Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Is Deportation of Cambodians from the U.S. Morally Right?

The Long Beach Press Telegram ran a three-part series of articles on the problems deportation poses for Cambodian people. You can read those article here or on KI-Media.

For those of you who won’t trouble with reading those articles – the long and the short of the articles is about Cambodian permanent residents of the U. S. who ran afoul of the law and were subsequently deported as the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1996 provides.

Needless to say this has been a subject of great passion among overseas Khmer. As the reporters say most of the responses received to the articles, however, were in favor of those deportations.

Others, and the reporters also seem to take that stance, hold that these people are all victims of the system and should not be lumped together with other nationalities as Cambodians came to the U. S. in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Pol Pot regime, which probably would not have come to power if the U. S. had not so blatantly violated international law by invading and bombing the territory of Cambodia, inflicting great harm and suffering on the Cambodian people.

According to those articles only 189 people have been affected so far, with another 1700 under deportation orders and another 1700 in the pipeline, while a total of close to 350,000 people were deported in 2008. So this is really a minuscule number of the total. But, of course, each number represents a person with loved ones and a greater family and their own very personal story behind it.

The law is clear and if enforced to the letter nothing can be said against those deportations. No matter whether or not the law is good, bad, too inclusive, politically motivated, or whatever, the law is the law, and it must be respected and complied with. That’s the premise of our living together as societies in every country. If a foreigner who has been living in Cambodia for years and commits a crime that foreigner will be sentenced to a prison term and thereafter be deported to his/her own country. A case in point was the deportation of that aging British rock singer from Vietnam, who was previously deported from Cambodia and then took up residence in Vietnam. We all seem to agree that those deportations are justified.

So, are the crimes Cambodians commit in the U. S. less reprehensible? I would think not. Are those people all from broken families with drunken fathers who regularly beat up their wives and children? Although I personally don’t know any of the families involved, it would appear from the article that none of those had a paternal criminal background. I would guess most of the families had their hands full making a living in the U. S. and raising their children as well as they could after they had arrived here from their refugee camps in Thailand. Many of them were, and to some extent still are, semi-literate, or worse illiterate. But the children all had their opportunities to attend a school, learn a trade, even go to college, and make a career for themselves. The U. S. census shows that the U. S.-Cambodian people have roughly the same percentage of college graduates as Caucasians, for instance. Of course, there are always weaker links in a society who choose a different path. And why should it be any different with overseas Cambodian? Some of the children just run with the wrong crowd, fall in with bad people who tell them selling dope is an easy way to make money. As everybody who ever raised children of their own knows, once they reach puberty some kids are just very hard to guide and will more likely listen to their buddies than to their parents. Add to that more or less uneducated parents and the path for their future may be marked.

Some of them are now grown people with families of their own, with children born in the U. S. and therefore U. S. citizens. One might take a different look at them if the crime was committed a long time ago, and they have re-integrated into society, become hard-working people, pay their taxes, and are good members of society. But the law is clear – if someone committed a crime, the permanent resident status will be revoked making them subject to deportation.

Is the law fair or just? Hardly, and although the U. S. still professes an open-door immigration policy, it has in reality become a very restrictive country in light of the large number of illegal immigrants mostly from South of the border. The prevailing mood among the population is to curb illegal immigration and favor deportation of criminals. The outgoing administration has been even stricter than the Clinton administration during which that law was passed.

Now what about the Vietnam War/Pol Pot era aspect? An official quoted in the article says the U. S. fulfilled its moral responsibility by accepting Cambodians to the U. S. under a blanket agreement with the UNHCR and giving them a new home country. This responsibility does not include tolerating immigrants breaking the law and excluding them from certain provisions of the immigration act. I tend to agree with that. It is also said that if families are torn apart by deportation this is an inhuman act. Again, the officials say those people made a choice to break the law and they must suffer the consequences. The families all have the options to join their husbands (I have never read about a female deportee) and live with them in Cambodia. As harsh as it may sound, it certainly is an option, although finding a job and making a living there will be hard, and next to impossible in the economic downturn, but nobody foresaw this, not when the law was passed, nor when the people committed their crimes.

