Friday, December 6, 2013

Corruption in Cambodia

Corruption in Cambodia

I am sure all of us are aware that the latest Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International's 2013 scored Cambodia at 20 points, which "0" means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and "100" means it is perceived as very clean.   This index translates that our country takes the honor of being named the "highly corrupt country."  In fact, Cambodia was ranked 160 out of 175 listed countries in 2013 a fall from three places from its 2012 ranking of 157 (  Regionally speaking, we are the worst among ASEAN Ten Member States. Once again, we are on the map for becoming famous as one of the most corrupt country in the world.  

So what happens here?  We don't need a rocket scientist to explain this.  Just look around us everyday, our country is engrained with corruption and political patronage (see my article:  Corruption has become a cancer in Cambodian society. It is widespread everywhere and at all levels, in schools, courts, hospitals, public and private services,.. "The big eats big, the small eats small."  Weak institutions, governance, poor business climate (lack of partiality and predictability), poverty, class inequality, injustice and immorality are some the breeding ground for corruption.  Too many people across the country are still living in extreme poverty and the economic growth is not inclusive.

So what is the solution? Let’s be truthful and blunt.  In Cambodia, the most common cause of corruption is believed to be a combination of enormous discretion and low accountability.  There comes a time when we have to accept that the system is not working despite the passage of anti-corruption law in 2010 and a special unit to deal with this problem.   The government has promised repeatedly to stamp out corruption but the report shows that all the pledges are not back up by effective actions.  Concrete actions are needed more than words of wisdom and empty promises to tackle this contagious vice. Strengthening good governance and applying rule of law in leadership and state governance as well as maintaining integrity and providing justice are the remedy to fight corruption.  Giving ALL civil servants a living wage will improve their corrupt behavior and preventing them from taking bribes. The prosperity in Cambodia must be inclusive by providing opportunities for all and not only to the well-connected officials and elites.  Developing public awareness and providing quality education will also help improve the value of honesty and personal integrity.  Gandhi offers a solution as well, "Be the change you wish to see in the world (Cambodia)."

To move forward, I would like to end by quoting Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, " It is time to stop those who get away with acts of corruption. The legal loopholes and lack of political will in government facilitate both domestic and cross-border corruption, and call for our intensified efforts to combat the impunity of the corrupt.”

Let's hope that Cambodia will do better next year with another promise made by our Prime Minister Hun Sen to eliminate corruption (Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech on September 2013) by carrying out the deep institutional reforms.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The 2013 Election in Cambodia

Election 2013 Pictures

The 2013 Election in Cambodia: The Battle between the ruling party CPP (Cambodia People Party) and the opposition party CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party, a Cambodian electoral alliance between Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party founded on 17 July 2012 )
Chronological Event Leading to the announcement of the Final Result by the National Election Committee of Cambodia

On 28th July 2013, I went to vote to fulfill my duty as a citizen of Cambodia.  In my designated Koh Kel commune, the result was very clear CNRP won handsomely over CPP.  In my voting room number 1267, CNRP received 351 votes, while CPP had only 51 votes and other six parties (Funcinpec, League for Democracy Party, Cambodian Nationality Party, Khmer Anti-Poverty Party, Khmer Economic Development Party, and Democratic Republican Party) got a combined of 9 votes. This is my personal recollection of a chronological event leading to the release of the final result announced by NEC on 8th September 2013.  To compile this examination, I used my personal observation and many outside sources namely the local newspapers (The Cambodia Daily, Phnom Penh Post,...) and other national and international articles.

