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Friday, December 30, 2011

Myanmar, Cambodia emerge as high-growth investment destinations

SINGAPORE: By some measure, Myanmar had a spectacular 2011. Endorsed as chair of Asean for 2014, and a high profile visit from the US secretary of state - reward for recent political reforms that have elevated confidence in an economy barely emerging from years in the dark.

Andrew Rickards, CEO of Yoma Strategic, said: "The country that is perhaps being held back in development, that is perhaps being held back for the last 40 or 50 years, suddenly tries to reintegrate with the world economy.

"There's an awful lot of catching up to do, challenges from basic infrastructure mobile telephones internet access to hotel rooms and getting flights... You could imagine that the whole place is creaking a little bit at the seams as it is suddenly being put on people's radar for the first time."

Singapore-listed Yoma Strategic is deeply entrenched in Myanmar, with 95 per cent of its revenue derived from property and other investments in the country in the latest half-year. It is well positioned to benefit from further reforms, even though the country still carries the weight of trade sanctions by the US and Europe.

With Singapore being Myanmar's 4th biggest trading partner in 2010, historic business ties count for a lot.

Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, said: "In the case of Myanmar, it will be more difficult, a little bit more unknown... The key really is the extent of the reform that is happening, whether this will be followed through, and whether it will then lead to an improvement in the business environment there.

"Then again, its a lot more opportunities so for some companies who do have links, have the intelligence there (and) have the partnership there, those risks can be managed."

Neighbouring Cambodia is also reforming its ways, although it is more established as an investment centre than Myanmar. It will chair Asean in 2012.

Danish manufacturer Jebsen & Jessen said the ease of doing business is propelling a potential US$650,000 investment in the country.

Fritz Graf Von Der Schulenburg, Eexcutive Vice Chairman of Jebsen & Jessen, said: "Small for its population, but very much open in its policy to attract new investors and it is easy to settle down there, it is very easy to build up business relationships."

Mr Ho said: "Cambodia has been reformed, has been in the market for a long time, has been a member of WTO since 2004. So of course from the risk point of view, I think Cambodia represents far lesser risk and because our companies have been operating there more recently."

Dr Mark Mobius, Executive Chairman at Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said these frontier markets are now in their "take-off stage", where self-sustaining development is taking place, thanks to high consumer spending at home.

-CNA/ac .
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Orphanage tourism and Cambodia's fight to end it

In Cambodia, it's not uncommon for tourists to be offered tours of local orphanages in the same way they're offered tours of Angkor Wat.

It might be tempting to accept the opportunity to experience "the real Cambodia," especially when you're confronted by extreme poverty at every turn. But before you do, a new campaign backed by international NGO Friends-International and UNICEF asks you to think again.

"Travelers care for Cambodia and are often disturbed by the perceived situation of children," said Sebastien Marot, Executive Director of Friends-International, whose headquarters are in Cambodia. "It is essential for them to understand the real situation and what positive actions they can take to effectively protect and support these children."

A recent study of Cambodia's residential institutions showed that the rapidly growing practice of "orphanage tourism" actually does more harm than good, violating the rights of children and contributing to the separation of families. The study revealed that 72 percent of children living in institutions labeled "orphanages" have at least one living parent, and that the number of these types of institutions has grown in recent years, despite the fact that the number of orphaned and vulnerable children has shrunk. The study also showed that a number of these orphanage tourism schemes are run by unscrupulous business operators, and many aren't regulated.
Orphanages in themselves aren't bad, but visitors must be aware of the effects of their actions. The Friends/UNICEF campaign encourages tourists to ask themselves a number of questions before they decide to visit an orphanage, including:
  • Are visitors allowed to just drop in and have direct access to children without supervision? Orphanages that allow strangers off the street to interact with children unsupervised, without conducting sufficient background checks, are not protecting the interests of the children.
  • Are children required to work or participate in securing funds for the orphanage? The songs and dances may be cute, but they can also be viewed as child labor and groom children for begging and street work that leaves them open to exploitation.
  • Does the orphanage have an active family reunification program? The extended family plays an important role in Cambodian culture, and efforts should be made to reunite orphaned children with family members that can care for them.
One of the most important questions, though, is one visitors should ask themselves.

"You aren't allowed to go anywhere and hug a child in your own country," said Marot. "Why should you be able to do it here?"

To learn more about positive ways to protect children in your travels, check out these seven tips from Friends-International. Read more!