It would, however, only be fair if the U. S. government put its money where its mouth is. They preach human rights and compassion with other people to the world, but when it comes to applying those tenets at home there are some very striking disparities. If somebody committed a minor crime, or misdemeanor 20 years ago, who has become a rehabilitated person, it surely is inhuman to tear this person from his/her environment and throw him into a vastly different society with which he/she has nothing but their ethnicity in common. And we all know native Khmer are not very beholden to overseas Khmer returning to their country. This even applies to people who come back under normal circumstances, though for different reasons, and certainly much less to criminals.

The article doesn’t give concrete numbers, but the majority of those 189 people deported were apparently either hardened career criminals and/or drug users, which pushed them into a life of crime. Although they deserve, by all moral standards, to be punished, and possibly be deported, but to send them to a country like Cambodia without any social services to speak of is certainly counterproductive. If it were not for that NGO mentioned in the articles these people would only live on the street committing more crimes. Many of those deportees represent one of the worst aspects of U. S. society – the ghetto gangs. This is the last thing Cambodia needs. As always, there will be young Khmer people who will emulate that kind of life style and find it ‘cool’. There is nothing cool in that swagger and the tattoos those gang bangers affect. One can only hope that the Cambodian government delays proceedings even more making the return of more deportees a mere trickle. Coming back to Cambodia won’t help the deportees or the country.

By choosing crime these people made themselves a burden to and put in distress everybody – their families, society, their host country, their native country. One must not forget that these people are considered criminals first and Cambodian second. Consequently, they will be treated accordingly. Though good and just answers are hard to find for this problem, it seems that when people make a choice they will have to bear the consequences of their actions, whether or not they know those consequences. This is how the system works. If someone tries to work outside the system, the system will bring them back into it by force. This is what’s happening here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Look at the Rubber Industry

An article in Ka-Set Online on the situation in the rubber industry is in need of a comment.

Income cut by 60%
But Vannak, who owns a 30-hectare rubber tree plantation in Chamka Leu in the Kampong Cham province, also reckoned a state intervention would be useful since the price drops have led him to lose 60% of the company's income compared with August this year. “Today, I almost have no money to bring to my family. A 30-litre drum of latex only brings in 20,000 riels (US$5) when not so long ago this price went as high as 90,000 riels (US$22). What we earn at the moment is just enough to pay for workers' wages”, he complained, adding that the company had already had to wait 6 years for the plantation to actually produce rubber latex.

No bankruptcy for rubber producers?
An expert in Cambodian rubber industry, who wished to remain anonymous, rejected for his part alarmist stances. With a tonne of concentrated latex selling for about US$1,000, to him, the sector seems far from going bankrupt and companies are unlikely to close down... According to him, rubber investors are still earning money even though the income at stake is far from being what it used to be. The expert used his own experience in that matter as an argument: in 1998 and 1999, facing the collapse of rubber prices, when an oil barrel sold for an average of US$65, he still managed to make a profit of 2% to 3% . The return on investment was definitely much less important than the interest rate of a placement on an interest-bearing account, he said, but still allowed to a certain activity in the company without major difficulties. Nowadays, considering production costs and the fact that oil prices have dropped to nearly US$45 a barrel, investors in the sector can generate profit that would almost be equivalent to bank interest rates, the expert concluded.

It is clear that this so-called expert must remain anonymous in the face of such blatant falsehoods. Concentrated rubber contains 60% pure rubber. Latex collected from trees in Cambodia typically contains about 30 to 32 %, in other words 10 liters of latex hold 3.2 kg of rubber. Current prices are in the 3000 riel/kg range or roughly 75 cents, in some areas as low as 2000 riels. And this is how and what plantation owners are paid. Operating cost, that is wages, transportation, etc. is about 70 cents. What about amortization? The plantation takes 6 years to produce the first latex. A 6-year investment in a rubber tree plantation will set you back about $8500 to $10,000 per ha including the cost of land, trees, maintenance, etc. Average annual production per ha is 1,500 to 1,800 kg. Using a depreciation schedule of 15 years you end with 36 cents in amortization cost. So where is your return, Mr. Expert? In order to break even you need a price of $1.06, or 4300 riel per kg of collected latex.