Introduction: After the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge regime, and the signing 1991 Paris Agreements, the first election in Cambodia was held in May 1993 and drew a big turnout of just under 90%. The official result of the 1993 election was the opposition royalist Funcinpec party won 58 seats, the opposition Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) 10 seats, and the opposition Molinaka party 1 seat and The CPP won 51 seats.  The CPP was shocked as they lost to Funcinpec.  Hun Sen and his party strongly rejected the result and protested irregularities to UNTAC.   They also threatened secession of the eastern provinces.  King Sihanouk intervened by appointing Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen as the world first co-prime ministers on 24 September 1993.   The CPP controlled the armed forces, police, courts and National Assembly leaving the winning party Funcinpec only in name.  In the July 1998 election, the official results gave the CPP 64 seats, Funcinpec 43 seats, the new Sam Rainsy Party 15, giving the CPP a slim 64-58 majority in parliament.  The opposition staged massive, peaceful demonstrations and a large protest. Hun Sen send security forces into Democracy Park in Phnom Penh to violently disperse protesters.  With the pressure from the US, Prince Ranariddh in November 1998 again had to make a deal to form a new coalition government, this time with Funcinpec as a junior partner. In government, Funcinpec had no effective power, as all decisions were taken by Hun Sen and the CPP. Prince Ranariddh was made president of the National Assembly, and both Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party were given places on parliamentary committees and remained in opposition.  But neither Prince Ranariddh nor opposition members of parliament (MPs) had any power to overcome CPP objections and move legislation through parliament or to hold the executive branch accountable.  The 2003 election yielded the CPP 73 seats, Funcinpec 26 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party 24 seats. The opposition refused to vote in a new government, as the two/thirds rule applied, until the CPP agreed to a broad package of fundamental reforms to make Cambodia’s political and electoral system more democratic.  It held out once again for 11 months before Funcinpec gave in and agreed to a 60-40 division of ministerial positions and a much more limited reform agenda. In the 2008 elections, the CPP, which had total control of National Election Committee, state media and state coffers, won 90 seats, while the SRP won 26 seats, Human Rights Party 3 seats, Funcinpec 2 seats, and Norodom Ranarridh 2 seats. Hun Sen and the CPP were able to quickly form a government in 2008, this time without opposition participation after the CPP super-majority in the National Assembly had amended the constitution to require only a simple majority vote of members of parliament to form a government in 2006.   The EU officially observed the election and concluded that it did not meet international standards.  From 2008-2013, in the National Assembly the CPP booted opposition members off committees and limited their ability to raise issues or engage in debates.  The question remains: Will the 28th July 2013 elections be any different?  Will this election be free and just? Will the CPP still dominate the Cambodian politics? Do the Cambodian people want change or status quo? Here are the chronological events of the 2013 election leading to the final result:

