for the public good. Over the years I became aware that many persons in Cambodia, dealing with foreign NGOs working in the country, are not aware that these depend to a more or less strong degree on regular private donation, often from people in the middle and lower income brackets in their countries, and not only on public money. But it seems to be hardly a usual feature that Cambodian NGOs, working for the public good, receive similar donations from those who have money, in Cambodia. If there are worthwhile examples, it would be good to have them reported more prominently, and not only for the Cambodian Red Cross and Red Crescent Society.

But whatever the source of such funds – it is usual that that they are accounted for regularly and publicly. One argument of the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, why a special NGO law is necessary, was always that the finances of NGOs – as agencies handling social funds – have to be monitored publicly. Though NGOs have responded that they are subject to regular public audit already, and these audit reports have been available anyway, the request to make their financial records public was always among the main arguments to create such legislation.

Now it is all the more surprising, that the financial volume and the operating procedures of the Social Fund of the government, even it’s existence, referred to sometimes over the years, are not similarly transparent, and there are additional allegations that government representatives have received substantial monies, supposedly for a social fund, which cannot be found in any verifiable public financial record.

The present round of discussions was triggered by reports that an Australian mining company, which had operated for a limited period in Mondolkiri, is under corruption investigation at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, because it is also listed on stock exchanges in the USA. There are allegations that this may relate to payments to Cambodia. While the government was asked for precise, detailed information supported by documents, to be presented to the National Assembly, additional questions were added relating to payments from the French company Total. Some of the related, but not clarified pieces of information:

  • The Indonesian company Medco Energi said they paid US$4.5 million into a government social fund.
  • The Australian company BHP Billiton paid US$ 2.5 million as “tea money” – according to a statement by the Minister of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology in the National Assembly.
  • Payments of US$20 million by the French oil company Total, paid as a “signature bonus,” are not publicly traceable.
  • In addition, some of the monies are said to have be designated to pay for specific activities in Mondolkiri or in Pursat etc., but different, related information, cannot be reconciled.

Now the Prime Minister gave the task to explain the situation to the National Assembly to two Deputy Prime Ministers, the Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An, and the Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon. According to Mr. Phay Siphan, the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister “said that all revenues must go to the national budget.” Obviously that is not what happened so far.

Interesting explanations and revelations relating to the past can be expected – combined with the hope that the order of the Prime Minister will be molded into clear administrative procedures for the future.

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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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