The processing plant is not much better off. They have huge investment costs and they typically sell crepe rubber at about 20% below world prices due to a lack of certification and own marketing. Average prices in December have been hovering around the $1,330/mt mark. Their cost as mentioned above is roughly $750/mt. Factor in operating cost and amortization and you are left with a loss. Additionally, virtually the entire production is sold to Vietnam. In hard times like these the Vietnamese simply stop buying Cambodian rubber and sell theirs first. And this is happening now. Rubber plants still process latex but can’t pay the plantations as they don't have any sales. The situation is very grave for small-holders.

Interest rates at prime banks are around 4%. I don’t see anybody making a 4% net profit in the industry right now.That expert better take a closer
look at reality.

In order to take advantage from the the growing appetite of the Chinese mammoth and be less vulnerable to price fluctuations, the Cambodian rubber sector might have to jump onto another phase, like its neighbouring countries: transforming rubber latex into products involving a high profit margin. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Cambodia might soon benefit from the technological help and advice of two foreign companies, a Chinese one and a French one, Michelin. According to the Minister, they expressed their interest in Cambodia and are actually studying the possibility of establishing tyre production facilities in the country. These projects should come as a bonus for the Cambodian rubber sector.

Indeed, Cambodian rubber-based industries might alleviate the situation but that is a long way from happening. And don’t forget, tires are for cars. And the car industry is in a even more dire predicament than the rubber industry. For the car industry to come back from that slump will take years. So don’t hold your breath.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Recent News

The appointment of Prince Ranariddh as the King’s chief adviser, on reflection, leads me to conclude that all the royals, the King excepted, are basically a non-productive group of citizens for Cambodia. They unsuccessfully tried their hand at politics and basically derived their prominence only from their royal status, which they came into rather involuntarily. This again shows that royalty and aristocracy are principally a thing of the past and have no basis for their existence in today’s world. In simple words, they are ‘free-loaders’. The appointment of those advisers – and one can only assume that those titles aren’t just honorary – will cost the Palace, which in turn is financed by the national budget, in other words, ‘Is it worth it?’

All these royals came back from abroad and basically failed in their efforts and endeavors in Cambodia, as has many an overseas Khmer who returned after 1993. Does this imply that overseas Khmer generally aren’t fit for life in their native country? Many a restaurant owner failed after the novelty effect had worn off. Attempts at import/export businesses failed because the Khmer magnates dominated practically all business sectors, and the way business is done here differs substantially from the Western way, in which those overseas Khmer conducted theirs, thinking the native Khmer didn’t really know how to do real business, only to find out the hard way that it was them who didn’t. Some tried civil service because of their party affiliation. One was appointed Secretary to the United Nations (at the time King Sihamoni was ambassador to the U. N. by the way). He came back once the position went to a CPP apparatchik. That former secretary was a doughnut baker in the U. S., a great qualification for a Secretary to the U.N., isn’t? And just as great a qualification for life back in Cambodia. He is now near destitute and carves out a meager living with odd jobs. And what about Sam Rainsy? After all, isn’t he a returnee who failed as well? They all thought their Western thinking destined them for higher stations in Khmer society, but for the most part failed miserably, with one notable exception – Kith Ming. This brash young man made millions, if not billions, with his bravado, intellect, and by doing his homework, not the least of which was to ingratiate himself with the ruling party.

On the economic front the news wasn’t all too bright. The government finally realized that the impact would not bypass Cambodia after all and revised their growth prognostication to 4.9% for 2009.

The real estate business has come to a full stop, at least on the surface. Officials and real-estate brokers estimate that the slump will last well into 2010 now and then return to normal. What do they mean by normal? The market was not normal in its overheated phase before June / July. So if they expect to return to prices of that time, I am afraid, they need to do a little homework in economics. Prices were and in some places still are at a ridiculous level. Prime properties are still more expensive in Phnom Penh than in parts of New York City, and I don’t mean Manhattan. I would think returning to normal would mean prices that are in relation to the value as measured by the possible return on investment gained from that property. If an investor ponies over $4000 to $8000 per square meter, how much rent can he expect to derive from a 4- or 5-story building, or even a 40-story building, for which the construction cost is proportionally higher? There just aren’t that many renters or buyers around in Cambodia yet that can afford luxury office space. It’s the same for condos. Who will pay between $100,000 and $500,000 for condos, and I don’t even want to mention the $1 million ones? Those are the prices paid in Miami Beach right now – and you have a much better infrastructure there. In short, people have their sights set too high for Phnom Penh. They need to get real and stop talking about normalization when they don’t know what normal is.