28th July 2013: around 5:30pm, Sam Rainsy from the opposition party CNRP announced that his party won the election.  He later retracted the result due to unknown reasons.  Khieu Kanharith, Minister of Information, announced preliminary results at around 7:30pm in Facebook claiming the CPP won 68 (3.2 million votes) and CNRP 55 (2.9 million votes).  Voters turnout this year is 68.49% (6,627,159 valid votes out of 9,675,453 registered votes).  The preliminary result of this election showed that a good number of the Cambodian people are extremely frustrated and dissatisfied with the ruling party and the existing order.  They believe that the society is so corrupted and needs a fundamental change. The ruling party CPP cannot force views on its members and the general population and needs a major reform.
29th July 2013: Sam Rainsy claimed massive electoral fraud, rejected the results of Sunday’s election and called for an independent investigation consisting of members of opposition and CPP as well the U.N., representatives of foreign governments and NGOs.  He told local and international journalists and the audience at CNRP head office, “In one word, we don’t accept the election results.”  Transparency International and the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) have both reported observing widespread voting irregularities on Sunday.
30th July 2013: the ruling party CPP and the opposition CNRP have each claimed victory.  CPP said they won 68, while CNRP claimed they won a minimum of 63.  NEC will issue official preliminary result on 12 August 2013. 
31st July 2013: after spending several days in seclusion in his first public appearance, Prime Minister Hun Sen said his ruling party will participate in an investigation into alleged fraud and irregularities during Sunday’s election with a conciliatory tone.  He also spoke of a separate committee to negotiate with the opposition on the make up of a new National Assembly comprised of Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Acting Senate President Say Chhum, and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.  The US state department called for a “credible” investigation into allegations and irregularities.  On the other front, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged all countries not to back the opposition party CNRP in response to the US State Department ‘s, EU, and Japan call for an investigation into election’s day alleged fraud and irregularities.  China and Hungary are the only two countries to expressly endorse the elections as free, fair, and transparent.
1st August 2013: NEC rejected joint party vote investigation into alleged frauds and irregularities.  CNRP seeks to conduct an investigation outside NEC and called for an independent investigation in to the election. 
2nd August 2013: Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that if opposition CNRP newly elected members fail to take their seat in Parliament before the end of 60-day deadline for the formation of a new government, those seats would be given to the CPP based on NEC regulations.  His interpretation of the constitution has been widely challenged.
3rd August 2013: The UN released a statement stating that Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the peaceful conduct of the election but supported an investigation into alleged irregularities.  Philip Sen, a spokesman for the UN’s mission in Cambodia said that the UN had yet to receive a request from either party to participate as a member or observer in any investigation into election irregularities.  NEC hosted a representative from CPP and CNRP to discuss the creation of a committee to investigate irregularities.
9th August 2013: representative from the CPP and CNRP met to discuss the formation of the joint committee and failed to come to an agreement over what the group would lead the investigation.  CPP wanted a joint committee that included NEC, while CRNP proposed an observer from the United Nations and the presence of International NGOs.  Neither party came to the table in a spirit of compromise, only with demands for other party to yield.  The army moved at least six canon-mounted armored personnel carriers into the city to control the political tension.
12 August 2013: in the midst of talk between CPP and CNRP, NEC announced official preliminary election results that supported Information Minister Khieu Kanharith’s claim of CPP victory (CPP: 68, CNRP: 55).  CNRP was still committed to finding a political resolution.
20 August 2013: representative from the CPP and CNRP met again to discuss the formation of the joint committee and failed again to come to an agreement over what the group would lead the investigation.  CPP objected to any foreign involvement, while CRNP didn’t want NEC to be part of the investigation committee.  So far, only a handful of countries have endorsed the preliminary results of the election results released by the NEC. Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, China, Hungary, and Belarus are the only countries to have officially recognized the CPP’s victory.  US and Australian diplomats in Phnom-Penh renewed their request for an investigation to election irregularities.
21 August 2013: Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi congratulated the victory of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
25th August 2013: more than 20000 people attended CNRP rally at Freedom Park to listen to party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha to report election related developments to the voters, and to listen to their thoughts about the next course of actions as well.  I was at the rally.  I attended 3 other rallies two in Kandal province and the other in Kien Say district.  The opposition party still holds firm on their demand for justice by launching an unbiased investigation into the contentious election results.
28th August 2013: CNRP announced that it will hold a mass demonstration on 7th September 2013 against the preliminary result one day before final results are expected to be released by the Constitutional Council of Cambodia.  The government sent a letter to foreign embassies and local and international NGOs to warn them about a coup by the opposition party to illegally overthrow the elected CPP-led government.  By employing troops throughout the capital city and tanks, CPP has used  threat as a legitimate political strategy to scare the population and the street protestors.
1st and 4th September 2013: CRNP rehearsed non-violent and peaceful protest for 7th September 2013 showdown, while CPP gave a special training to 2000 anti riot police on how to handle mass demonstration.  CNRP switched from calls for protest to calls for peace and prayer.
6th September 2013: The Situation Room, a conglomerate of 21 NGOs and election monitors established to oversee the July 28 poll, found serious problems preceding and during the election. More than 10,000 cases of voting irregularities were found across the nation but were especially alarmed by reports from Kandal province, where Prime Minister Hun Sen was the CPP’s No. 1 candidate for a seat in the National Assembly.  “The entire election process was neither free and fair.  The election results do not fully reflect the will of the voters,” stated the joint statement.  The Constitutional Council rejected all the complaints related to the irregularities during the 28 July national election.  The National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council of Cambodia are not considered neutral.   Both have strong ties to the ruling CPP.
7th September 2013: more than 40000 people  (based on my observation) attended the massive demonstration at Freedom Park to contest the election’s result tarnished with voting irregularities and frauds.  The opposition party used this event as a direct democracy to make calls for change – the urgent need to remove the CPP from power.  “Our forest is destroyed and other natural resources are destroyed.  We should come together in solidarity to help our mother (country),” said Sam Rainsy to the crowd.  There were ten of thousands security personnel deployed and riot police officers in and around Phnom-Penh to maintain order and treat people from coming.
8th September 2013: the National Election Committee released the final and official 2013 election result, which confirmed a win by the ruling party awarded CPP with parliamentary 68 and 55 to CNRP.  From the government view, this announcement shut the door for the talk of an impartial investigation into the election’ irregularities.   But CNRP rejected the fabricated outcome and will continue to protest to demand an independent investigation of the 28 July vote.

