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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Brash recharges his computer skills in Cambodia banking job

After being doomed politically by emails he considered stolen from his PC, former National Party leader Don Brash is now putting his "rusty" computer skills to work in Cambodia.

Dr Brash has spent much of the past three months in Phnom Penh, helping the central bank computerise its payments systems as part of a project funded by the Asia Development Bank.

The former Reserve Bank Governor said he had been offered the job after being recommended by former Labour Cabinet minister David Butcher who was consulting on the telecommunications sector in Cambodia.

"He rang me and said they were looking for someone in the central banking area," Dr Brash said. "I said, 'well, I know quite a bit about that'."

Dr Brash said his computer skills were "rusty" but he had top-level advisers helping him with the technology. He had travelled through much of Asia, but never to Cambodia.

Police have been investigating after hundreds of Dr Brash's emails last year made it into the public arena.

Dr Brash believed they were stolen from his personal computer. Some of his emails were published in the Nicky Hager book The Hollow Men, an inside look at the wheelings and dealings of the National Party.

Besides his work with the bank, Dr Brash has also been appointed a director on the board of one of Australia's largest banks, the ANZ National Bank. Another directorship he had secured would be announced shortly, he said.

Dr Brash was the Governor of New Zealand's Reserve Bank from 1988 to 2002 before he resigned from the $500,000-a-year job to pursue a career in politics. He quit Parliament in February.
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Cambodia Gets A Modest Bond Boost

It may take years for investors to confidently put their money in highly corrupt Cambodia. Yet, Cambodia’s first-ever rating by the Moody’s Corporation this week signals that the country, ruled by Prime Minister Hun Sen—a one-eyed former Khmer Rouge soldier—is not completely without hope.

Moody's rated Cambodia’s foreign-currency and local-currency government bonds at B2, a junk-bond level that indicates a high risk of default. The rating, however, is considered stable, meaning it is unlikely to be changed soon, for better or worse.

Cambodian external debt at the end of 2006 was $3.2 billion, according to Thomas Byrne, a vice president and senior analyst at Moody's. Byrne adds that virtually all the debt is from creditors including the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Meaning that Moody's rating is on Cambodia itself, as the nation hasn't issued any bonds yet. "What our rating is, technically, (is) a rating on the government," Byrne said.

Even so, there is reason to believe that things are turning to the better in Cambodia. "Cambodia has recently attracted significant inflows of foreign investment into such sectors as tourism, garments and energy, which should help boost the overall level of investment in the economy, as well as strengthen the balance of payments," Byrne said.

Byrne also said the inflows of foreign investment have partly offset Cambodia's account deficit and built up its foreign exchange reserves, thus providing a buffer for its external debt.

Cambodia's credit fundamentals and macroeconomic policy flexibility, however, are still hindered by its weak state of governance. Other structural problems include the financial system's high degree of dollarization, low level of intermediation and the government's weak revenue base.

Byrne says Cambodia’s future depends on the government’s ability to improve its revenue performance, the country’s competitiveness in the garment and tourism sectors and its relatively large reserves of oil and gas.

After ruling the country for over 20 years, Hun Sen recently opened up the Cambodian economy while still keeping tight political control.

In a road show in Melbourne, Australia last October, Hun Sen introduced a series of initiatives to encourage foreign investment. These included the removal of overlapping government licensing, the reduction of value-added and income taxes, and the simplification of company registration.

Hun Sen also emphasized that his government counted on foreign investment to help solve irrigation problems, build new railroads, bridges and airports, and develop petroleum reserves.

Recently, BHP Billiton (nyse: BBL - news - people ), the world largest mining company, began digging for bauxite in Cambodia. Also U.S. oil giant Chevron (nyse: CVX - news - people )drilled four exploration wells there earlier this year, and is expected to finalize its petroleum reserve estimations in the next few months.

Foreign investment in Cambodia reached nearly $4 billion in 2006. Of this, $2.6 billion came from tourism, mineral exploration, energy development and construction. Textiles production earned $552 million, and agriculture yielded $481 million. The International Monetary Fund recorded 10.5% gross domestic product growth for Cambodia in 2006.

Nevertheless, Cambodia is still heavily dependent on foreign aid. It receives nearly $600 million in financial assistance from foreign powers, totaling nearly two-thirds of the government’s annual revenue.
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Cambodia, Myanmar agree on direct flights

Phnom Penh - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen returned from a three-day official visit to Myanmar Wednesday, with the country declaring it had successfully negotiated for direct flights between the two nations.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who accompanied Hun Sen, told a press conference that the two nations had agreed to the flights in an effort to boost tourism between the two culturally rich nations.

'There will be direct flights from Bagan and Mandalay ... to Siem Reap,' he told reporters without naming a date on which the first flights will be available.

Bagan and Mandalay are two cultural hubs of Myanmar, also known as Burma. Siem Reap is the gateway to the 800-year-old Angkor Wat temple and a world famous collection of surrounding temples which form the keystone of Cambodia's booming tourism industry.

Hor Namhong said the two nations shared a similar Buddhist culture and the direct flights were a natural extension to both country's tourism sectors.

He said direct flights between Myanmar and the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh were also planned in the near future.

Although opponents to Myanmar's harsh ruling military junta have tried to discourage tourism, saying it only supports a government notorious for human rights abuses, Cambodia has taken the traditional Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) line that Myanmar's politics are an internal issue for the Myanmar government.

Both Myanmar and Cambodia are members of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc and Cambodia has actively sought to increase inter-ASEAN tourism in recent years and has maintained cordial bilateral ties to Myanmar.

Hun Sen was also accompanied by Tourism Minister Thong Kong and Commerce Minister Cham Prasith on his visit, which Hor Namhong said had also further strengthened bilateral trade ties.

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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THAI to replace ageing fleet to keep up with region’s carriers

THAI Airways is planning to purchase at least 46 new aircraft in order to compete with the new carriers in the Southeast Asia region, Bloomberg News has reported.

According to THAI’s 10-year business plan, the airline will be replacing 46 of its older aircraft between 2008 and 2017 with newer models. The new planes will also help THAI add new destinations to its service network.

''The company has to complete the business plan as soon as possible to maintain competitiveness in the regional airline industry,'' the airline’s president Apinan Sumanaseni was reported as saying after a board meeting yesterday.

In fact, THAI’s average fleet age is twice that of rival Singapore Airlines.

THAI will need greater capacity to compete with other carriers in Southeast Asia that are buying planes. However, expansion in Asian economies will be likely to lift passenger travel growth, according to the International Air Transport Association

Although Mr. Apinan did not disclose which aircraft THAI would buy, the airline reported in February that it would be ordering eight Airbus SAS A330-300 planes at a discount, in compensating for delays in the delivery of the six A380 superjumbos it ordered.

THAI will receive deliveries of the A330 from October next year, with the last order to be completed in 2010. These will be used to replace the six Airbus A300-600s and two Boeing 747-300s that it has been using for over 20 years.
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