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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Cambodian NGOs slam anti-graft bill before debate

By Prak Chan Thul

The anti-corruption law in Cambodia is just a game play under the eyes of donors. The law is in a protection of all CPP elite criminals.

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Rights groups in Cambodia on Tuesday deplored an anti-corruption law that parliament will debate this week, saying it would not stop graft and offered no protection to whistle-blowers who uncovered corruption.

A coalition representing about 245 local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) told a news conference that debate on the anti-graft law -- in the works for 15 years but put quickly before parliament after being published on March 4 -- should be delayed for a month so the public could be consulted.

In particular, the groups wanted officials' assets to be declared publicly and whistle-blowers protected.

"If witnesses can't have protection, no one is going to come forward and report," said Pung Chhiv Kek, president of rights group Licadho, adding that witnesses could lay themselves open to defamation suits.

The debate is due to start on Wednesday.

Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman, rejected the criticism.

"The anti-corruption law will make the country an equitable society. The country will provide better public services and become a moral society," he said.

The main opposition Sam Rainsy Party said it joined the civil society groups in asking for a delay to the parliamentary debate.

"The draft is not good enough and was sent to parliament hurriedly," said party spokesman and lawmaker Yim Sovann.

"This law is not good, both in terms of the mechanism and the legal means to prevent corruption. There is not enough political will to fight corruption," he added.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Alan Raybould)
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ASEAN chief clarifies statement on Cambodia issues

The Secretary-General of ASEAN clarified that media reports quoting him over a military exercise in Cambodia on March 4, 2010 were taken totally out of context, a statement released by the ASEAN Secretariat said here on Tuesday.

Dr Surin Pitsuwan said his comments were with specific reference to the prevailing situation along the Cambodian-Thai border and not to any particular military exercise in Cambodia.

"The question directed at me was of a general nature, and my responses were with specific reference to the prevailing situation along the Cambodian-Thai border which I have expressed on many occasions before to all ASEAN Foreign Ministers and to the ASEAN Leaders," said Dr Surin in response to media reports on his comments.

Dr Surin was quoted by a news agency on March 5 as saying, "We are very concerned with such development," in response to a question from the media after attending a conference in Bangkok.

Dr Surin added that his concerns on the border situation had been publicly expressed on numerous occasions and were a routine response to media enquires.

He stressed that no other media, foreign or Thai, had reported on his statements made following the Bangkok conference.

Expressing his deep regret that the issue has caused much misunderstanding and discomfort and had "a very unfortunate and unwarranted effect", Dr Surin said he had no intention nor was he referring to any particular military exercise in Cambodia which he had no knowledge of at that point in time.

Source: Xinhua
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Khmers complicit in Vietnamization

My apologies. It's impossible to answer all e-mails on or related to any week's topic. But be assured that I read every one and even retrieve some that my ISP sends to a spam folder. My answers will sooner or later find their way to my columns.

To some who urge that I translate my writing into Khmer, I respond that God never meant a day to exceed 24 hours. Can't someone translate them?

A few days ago, the Hun Sen military test-fired 100 miles from the disputed border with Thailand, some 200 Russian-made Katyusha rockets, a Stalin-era weapon known today as BM21. A bank of 40 launch tubes mounted on a truck can fire in 20 seconds, with a range of about 20 miles and more.

Sen's military spokesman said the test was to strengthen Cambodia's abilities for "national defense against invaders." The test firing helped keep people intimidated and Sen in power.

Did it sidetrack the issue of Vietnamization of Cambodia? It seems only retired Johns Hopkins professor Naranhkiri Tith keeps a focus on the issue on his Web site. http://cambodiana.org/default.aspx. His proposed "roadmap," is a path he describes as "necessary but not sufficient," to save the Cambodian people.

His schematic should have been translated into Khmer long ago, because, if I rephrase a common saying to relate to Tith: "I know that you believe you understand what you think Tith said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what he meant."

A reader e-mailed me George Santayana's quote -- "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" -- but I am reminded of Karl Marx's, "History does nothing; it does not possess immense riches, it does not fight battles. It is men, real, living, who do all this." I like Thomas Jefferson's "I like dreams of the future better than the history of the past" and American poet and champion of individualism Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, "Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you."

Today, let me examine the 25-year "Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation" that effectively integrated Cambodia into a greater Vietnam.

As people educated in the culture of Confucianism, Vietnamese leaders' actions are, generally, carefully thought-out and calculated to maximize Vietnam's interests. They know what they want, what their national interests are and they move methodically to attain them.

Unfortunately for Khmers and their country, King Sihamoni, son of King Father Sihanouk, signed the supplements to the treaty, giving Vietnamese full access to colonize and Vietnamize Cambodia. The treaty cites "the traditions of Vietnam-Kampuchea militant solidarity and fraternal friendship."

Recall the Vietnamese revolutionary activities in Cambodia, described in my earlier column: Among them, in 1949, Hanoi's Canvassing Committee created the Revolutionary Kampuchean People's Party and, in 1950, Hanoi created the Kampuchean People's Liberation Army. That was the near 30 years of "great revolutionary gains" for Cambodia?

In its preamble, the treaty cites the "closely interrelated" independence, freedom, peace and security of Vietnam and Cambodia -- what affects one affects the other -- and that both countries are "duty-bound to help each other wholeheartedly and with all their might" safeguard and consolidate the products of their "revolution." It cites both countries' "militant solidarity" and "long-term and all-round cooperation and friendship" as representing their "vital interests."