Final Reflection:  The '8 September 2013' date was a sad day for democracy and the people of Cambodia to hear and bear this unjust result.  The election result definitely didn't reflect the will of the voters based on my observation and the majority of the people.  I foresee many daunting challenges ahead for both parties, especially the ruling party.  CPP needs to change their style of governing to run the country.  Most of the people of Cambodia don't trust them anymore.  Good cannot come from force.    On the other hand, CNRP will have to fight harder and smarter to get what the people want and demand - free and fair election, justice, rule of law, quality education, jobs, livable wages, equal treatment and opportunity,...  With the strong support of the mass, CNRP has to be creative to play the right card by engaging everybody in the fight for justice and truth that include  the people from the ruling party.   CNRP must bring not just hope but also faith to the mass.  The question now is how the international community reacts to this official announcement especially the US, EU, Australia, and Japan.  History has taught us that only the mass can overthrow a totalitarian regime. We will see in the next massive demonstrations how much the leaders of the opposition party leaders and our people are willing to sacrifice for this change.  I have noticed that a good number of the nation’s youth rejected the values of their parents (status quo).  They want fundamental change.  They want social justice, good education, jobs, living wage, rule of law, and equal opportunity and equality.  In general, most of the poor and vulnerable people in Cambodia are very frustrated and extremely dissatisfied with the existing order.  They propose to change the present system because they believe that the society is so corrupt and only CNRP can help them defeat and end this status quo.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cambodia Real Situation

The Faces of Poverty in Phnom Krom, Siem Reap

Cambodia Real Situation
“When people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

 For almost a decade, Cambodia has achieved a remarkable economic growth of almost 10 percent per year.  After the global economic crisis in 2008 to 2009, Cambodia’s gross domestic product (GDP) reached a four-year high of 7.2 percent in 2012, driven mainly by strong consumption, tourism, agriculture, and higher inflows of direct investment (Asian Development Bank).  The outlook for 2013 is forecast at 7.2 percent and picking up to 7.5 percent next year as recovery in Europe and the US takes hold.  In light of this commendable growth and development, poverty persists, inequality widens, corruption remains pervasive and the rule of law is rather an empty content.
The ultimate objective of any meaningful development is to raise the standard of living of the people and end poverty and inequality. For ordinary Cambodians, this high growth has brought hope and a sense of optimism.  While the government promises inclusive growth, the benefits have not been evenly distributed and widening inequalities of wealth distribution are sweeping which has resulted in sizeable disparities between the rich and the poor, and between urban and rural areas.  According to the report from the UN Capital fund in 2010 on local development, 3.7 million people were estimated to live below the poverty threshold, including 92 percent of the poor residing in the countryside of which only 10 percent own a title to their land. The controversial enactment of land-titling program initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen from June 2012 through May 2013 claimed to have distributed more than 125,000 land titles to the countryside people (The Cambodia Daily, June 14, 2013).  Turning Cambodia’s sense of hope and optimism into better tangible results, like establishing clear policies on local rural development program with a more equal model of growth that aim to broaden access to quality education, health care services, land rights, infrastructure and irrigation, are among the most significant challenges facing Cambodia today.   
In Cambodia, too many leaders and most influential government officials remain unaccountable to the people.  The love of power, extreme corruption at all levels, money, and selfish deeds are the root of all evils.  Top leaders are overly obsessed with how they “look” and undervalue how poor people live and feel. They solve one problem only to create countless others for example by giving land concessions to potential investors for the sake of development, the local people suffer. They live their life based on what they want as opposed to what they can do to help the vulnerable.  Freedom is often misnamed permission: the license of a wealthy figure to pursue his own interests regardless of consequences. They put an overemphasis on getting an immediate remedy, instant gratification while they ignore the problems that got them there in the first place.

