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.

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