Officials also keep talking that agriculture can counter the downturn in the affected garment, tourism, and real estate/construction industry. How that should work still eludes me. Here is an interesting article about that.

The Commerce Minister said the economic downturn has not severely impacted Cambodian trade? Where does he live?

He said, "The speed of economic growth will be lower, but if there are efforts to produce goods that meet market demand and to tailor agricultural output for the market, I believe that growth will not be much lower - at least nine percent." That statement reaches intellectual heights I can’t reach - that’s probably why I can’t understand it. Just a day before the government revised it’s projection, remember?

He said the agricultural sector could be a major source of growth through the establishment of a trade surplus. Well, according to the article above there is a surplus already. Most of the exports were garments, so for agriproducts to take up the slack will be a long way to go.

"The crisis has not severely impacted foreign trade. Trade with Vietnam and Thailand is still on the rise, and we expect that Cambodia's imports and exports will increase this year," Mao Thora said (secretary of state at the Commerce Ministry).

Hey guys, palm oil is down, cashew nuts are down, cassava is down, rubber is down, Vietnam slowed down buying considerably, Thailand trade was disrupted severely because of their crisis, and you are talking about business is great? As long as Cambodia has officials like these one can only hope that free market forces, meaning the private business sector, will adjust market properties according to reality.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Double Standards

Critics of the government invariably point to the rampant and endemic corruption in Cambodia as the biggest road block to further and faster development of the country.

Two recent events served to bolster the critics’ point. The announcement of almost $ 1 billion in foreign aid to Cambodia brought out indignation and outrage at the failure of the government to manage this aid wisely for the benefit of the people, citing the crawling progress for the passage of the anti-corruption legislation which has been going through the committees for over 10 years, is it? Government officials are said to line their own pockets with that aid money. On the other hand those critics also deplore the failure of the donor nations for exercising oversight over the spending of their money.

The other event was the deliberation of the 2009 national budget totaling $1.88 billion, with roughly $125 million set aside for the military, and a total of roughly $250 million for security, including military, police, and other law enforcement agencies. The opposition, and most notably the Khmer Diaspora, was vociferous in their condemnation of the initially projected increase of the military budget to $500 million. The government had given the explanation that the recent spat with Thailand necessitated this increase. After intervention from the donor nations, the World Bank, etc., the government backed off. Of course, the opposition again saw a large part of that budget disappearing in the pockets of government officials.

It is rather moot to go over all these allegations and accusations here. But what is striking in these discussions and accusations is the self-righteousness with which these critics and self-appointed guardians of civil liberties condemn a government, while at the same time clearly benefiting in various forms from that same situation; e. g. those NGOs receive good money for their studies through grants and donations, which in turn are partially spent on a very nice lifestyle in this country, the likes of which normal Cambodian people can only marvel at. If it were not for countries like Cambodia many of these NGOs would not even exist. This is not to say that anyone would support systems that exploit their own people that mismanage funds targeted for the development but end up in unnecessary pet projects of politicians. But let’s face it, many an NGO just thrives on the plight of other people. Instead of endlessly criticizing governments it would stand them in good stead to work constructively, like the NGOs you never hear from, with the government to root out the causes of corruption and mismanagement.

That self-righteousness also fails to take into account the many scandals in the countries that the NGOs and their members and employees hail from, such as the U. S., the UK, Germany, France, Japan, etc. Those scandals in many instances dwarf in dimension and moral decrepitude what is going on Cambodia. Again, no one endorses the greed, the corruption, the impunity with which those acts in Cambodia are perpetrated, but sometimes one needs to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective to attain a more objective view that can lead to better understanding and in the end a better means of assisting the country.

