Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Price We All Pay By Being Obedient

The faces of the weak and poor people of Cambodia

"We must become the change we wish to see in the world"
Mahatma Gandhi

Let’s be truthful and blunt. Cambodia is not at all like any other countries with the rule of laws. Whatever the powerful leaders and rich people want to do, they just do. We can see and feel this is everywhere. However, civil disobedience is not our real problem. Our real problem is civil obedience.

Our problem is that the majority of Cambodians has obeyed the dictates of the powerful have suffered endlessly from injustice, inequality, corruption, nepotism, incompetence, and poor governance, and many have been victims or even killed because of this obedience. We also know too well that it is dangerous to be right when the big government is wrong.

Our problem is Cambodians are obedient in the face of abuses of human rights –including inadequate housing, health care, education, as well as land grabbing, poverty, hunger, starvation, and cruelty. The right to earn one’s bowl of rice, to get decent healthcare when sick and to be able to send one’s children to school have been deteriorated. With the current law enforcement of the present administration, it is a “crime” to be weak and poor. Life is cheap for the powerless. The real bias is that the powerful and rich people are above the laws.

More and more common people complain bitterly about official inefficiency, extreme corruption, poor governance and brutality. Most government officials included law enforcement officers, military police, traffic control police, custom officers, teachers, administrators, judges, and people’ representatives often don’t dare to apply and enforce the laws against their big bosses and those with power and rich people. They only fine and punish those poor people they know they can fine and punish. The courts only protect the rich and powerful people. Yet, they all know the state law well. They all know what need to be done. They all know the widespread briberies. Why would they fight abusive powerful leaders and the rich people as well? The reality is they are all obedient because it is safer to accept the incompetence, corruption and poor governance. They are fearful of repercussions, retaliation, recrimination and reprisal for speaking and acting out on the impunity and dishonesty enjoyed by those powerful and wealthy people who perpetually create lawless environment all over Cambodia.

There are many well known and well-documented cases of human rights abused, poor governance, and abusive incidents such as forced evictions, deforestation, large land concessions, degrading comments, extreme corruption at all levels. Just look around, witness, and experience it for yourself or simply ask any citizen, pick up and read any newspapers headlines or any official reports from the donor countries. Powerful leaders amass enormous fortunes; while leaving the country’ schools, hospitals, government buildings and other important infrastructures falling. The culture of fear, violence, impunity and injustice must be broken and eliminated. The government can do more and better to end the abuses suffered by the weak, poor and powerless by applying the rule of laws to all and paying more attention on social services for housing, health, food and education. Chances for better governance remain dim for the future of all Cambodians if we continue to be obedient to the dictatorship. It is not a criticism of the government, just the simple truth.

We all know economic growth has been the key to reducing poverty and improving livelihoods. We have built roads, bridges, irrigations, new council ministers building, and created laws. Recent data showed that Cambodia has made remarkable progress in several areas: garments, tourism and construction. We see a lot of progress and development, but we are also very aware that a lot of people are missing out – the appalling disparities of education, health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of Cambodian to live in despair. It is not just about buildings, but also building capacity and helping level the playing field.

The path to sustainable economic growth is lost to most of us if the culture of impunity and injustice persists because of our obedience to those powerful leaders and rich people who consistently and persistently abuse the laws for their personal benefits and greed. We all can see the unsustainable use of natural resources has depleted the national asset. The current growth has left most of the poor Cambodians with fewer assets. It affects small farmers by limiting land access. The lack of honesty, transparency and accountability by the powerful leaders continue to happen. The top leaders fail badly to lead by examples. They endlessly make great obstacles to all of us to comply with the rules of laws. For example, they continuously allocate large controversial land concessions to well-connected local and foreign firms. Corruption, greed, nepotism and power are the root cause of this culture of fear, and injustice. Uneven implementation and unequal treatment of the weal and poor will undermine the country’s intention to build a free and just society.

Our problem is we have laws in place but there is no practical enforcement, commitment, and a glaring lack of political will. Our problem is that people all over Cambodia are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. We have nothing to fight back. We only have ten fingers to pray for help. We all become prisoners in our mind and tolerant of the abusive and powerful tyrants. That’s our real problem.

"The time is always right to do what is right"
 said Martin Luther King, Jr.
(1929-1968). What we need is change; the change from inside. We need to do the simple things that bring people hope back. We need to be brave, speak up, tell the truth and act responsibly. We need to sacrifice, and stand up for our fundamental rights: freedom of expressions to bring equal justice for all. We all need to follow the rules of law and the constitution. We need to defend the real victims; the weak, the poor, and the powerless. We want to bring back the long forgotten tradition of peaceful and harmonious living; the values upon which Cambodia’s prosperity depends – including hard work, honesty, accountability, transparency, courage, and fair play.

“Once” is the beginning of all things. We can take this one quandary in our own hands. Being obedient is about real justice, legality, equality, and freedom of expressions for all. All successes, great and small, whether in temporal and daily affairs, derives from our courage to speak up and stand up for the truth. So never neglect even the slightest positive deed. Just do it for the benefit of all of us. People such as Mu Sochua (an elected member of parliament and a tireless advocate for women’s rights and the victims of social injustice) and her courageous lawyer Kong Sam Onn, and many others who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all have accomplished most of the important things in Cambodia. We all can bring the change we wish to see in Cambodia for our children and future generation sake.

Whenever we are in doubt just recall and look deep into the face of the weak, poor and powerless person we may have seen and ask ourselves if the steps we contemplate are going to be any use to them. We all must keep in mind:

One voice can speak with wisdom.
One heart can know what is true.
One life can make the difference.
One vote can change a nation.
It is up to all of us!