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Friday, September 14, 2007

The good and bad of Cambodian investment

By Roderick Brazier

PHNOM PENH - What's happening today on Bokor Mountain in Cambodia speaks volumes about what is good and bad about new investment in Cambodia in 2007. Bokor Mountain is just 37 kilometers from the sleepy Cambodian riverside town of Kampot, yet the journey to the 1,000-meter peak takes more than two and a half hours by sport-utility vehicle.

The steep, winding road was built by French engineers in the 1920s, and not a centimeter of it has seen a road-maintenance crew since. Today vehicles climbing the mountain crawl over an uneven surface of large, loose stones, deep ruts cut by rushing rainwater, and mesa-like vestiges of the bitumen that covered the original road. The result is a bone-jangling, exhausting journey.

Once reaching the broad, boggy plateau at Bokor's summit, the visitor is greeted by one of the world's strangest sights: a casino, a Catholic church, and a guesthouse brood in the misty gloom. Built by the French, all are long-abandoned. Left to the dank elements, the buildings are coated in dense, rust-colored moss.

Inside, they are strewn with debris: glass, broken floor tiles, lengths of electrical wire. A wall in the ballroom wears a sinister cluster of bullet holes at chest height: the Khmer Rouge were particularly active here. A metal sign resting on the floor warns tourists not to sleep in the casino.

A Cambodian business conglomerate called the Sokimex Group recently announced its intention to repair the neglected road and renovate the hilltop casino and hotel at Bokor. A group spokesman assured that the original French buildings would be renovated, not demolished, as part of the ambitious and costly project. In addition to the renovations, insiders in Phnom Penh talk of cable cars, golf courses, and helipads.

Sokimex was established in the early 1980s by Sok Kong, and is today one of Cambodia's biggest business groups. Closely associated with the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Sokimex's mainstay is the distribution and retail sale of petroleum. Notable among its many other interests is the lucrative concession to collect entry fees at the world-famous Angkor temples.

After decades of misery and instability, observers are cheered by the prospect of bold, imaginative investments that will create many jobs for ordinary Cambodian people and spur progress. And although Western tourists get a kick from visiting the unearthly Bokor ruins, who can blame Cambodians for wanting to fix up this creepy vestige of war and colonialism?

The Bokor property sits in the heart of Preah Monivong National Park, meaning it belongs to the state, not Sokimex. The casino project can only start if the government awards Sokimex a time-bound concession to redevelop and manage Bokor. In exchange for this privilege, Sokimex will likely pay the government an annual fee. As often is the case in Cambodia, these arrangements are being concluded without competition, and in secret. The fee will likely be revealed to the public only after the deal has been struck, if at all.

Sokimex's concession to manage the Angkor temples was awarded in a similarly opaque manner. The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly urged the government to tender the lucrative Angkor concession, but closed-door negotiations remain the preferred approach. The bad habit is being repeated in Bokor.

Why does it matter how such concessions are awarded?

The trouble is that in the absence of a competitive tender, the true value of such concessions cannot be known, and the state could miss out on valuable revenue. Secret negotiations also create lucrative rent-seeking opportunities that again deprive the state coffers of valuable revenue. Soliciting a range of redevelopment proposals would give maximum value to the state, and a well-designed tender could encourage environment- and heritage-sensitive plans that will not just attract tourists, but bring employment and business opportunities to a poor corner of the country.

The Bokor Mountain project is a worthy idea, and an experienced group such as Sokimex may well be the best party to implement it. But the Cambodian government and society more broadly could get far more value from it if the concession were competitively tendered, rather than negotiated in secret.

Roderick Brazier is The Asia Foundation's country representative in Cambodia.
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Hutch Indian rugby team rout Cambodia to win the Asian 7s Bowl


The Hutch Indian Rugby Team had a profitable outing in the Asian Rugby 7s, which concluded in Kandy, Sri Lanka , winning the final of the Bowl Category with a 36-5 pounding of Cambodia, according to a release from the Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU), here, on Thursday.
Amit Lochab set India on the winning patch with two tries, while Captain Nasset Hussain, Puneet Krishnamoorthy and Pritom Roy chipped in with a try each. Pritom Roy also had one conversion to his name, while Sujai Lama got his name on the scoring list with one conversion to round off the tally.

India last won the Asian Bowls title in 1999, since then losing in the final on all occasions. A total of 10 teams took part in this year’s competition, the 9th edition of the Asian 7s Rugby Tournament.
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10-year-old moves family to undertake mission trip to Cambodia

By Christie Campbell
Staff writer

chriscam@observer-reporter.com

Harry and Miranda Ankrom never hesitated when it came to taking their two children with them on a mission trip to Cambodia.

In fact, it was their 10-year-old daughter, Emily, who inspired her parents to make the trip. She returned from camp telling them she felt God calling her to mission work.

The Washington family left July 1, and it took them 30 hours and four separate flights to get to Cambodia. Their two-week experience was so profound and rewarding that Miranda and Emily plan to return next month.

"God has given us a burden for that land and those people," Miranda said. "Cambodia is now something I feel very passionate about."

Their mission was at an orphanage for 25 children in Siem Reap run by People for Care and Learning. The Christian charity is based in Cleveland, Tenn.

The Ankroms were allowed to take two suitcases apiece. Because they planned to take as much clothing as they could for the orphans as well as material to build a play gym, they managed to pack all their family items into two suitcases. That left them with six suitcases to stuff full of other items for Cambodia, including two swings, small ladders, rope and a canopy.

They packed so much clothing that the orphans, who only had one suitable outfit to wear, all owned at least three nice changes of clothing and a pair of flip flops when the Ankroms left.