If you look at the latest scandal in U. S. politics where the governor of Illinois tried to sell the vacated Senate seat of Barack Obama, where a lot of back-room dealing is routinely considered a normal feature of politics, including the awarding of lucrative jobs for campaign contributions, or outright bribes, you cannot help but wonder if the so-called beacon of democracy is so permeated by corruption how people with a less educated and less experienced leadership can be expected to be exemplary in their exercise of power. The list of convicted public office holders and their crimes is as long as it is varied, ranging from corruption, misappropriation of funds, outright theft, to sexual escapades, to bid-rigging for public projects. The previous governor of Illinois is serving a jail term for bribery. The governor of New York had to step down because he liked to spend time with high-priced call girls ($5,000 and more). The governor of New Jersey led a double-life. Being married with two children he kept a male lover on the side. Informed people know that the outgoing Vice President’s previous employer Haliburton benefited immensely from multi-billion-dollar governments contracts, including the supply of U. S. troops in Iraq. The longest-serving senator (from Alaska) was indicted and convicted of bribery. And so on, and so on - the list is endless. To anyone who is interested a Google search will provide lots of cases of Western misconduct in office.

Disenfranchisement of voters? How about the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans who are still hindered from voting in many states in the U.S.? Let’s not even talk about the neighbor on the West of Cambodia.

And people talk about Cambodia like it is the worst place on earth? They are wont to bring up the poverty of this country as a reason why the misconduct here is so much more damnable. To all those who are so zealous in their condemnations, go to the U. S. and look at the poor people there and see what those misappropriated funds could have done to help get them health care and insurance, for instance. A full 15% of the entire U. S. population lives below the povery level. You know how many people that is? 45 million people are poor in this “greatest country on earth”. And what about the greed of those money-managers who managed to bring down the world economy? Yes, it sounds simple, but that’s what in essence it was. Nobody raises hell, quite the contrary the elected officials rush to help those who brought this crisis on in the first place. And look how well-versed the U. S. Treasury Department is in awarding and distributing the bail-out money. Experts say about half of this was spent without oversight and just thrown at the culprits who provoked the crisis. And here we have people complaining about the Cambodian government?

This all too common application of a double standard is as shameful as the act of shame itself. One would wish that all those pundits would occasionally see the world as it is and not just take one country as an example of how bad things are there. They ought to point to the good things that have been done and achieved as a sign of encouragement for more of the same.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sam Rainsy's Platitudes

People who have been following this blog know by now that this is one of my pet subjects. Sam Rainsy has spoken again. He gave an interview to the Phnom Penh Post, which I am including here with my comments (in red).

As a former finance minister, what would you do to address the financial crisis if you were in the same position now?
Even before the financial crisis, I would have done things differently. Regarding agriculture, I would protect ownership for farmers of the land they live on, I am against these megaprojects that are creating farms with tens of thousands of hectares.

This is nonsense. It makes farmers landless and turns them into labourers.

I don't think this is the right approach. We need to protect the land owned by farmers and provide them with the inputs they need to improve productivity....

The current government has granted 99-year leases for companies in what they call the agri-business - I think this approach is totally wrong.

So what would those inputs be? Farmers keeping their land alone won’t solve the problem facing the agricultural sector. Besides, prices for agri-products have plummeted along with the all the other commodities.

Second, regarding non-agricultural sectors, we need to diversify.

There is the garment industry, which is the foundation of the economy. So we have to promote and encourage foreign direct investment in a more appropriate way by combatting corruption.
Investors are complaining about corruption and they are going to other countries.

So you think investors are now turning to Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia? Even though the corruption index for Cambodia is higher than in any of those countries, one needs to take a second look at what the index comprises. A lot of the corruption in Cambodia is petty, e. g. tea money for speeding things up, which in its pervasiveness distorts the picture. And where do most of the investors come from? South Korea, China, Taiwan. Those investors have problems of their own right now. This is why they put things on hold. Corruption didn’t keep them from coming to Cambodia in the past, did it? (Not that I am in support of corruption.)

So we have to attract legitimate investors ... but also high-quality investors with technical expertise, and that will diversify industries.

Can you tell us for once what you are thinking of?

How seriously do you expect the crisis to affect Cambodia?
More, much more than the current government says. They maybe don't realise what is going on.