In the treaty's first three articles, the Cambodians hand Ho Chi Minh the goal he had dreamed about.

In Article 1, the two countries pledge to "do all they can" to maintain their "traditions of militant solidarity" and to develop "mutual trust and assistance in all fields." In Article 2, they pledge to "wholeheartedly support and assist each other in all domains and in all necessary forms," as well as to take "effective measures to implement this commitment whenever one of them requires."

Cambodian leader Hun Sen can "require" Vietnamese intervention and Sen will be assisted "in all domains and in all necessary forms," and vice versa.

In Article 3, both countries pledge "mutual fraternal exchanges and cooperation" and mutual assistance in the economic, cultural, educational, public health, scientific, and technological fields, as well as the training of cadres and the exchange of "specialists and experience in all fields of national construction."

Article 4 stipulates a border agreement based on the "present border line." In Article 5, both parties pledge a "long-standing tradition of militant solidarity and fraternal friendship" to which they "attach great importance." Article 6 requires that the parties "frequently exchange views" on all questions concerning both countries' relationships and on "international matters of mutual interest." Articles 7, 8, 9, speak of the right and obligation of each party to any bilateral and multilateral agreements.

The treaty opens the door for Vietnam to operate in Cambodia. For example, Vietnam always has been short of food, and Cambodia is historically rich in fertile land and fish and natural resources.

In 1962, Prince Sihanouk wrote: "Whether he is called Gia Long, Ho Chi Minh, or Ngo Dinh Diem, no (Vietnamese) will sleep soundly until he succeeds in pushing the Khmer toward annihilation, after having made them go through the stage of slavery."

Pol Pot and his French-trained Marxists handed Cambodia to Vietnam. Then Heng Samrin and company agreed to a Vietnamized Cambodia. Now the King has ratified it.

Why blame the Vietnamese for expansionism when Khmers have acquiesced to it?

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at peangmeth@yahoo.com.
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Helping communities in Cambodia save for change

When Sean Ing first heard of "Saving for Change" in January 2009, she was skeptical. But Ing had a big expense coming up - her daughter's wedding, which she wasn't sure how to fund. Ing owns 1.5 hectares of farm land, but it takes her half a year to harvest the rice and she had limited access to banking services. So she decided to listen.

"First I decided to just listen to what the trainer had to say about saving money. Then it got more interesting, and I thought I would want to give it a try," the 53-year-old thin, jovial farmer said.

Then Ing found out Saving for Change allows members loans not only to solve short-term credit needs, but also to expand their income sources such as by raising livestock and growing vegetables.

She decided to join a savings group to help address her family's financial difficulty.

Ing lives in Bantoat Bos, a village some 400 km from the Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. People in Ing's village depend heavily on rain-fed agriculture for their living. The majority grow wet-season rice. During the dry season, some migrate to other provinces and some cross the border to look for work in Thailand.

Many are poor, earning less than a dollar a day. And like many poor Cambodians, most villagers in Bantoat Bos consider themselves too poor to save money.

The Saving for Change program aims to address this misconception.

Never too poor to save Five men and five women in Ing's village started their Saving for Change group in mid January 2010. With the support of a trainer, they established group rules, selected group leaders, and named their group Bantoat Bos Prosperity.

This group meets and saves three times a month, and members can borrow money at the second meeting of every month. When the group meets, each member puts in savings ranging from 5,000 Riels ($1.25) to 15,000 Riels ($3.60) into the group's savings box.

In January, Bantoat Bos Prosperity saved 305,000 Riels ($75) and Ing was the first beneficiary. She borrowed 300,000 Riels to prepare meals - buying chickens, pork, and vegetables - for her daughter's wedding.

According to the group's rules, Ing will pay a two percent interest per month, and she has three months to pay back the loan. That will give her enough time to harvest and sell her rice.

The Saving for Change program shows poor, rural communities how to save their money as a group and make small but important loans to each other. Members of Ing's group act as their own community bank - they save, lend, and pay each other interest.

This approach has helped Ing and thousands of other Cambodian families to reduce dependency on credit providers, moneylenders, and intermediaries who would demand collateral like land titles and charge high interest.

From small savings to big changes During an Oxfam's recent visit, all 10 members of Bantoat Bos Prosperity gathered under the shade of some banana, coconut and mango trees. They sat in a circle on a blue plastic sheet and began their group meeting.

Everybody had some money to save. Ing handed over 10,000 Riels ($2.50) for savings and 6,000 Riels ($1.50) to cover the interest on her loan.

These savings are tiny amounts but they add up over time, and in return, can help people like Ing overcome financial difficulty and bring changes in their lives.

They also teach Bantoat Bos Prosperity members basic skills in managing financial resources.

In Cambodia, the Saving for Change program has been helping people in Banteay Meanchey and Preh Vihear provinces since 2009 to work their own way out of poverty.

Since Oxfam America launched the program in Mali in 2005, it has spread to three other countries - Senegal, El Salvador, and Cambodia - and is reaching 351,000 families who have mobilized savings of more than $6 million.

Working with local organizations in Cambodia such as RACHA and Save Cambodia's Wildlife, Oxfam America has formed Saving for Change groups for 41,000 people and about 80 percent of them are female. The organization expects to reach 91,000 Cambodians in the next three years.
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