"It didn't matter what color they were," Miranda's 11-year-old brother Isaac said of the sandals. "If they were pink the boys would still take them."

The family was surprised to learn that Cambodia had been a civilized and thriving country for years until the 1970s, when Pol Pot came to power. His Khmer Rouge decimated the country, forcing educated urban residents to rural areas to live as peasants. An estimated 2 million people were murdered and family units were torn apart. There would be civil unrest in Cambodia until 2002.

Now, said the Ankroms, the adult population is largely uneducated, but children are starting to learn as schools are being established.

But there is much poverty and homelessness in Cambodia. They witnessed people bathing and drinking from the same streams where livestock drink. Some people live in garbage dumps so foul that toxic smoke can be seen rising from the refuse. Other areas are posted with signs warning of land mines, and it is not unusual to see people with missing limbs. Children as young as 4 years old are sold into prostitution.

One thing the family was not permitted to do on the trip was evangelize. The country is 90 percent Buddhist, and only missionaries who offer humanitarian aid are permitted to enter.

Harry Ankrom is associate pastor of the Christian Church of North America in Washington. He and his wife wanted their children not only to have the experience of a mission trip, but also thought it would benefit the orphans to have other youngsters with whom to play.

Isaac and Emily acclimated very quickly and made friends easily despite the language barrier.

The trip made a lasting impression on Emily. She already has informed her parents of her plans to become a missionary.

"She said when she turns 18, she's moving to Cambodia," her mother said.

The Ankroms are available to speak to groups about their trip and can be reached at www.freewebs.com/ccnafamily.

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Collin College Book In Common program focuses on Cambodia's killing fields


Keystoning the Collin College Book In Common program for fall 2007 will be a visit by author Loung Ung, who chronicles her childhood experiences in the killing fields of Cambodia (during the 1970's) in her book First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.

Prior to Ung's Oct. 23 talk, Collin College has scheduled a series of programs designed to raise the awareness of students (and interested community members), including several screenings of director Roland Joffé's searing cinematic portrayal of the events, The Killing Fields (1984). One of these will take place at the Angelika Theater in Plano on October 9 (at 7 p.m.), and several other screenings are set for CCCCD campus locations.

Also upcoming are a pair of roundtable discussions entitled "Cambodia: Her culture & People." The first of these will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. on the Preston Ridge campus (room F148); the second is scheduled for the next day at 1 p.m. on the Spring Creek campus (room C104).

According to Regina Hughes, director of the Center for Scholarly & Civic Engagement, the Book In Common program is intended to foster a scholarly community through the power of the story, to encourage students to read beyond textbooks and to promote academic discourse and critical thinking through shared experience. For this year's program, the subject matter has been chosen specifically to raise awareness regarding the value and vibrancy inherent in cultural differences.

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One Giving World Builds Homes In Cambodia With Help From Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc.

SALT LAKE CITY, UT – SEPTEMBER 13, 2007 – Utah non-profit foundation One Giving World, working in partnership with NGO Tabitha Cambodia, led a team of 20 international volunteers this summer in building homes for Cambodian families. During the course of two weeks in June, the volunteers successfully built 6 homes at a cost of $860 each. This year’s Tabitha Cambodia house building fund was made possible by several generous donors, including support from Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc. PRMI co-founder Jeff Zitting also made the trip to Phnom Penh and assisted in building the homes.

“Tabitha Cambodia works in partnership with the very poorest families in Cambodia to create economic self reliance through savings,” says Rhiannon Lawrence, Co-Founder and Executive Director of One Giving World. “Thanks to the contributions of our gracious donors, we partnered with many deserving families this year. I am honored when companies donate blood, sweat, and tears in addition to a financial contribution. Jeff Zitting was an appreciated addition to our house building volunteer team. I am so grateful to our contributors for standing with these families as they take the steps to a better life through a process that gives dignity and respect."

Tabitha Cambodia helps the people of Cambodia earn income through the creation and sale of cottage industry goods (silk goods, metal goods, etc.). Program participants are then taught to save their earnings through a micro savings program. Tabitha pays 10% interest every 6 weeks to the enrolled families, and 100% of donors’ contributions, such as PRMI’s, go towards the interest payment. Families then use their savings to purchase homes and other items that will improve their quality of life; it typically takes 5-7 years to save for a house.

In 2006, over 823 volunteers from around the world helped Tabitha Cambodia build 376 houses for 376 families.

“Owning a home isn’t just the American dream, it’s the dream of families and individuals around the world,” says Dave Zitting, President and CEO of PRMI. “We’re proud to have played a small part in making those dreams a reality and hope to play an even bigger role in the future.”

ABOUT ONE GIVING WORLD

One Giving World is a Utah-based non-profit that supports non-governmental organizations and other groups in the vision of global economic self reliance. Each year, One Giving World takes a group of volunteers to work with Tabitha Cambodia in building houses for Cambodian families. The organization also works with Pillows for Peace and The Great Life Foundation.

ABOUT Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc.

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc. (PRMI) was founded by Dave Zitting, Jeff Zitting, and Steve Chapman in 1998. Since its inception, PRMI has evolved from a four-person business to a nationwide multi-billion dollar operation with 800 employees working in approximately 200 Branches in 47 states. Branches operate under the PRMI brand or as DBAs as part of the Divisional Joint Venture and Consortium Partner programs. Serving all segments of the market, PRMI is a privately-held, debt-free company that focuses primarily on traditional loan products.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Rhiannon Lawrence, One Giving World, rhiannonkl@mac.com

Dave Zitting, Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc. davezitting@primeres.com

Jeff Zitting, Primary Residential Mortgage,inc.

jeffzitting@primeres.com

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