Are you saying that you don't believe the government's current growth forecasts?
I think we will see less investors with this crisis. We will be left with destitute farmers, and the country is less than self-sufficient.

And with a weak agricultural sector, you can't expect the country to grow.

First you say we need to innovate agriculture, but you don’t tell us how. So the agricultural sector is weak, but if it were stronger the crisis would still be there.

But let's look at the three sectors driving the Cambodian economy: textiles, construction and tourism.

These sectors are going to be hurt by the economic crisis, and more severely than the current government can understand and realise.

They say that we can hold out, but they don't realise the implications of the current crisis.

Look at textiles. Competition will increase and profits will drop as people cut their spending worldwide.

And competition from countries like Vietnam and China will increase. We are facing tough times and already factories are closing.

Believe it or not, these countries face the exact same problems as Cambodia, and not only in the garment sector.

Look at Tak Fat [garment company] in Hong Kong - they went bankrupt.

Do you read the newspapers at all? Didn’t you read that thousands of factories in China are closing or cutting down production?

In Cambodia there is half capacity, and some people having trouble in Hong Kong are coming to Cambodia to hide - the shareholders being cheated and assets are being transferred. So this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What does that have to do with the price of fish, meaning with Cambodia?

Second, in terms of construction, many projects have been stopped or put on hold. Many big investors from Korea have moved out - look at the drop in property prices - this is an indication that the crisis is serious and will take a long time to heal. When these projects started construction a few months ago, they expected that their commercial centres would be rented - but now these prospects have to be revised. They can't continue at the same pace and projections have been revised down.

What you don’t seem to realize is that this crisis was not foreseen by anybody, not the U. S. where it all started, not in the EU, nor did any economist ever predict a slump like this, not in their wildest nightmares.

We already know that tourism is being affected by the crisis - tourism is going down and the Thailand crisis is making it worse.

So, the three engines of the Cambodian economy are in trouble....

I think that, on the whole, there will be a serious economic slowdown. People will lose their jobs, incomes will drop, and because of monopolies, prices will remain high. In a recession, normally prices drop, but because of corruption and monopolies, prices will remain high....

Where do you live? Prices in Cambodia have come down, be it gasoline at KHR 3700, or steel, or bricks, food prices, etc. It’s just not true.

Countries need to be prepared, but Cambodia's foundations are weak, we will suffer more than the government says.

Does the government deserve credit for the strong growth seen over the past few years?
The figures for economic growth are misleading.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the growth we have seen is not sustainable, it is rather artificial.

That applies to most economies. Cambodia had, and still has, a lot of catching-up to do. So it is only normal that initial phases will produce extraordinary growth. If it had not been for this world, repeat world, financial crisis, the growth rate would have continued along the 7% originally predicted, which was scaled down to 3%. European countries would be happy if they had that.

Second, it was not equitable - the quality of growth is poor. The figures being put forward are misleading because the majority of people remain poor, and the growth has benefitted a small group of people.

Correct, but as any economist will point out, underdeveloped countries never develop from the bottom up. They develop from the top down. It is an economic law.

Of course, there is a trickle-down effect, but is has been slow. If you go to the countryside, the vast majority remain poor ... these are the ingredients for instability...

Correct again, except for instability. This country will not take measures to upset the small progress it has made.

What is happening is not sustainable - cutting the forests, overfishing and exploiting resources.

I could probably double the growth rate if I over-exploit the resources in a small period of time. But you jeopardise the prospects for the country.

What political implications would a deeper economic crisis have for Cambodia?
They would be very serious. As I told you, this growth is not sustainable and this will have social implications.

Public discontent will increase and people that have lost their land, lost their homes, lost their livelihoods - they become desperate....

You can crack down on it, but don't forget that the Khmer Rouge started in similar circumstances.

Now people are educated and they understand the cause of their misery.

So you are implying social unrest like in Thailand? One can only hope you are not encouraging this, though one is reminded of your call to people power, which you actually wanted to organize with failed demonstrations after the elections, or your May parades.