The fact that the Cambodian people have courts doesn’t necessarily mean they have justice and egalitarian law.  The fact that Cambodia has a functioning government doesn’t automatically mean people have real democracy, especially in regards to freedom of expression and the freedom to gather.   The fact that in Cambodia “what powerful people say will be typically right, and what small people say will be typically wrong” is real.  In Cambodia, it is typical for the high-ranking government officials to use their power to punish political opponents and secure impunity for political allies. 

For instance, Mam Sonando, owner of independent Behive radio station, was arrested on 15 July 2012 for alleged insurrection, a so-called a secessionist movement in Broma village, Kratie province.  He was charged and accused of aiding a separatist movement by the prime minister in his speech on June 26, 2012.  According to Amnesty International and right groups and media watchdogs, his arrest was politically motivated and fabricated by the government for a violent eviction of hundreds of families at Kratie’s Broma village, in which a 14-year old was shot to death.  People can see that when the powerful leader decides that he wants to punish someone, it can be done so quickly.  This illustrates a double standard that we see and witness. It is also common practice that military and police officers, and other well connected government officials who are involved in human rights crimes, such as shooting innocent people walk free without charges or ever appearing in court.  As an example, Chhouk Bundith, the former governor of Bavet city, remains free after he allegedly shot three female victims on February 20, 2012, in front of Koaway Sport Factory (The Cambodia Daily, December 19, 2012).  This outcome is a good illustration of how a strong patronage system works in Cambodia. The tragedy of life here is what dies in the hearts and souls of the victims while they live. 

                  The “money is everything” philosophy can be seen and felt everywhere in Cambodia, and corruption remains a way of life.  For years, it has greased the wheels of the economy and the political landscape in Cambodia.  “Money Politics” is the “Mother of All Corruption.”  Cambodia faces a daunting task in challenging a deeply embedded culture of “Money Politics.”  Cambodia’s system of political patronage, in which well-connected tycoons are favored for state contracts, has long been viewed as a breeding ground for corruption.   Everyone knows that relationship and connections are very important.  According to investors and the Foreign Business Leaders, 55 percent of businesses felt that the anti corruption law, which was implemented since 2010, showed no effect in stamping out bribery.  Most businesses are threatened with corruption in all walks of life from the custom office to the court system. Only firms with connections to the government get favorable business conditions such as in paying tax and following regulations
In Cambodia, the winning party, in terms of media, military, police, and economy, systematically control everything. Crony corruption and political patronage is deeply embedded in Cambodia, largely because of its system of special privileges to politician, especially government contracts that tend to go well-connected tycoons.  While under-the-table payments are relatively a common thing, what multinational companies object to most is the crony corruption that gives special privileges to selected groups with high government connections, those winning plum government projects. Administrative work, commercial trading and negotiations of social life are settled not based on current laws or rules but often through individual orders or instructions by those in power, mostly high ranking government officials.  This is what I call the rule of ONE MAN.   With this type of leadership, there is a moral deterioration because the well-connected “Oknha” (business tycoons) pursue material gains as freely as they desire.
In Cambodia, there is certainly no evidence of any significant improvement in governance, and if anything the evidence suggests a deterioration, at the very least, in key dimensions such as regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption.  For years, Transparency International has placed Cambodia as one of the most corrupted nations in the world.  In 2012, Cambodia was ranked 157 out 176 most corrupted countries.  Corruption costs and erodes revenues.  It creates a culture that allows government officials to rationalize stealing from the administration and can lead to financial crisis.  We have to have a moral environment where laws are clean and enforceable so people are afraid to break them. Furthermore, Cambodia’s judicial system is generally recognized to lack legal know-how and political independence.  According to the report issued in September 2010 by UN human rights envoy Surya Subedy, the judiciary of Cambodia is corrupted and incompetent.  The report stated, “Corruption seems to be widespread at all level of the judiciary.”  Nothing has changed much. I wish we could stand here today and say everything is moving forward. It is not. Our present government doesn’t provide equal treatment and basic needs to the people.

