Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Gender budget at the sub-national should be increased much more

ថវិកាយេនឌ័រ គួរបែងចែកទៅថ្នាក់ក្រោមជាតិឲ្យបានច្រើន

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 25 NOVEMBER 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

Today, the 16-day campaign to eliminate violence against women, which takes place annually from 25 November to 10 December, commenced. Cambodia has been showing its strong commitment to address the issue through the participation of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the civil society, who deal with human rights. There are many activities in the event such as the ceremony and dissemination of information about prevention of all forms of abuse against women and children, including physical, verbal, and economic abuse, trafficking etc.

A Cambodian woman with her children was bagging in the front of MBK mall in Bangkok, Thailand on 21 November 2014. Tong Soprach

A Cambodian woman with her children was begging in the front of MBK mall in Bangkok, Thailand on 21 November 2014. Tong Soprach

Cambodia has been internationally recognized for improvement on gender equality, in areas such as elimination of all form of discriminations and violence against women. Noted also in the speech of Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi , the Minister of Women’s Affairs, at the Asian and Pacific conference on the “Review of Gender Equality and Empower Women for 20 year after 1994” in Beijing, (Beijing+20) in Bangkok in last week [17-20 November 2014], progress towards gender equality has been substantial. For example, the percentage of female National Assembly’s members increased from 5 per cent to 20 per cent, at least one female official was promoted a position in each national and sub-national levels, maternal mortality rate dropped from 472 to 206 deaths per 100,000 live births, the number of married women suffering domestic violence dropped from every fourth to every fifth woman, and female employment and education increased.

Meanwhile, representatives of civil society in countries of Asia and the Pacific spoke at the conference about gender abuse including violence against women, violence against domestic workers, rape, trafficking etc. They also raised the exceptional cases in Cambodia, in which women have been suffering from illegal evictions, physical abuse, such as violence and imprisonment from police force during their protests against seizing of their lands and houses. Currently, 17 women from Beung Kok lake community were arrested in prison and other activists are still in prison. Many are protesting and demanding their release. This obviously contrasts with the content of Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi ’s speech at the conference.

A question would be asked when the women who were beaten and arrested during their protesting Did the officials from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs take a visit? Female representatives from the opposition party who protested over the controversial result of the previous general elections in July last year and were later arrested and confined in Prey Sar’s Prison never received any visit from those officials as well. This is the political discrimination against women by women.

Regarding this problem, I even questioned Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi myself at the conference. Why don’t the Ministry of Women’s Affairs allocate more gender budget to the local government, especially, district and commune, where there are gender focal point officers who work directly with women and children in the community who suffer from violence? In response to my question, the minister just shortly answered that,” The local administration is the work of the Ministry of Interior.”

Undoubtedly, the Ministry of Women’s Affair does not seem understand its role and responsibility. For example, when other ministries and/or institutions implement measures in the fields of education, health, labour, crack down trafficking in women and children and so on. This MOWA’s presentation on achievements on gender equality always seem to engage with intervention but in fact, most issues are implemented by other ministries and NGOs.

“However, taking the Decentralization and Deconcentration reform on sub-national levels into account, the ministry sarcastically claims that the local government is the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior. In fact, the Ministry of interior is just one of six elements of the D&D reform through The National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD) in gender mainstreaming and women of women. That is, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs should work with sub-national development as well, and its work is to support gender equality by cross-cutting.

The two ministries have the obligation to promote gender equality the same, and they cannot just say it is a sole responsibility of one institution. They have to cooperate and discover the solutions to problems of women and children through allocation of gender budget to local administrations who implement measures directly in their communities. Because in recent the two bodies have been made efforts to promote women and provided functional assignments to supporting women and children to sub-national levels. So, what should the local government woman officers do if the job of just offered the position and function for them to helping women and children was offered to them without gender budget allocation?

Mrs. Meher Afroze, the Minister of Women Affairs of Bangladesh also shared her experience about gender equality in her country at the conference. The gender budget, as she stated, was even more than enough, and it was distributed to various ministries and local governments are the ones who allocate it. During the coffee break, I interviewed HE Meher Afroze and asked her about reasons for this step. She answered that her ministry was not responsible for the implementation of gender equality or adoption of gender budget but for making the plans of expenditures for the institution that implement the policy; moreover, most of the budget was allocated at the sub-national levels.
She added that her ministry had no information about the amount of the annual budget, as it had been allocated by the individual ministries and sub-national administration. The gender budget in Bangladesh was adequate because the prime minster and important ministers are all women.

Cambodian MOWA should reconsidered distribution of gender budget to the sub-national levels and in this effort we could take an example from Bangladesh. So far, the Cambodia MOWA, which has both external financial and technical supports, has been formulating laws and documentation related to the collection of data, the establishment of policies and guideline about gender equality. After Beijing+20, the ministry has declared its three latest strategies: primary intervention, the provision of services for victims, and monitoring and evaluation. Nevertheless, these strategies, which seem so effective enough, were just written pieces of paper, and they have not proved any actual activity achievement, which cause the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Council of Ministers to be reluctant in increasing its annual budget. The budget for Ministry of Women’s Affairs has remained 9 million dollar for 2015, due to they [MEF and CM] have not seen the intervention by MOWA.