What should the government be doing to prevent the crisis from seriously impacting the local economy?
First, the current budget is out of date - it needs to be updated. We need to meet with experts and other interested persons to set a strategy for the crisis - we should not keep this budget that was developed before the crisis unfolded - it is outdated. You have countries that are even better off than us that are implementing plans to support the economy, to protect jobs and increase spending in a responsible manner.

A budget is a budget, that is to say it is a plan. Wait a few months and see what happens.

If the situation is as bad as you say, why hasn't that translated into stronger support for the opposition?
The situation has gotten worse since the election, but people are starting to feel the pinch. In terms of the election, there was massive electoral fraud. In countries like the US, the elections reflect the will of the people, and as a result, when a party wins the election, there is an outpouring of joy, but here, there was no celebration in Cambodia. The people remained sad and depressed ... the majority of the population has been deprived of their voting rights.

Dear Sam Rainsy, don’t use the 2008 elections in the U. S. as an example. Use the 2000 and 2004 elections. Half the population was shocked to see GWB win. In Europe nobody outside the winning party really celebrates, let alone an outpouring of joy. And to be honest, I don’t see a whole lot of sad and depressed people. They can still laugh and have a good time. They can make do with less as they have for a long time. Don’t paint such a dreary picture. Politicians should instill confidence and faith in the furture in the population.

Summing up, one can only come to the same conclusions that I have voiced in the past. Sam Rainsy is the wrong person for the job. The opposition’s role is not to oppose for the sake of opposition, it is to present a clear alternative to the party in power. This is what the SRP has so far failed to do. They have not formulated a detailed program of how to expand agriculture, how to attract more foreign investment that actually creates new jobs, how to reform the educational system, etc. Apart from generalities and platitudes nothing concrete has been forthcoming. Sam Rainsy has preached the same sermon for the last 10 years. His rhetoric exhausts itself with blasting the government and its endemic corruption. And when it came to making a firm stand because of the alleged election fraud he buckled down at the last minute to take his seat in the Assembly. This is not the leadership his supporters want and can look up to.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Recent News

The good news today, of course, was that the Thai crisis is at a preliminary end – preliminary as the PAD vowed to return if Thaksin ‘nominees’ come back to form the government. At the same time the former PPP members said they will regroup under a different name. 57 executives were banned from politics for 5 years. Let’s wait what the King has to say on Friday or whether he will stay silent on these matters as before. An important factor in the Thai court’s decision was that no new elections need to be held, only by-elections for the seats vacated by the court’s decision. The successor party will most likely still hold a majority with its junior coalition partners. Will that signify the return of the PAD? If yes, then there can be no doubt that these people – and despite their name they are anti-democratic to begin with – are out to ruin their own country.

I heard that all mail sent with the regular Cambodian postal services have been suspended as it was all routed through Bangkok. There is a huge backlog, I would guess.

The impact on the tourist sector will hopefully lessen after Dec. 15, when Bangkok’s international airport reopens. According to the Ministry of Tourism 30% of all arrivals come via Bangkok.

On another note, the oftentimes somewhat irrational and erratic Prince Thomico gave an interview to the Phnom Penh Post, in which he stated that he thinks the money spent on the KRT is wasted. The invites the deeper question whether or not the surviving leaders of that regime should be brought to justice at all? Thomico says that except for Duch they will all most likely die in prison. He indicates the tribunal is just a way of the West cleansing their conscience as they surely looked the other way in 1977 when they knew full well what was going on in Cambodia, just as they are doing nothing to alleviate the situation in Darfur now. Well, he certainly has a point there, doesn’t he?
The KRT is reminiscent of the Nuremburg trials after WWII. By that reasoning the KRT is justified and the money spent comes from mostly Western donors anyway. The problem is its handling of those trials. After two years in the making one would think they would at least have started on all of them, regardless of illness. For most of its participants, it’s again a nice way of securing a cushy job, isn’t it? So there is no interest in speeding things up, is there? At least that is an impression one might gain from the snail’s pace, at which things are happening, and from the allegations of corruption and overspending.
One interesting snippet was that dear old Thomico, whom I once met personally for a business discussion, was an ultra-leftist in Paris. What he also left out was a better explanation why Sihanouk allied himself with the Khmer Rouge in 1982, also knowing full well what had occurred from 1975 – 1979. The end justifies the means?