There comes a point where we have to accept that the system is not working. Cambodia needs more than wealth to be prosperous. It needs a change in direction. It needs political reform, an end to corruption and the culture of impunity.  It needs to provide better public services ranging from hospitals to schools to roads and governmental forces.  It needs to empower its citizens with human rights and freedom of expression.  It needs to hold all politicians accountable for people’s wellbeing and security.  It needs decent health care for all the people.  It needs better schools to educate all its children.  It needs to develop a society in which people trust one another. It needs to foster a climate of know how entrepreneurship.  It needs business opportunities not only for the wealthier but also for the majority. It needs meaningful development that will benefit the masses instead of the few.  Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu expounded: “If you do not change direction, you end up where you are heading.”
None of these elements are achievable without the rule of law and effective democratic governments who put their people first. The laws are there.  They are quite detailed and good.  And there are significant penalties for breaking the provisions.  But there is little implementation and poor enforcement.  The constitution of Cambodia states everyone is subject to the law and no one, no matter how powerful and important, is above the law.  However, Prime Minister Hun Sen is exceptional. On June 13, 2013, at the inauguration of the new offices of the National Center in Phnom-Penh, he admitted publicly to breaking the law and he said that it was perfectly acceptable to save Khem Sokha, the opposition leader, when he ordered police not to arrest him for an alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl (The Cambodia Daily “Hun Sen Defends His Decision to Break The Law” June 20, 2013). 
The government must pay attention more to the needs and welfare of its citizens. The current emphasis on economic development shouldn’t override democratization and human rights.  According to data from rights group Licadho, local and foreign firms now control 3.9 million hectares of land concession, or more 22 percent of Cambodia’s total surface.  Almost everyday in the local media, we see reports of clashes between communities and concession holders.  The land grabbing issue is the latest example of the state struggling to meet the needs of its citizens, needs as basic as providing clean water, decent housing, health care, social justice and education. One Cambodian woman described good governance as:  “A good government is a government that does not abuse the people, that gives the people the land back, and that allows people to earn a living.”  
I believe if there is any real progress and prosperity, it will come through being, not having.  Real change may only come when people get more and better educated and learn to speak their own mind openly without fear of oppression. As Jimi Hendrix, songwriter and musician, stated, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power,” then real development and prosperity will flourish and Cambodia will know real peace and harmony.  Finally, if today all the children of Cambodia are provided with primary health care, good nutrition, quality basic education, access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the protection from neglect, abuse, and violence, 10 years down the road, Cambodian society will be completely different from the direction it is heading today.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Power of ONE Choice

My life is about what choices I have made and I want to think about One Choice that can make a difference and change my life forever.

One candle can fight darkness,
One encouragement can foster confidence,
One praise can strengthen self esteem,
One tolerance can build patience,
One smile can create happiness,
One faith can create a destiny,
One acceptance can begin a friendship,
One dream can bring hope,
One hand can lift a spirit,
One tree can start a forest, and 
One vote can change Cambodia's FUTURE.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My Integrity and Yours

Picture courtesy of The Tricycle Newsletter

Character building starts with having integrity; to act according with a sense of what is right or wrong, good or bad, permissible or impermissible.  
You and I will never be sorry: 
For thinking before speaking,
For hearing before judging,
For forgiving your enemies,
For being candid and frank,
For helping a fallen friend,
For being honest in business,
For thinking before acting,
For being loyal to your monastery,
For standing for your principles,
For bridling a slanderous tongue,
For stopping your ears to gossip,
For harboring only pure thoughts,
For sympathizing with the afflicted,
For being courteous and generous to the needy,
For being kind to ALL!