The woman parliamentarians at the National Assembly never pay any attention to the women’s affair and therefore never care to propose for the increase in budget for it. They would rather raise their hands as the sign of approval of the law following their own party.
Despite the end of the war in Cambodia and the positive changes in data of gender equality, many Khmer women are still living in misery, suffering from violence or adultery from their husbands. Losing everything including their rice fields, some women left their village for Thailand to be laborers or beggars. You may not notice when you see begging women in the front of the market or mall in Bangkok, but if you ask, you will know that most of them are from Cambodia. Some of them are pregnant or carrying their children with them while some others are at risk to the victims of sexual trafficking and face all the forms of violence.

A 6-month pregnant Cambodian woman with her son was bagging in the walk stair at the Pratunam area in Bangkok, Thailand on 19 November 2014. Tong Soprach

A 6-month pregnant Cambodian woman with her son was begging in the walk stair at the Pratunam area in Bangkok, Thailand on 19 November 2014. Tong Soprach

In the Beijing +20 press conference, I commented Dr. Ing Kantha Phavi, Minister of Women’s Affairs on last Joint Declaration of the conference, which had some points not responding to the current actual situation of women in Cambodia, such as the main point of Women in Armed Conflict, larger for country, such as in the areas of Central Asia are conflicts and war. Hence, the concern about trafficking of women and girls [small point] stated under Article 38 of the Joint Declaration to be the most important point for measuring the gender equality in Cambodia.

In fact, the problem of human trafficking in Cambodia is still tier 2 of Watch List created by surveillance of the US Department of State. The minister explained that trafficking of women is a modernized problem, yet the Ministry has solved them through a memorandum of understanding [MOU] with some countries on Mekong and recently MOU with Thailand and through the research finding interpreted the decline of the data. Her answer sound to be that of those who never work in the community and doing everything in only national levels.

So, how can gender be budget allocated to sub-national level more effectively to benefit gender equality? For donors and development partners, who used to contribute aid to the national level administration, what tends to shift towards sub-national democratic development to address violence against women?

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com

BEIJING+20 IN THE EYES OF THE MEDIA

The Asian and the Pacific Conference on
Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment:
Beijing+20 Review in Bangkok, 17-20 Nov. 2014

THURSDAY, 20 NOVEMBER 2014
NEWSLATTER, ISSUE 5,
Veronika Stepkova,
UN Women/Cambodia
www.asiapacific.unwomen.org

“Human rights are equally valid for everybody and it is all that Beijing+20 should be about,” says Soprach Tong, The Phnom Penh Post columnist who reported on some of the most sensitive issues such as gang rape and sexual violence by intimate partners in Cambodia. “I am especially glad that Sexual Orientation and Gender Identities (SOGI) people were recognized by the Member States in the final document. If we did not include them, the universality of human rights will be compromised.” reflects Soprach on the negotiations between Member States on sexual and reproductive health and gender identities.

Tong Soprach's friend Srorn Srun, Human Rights Activist. Pornvit Visitoran

Tong Soprach’s friend Srorn Srun, Human Rights Activist. Pornvit Visitoran

In Cambodia, where SOGI people still face discrimination and hate speech, media can according to a Cambodian activist and Soprach’s friend Srorn Srun “play an important role in changing their image”. Participating in the Media Training, co-convened by UN Women and UNFPA within the framework of the Beijing+20 Regional Conference, is strengthening Soprach’s understanding of the role of media in the fight for gender equality. “The acceptance of equal rights is improving and there is also slightly less violence against women in Cambodia and this is mostly thanks to the civil society, the media and their awareness raising activities,” says Soprach who besides being a journalist is also an independent researcher.

Soprach Tong, The Phnom Penh Post Columnist. Pornvit Visittoran

Soprach Tong, The Phnom Penh Post Columnist. Pornvit Visittoran

In his Love and Sexual Relationships study on perceptions of St. Valentine’s Day in Cambodia, almost half of 376 men surveyed declared that they were willing to engage in non-consensual sex with their female partners on this occasion if their advances were refused. This figure is 14 per cent lower than in 2009 when Soprach first undertook this study, which he believes should be replicated in other countries. The young and active exponent of gender equality remains positive about global advances in human rights and hopes that the Beijing+20 conference will help to move his country towards better opportunities for everyone.

It’s time to reveal the actual current national budget expenditure !

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 18 NOVEMBER 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

ដល់ពេលត្រូវលាតត្រដាងខ្ទង់ចំណាយថវិកាជាតិជាក់ស្តែងហើយ !

The Office of the Council of Ministers, reported too much overspent. Mai Virak

The Office of the Council of Ministers, reported too much overspent. Mai Virak

Considering the adoption of the annual national budget expenditure, how many members of the parliaments clearly understand the technical terms regarding the basics of the income and the budget expenditure plan? Do they just imitate the other members when they raise their hands as the sign of consent/approval while they do not even understand the national budget proposals? Nor is there any representative from the Ministry of Economy and Finance to introduce the presentation to them all at the National Assembly members?

So far, some individuals working on the national and sub -national administrative levels have bitterly complaint about the difficulties. They have experienced in applying for their parts of the national budget already were approved by the Assembly. The other institutions that have enough or more than enough to spend would just ignore this disadvantage. Taking into account the law on financial management each year and the reason statement for proposals of financial management each year found that the budgets for spending of the civil, security, and public order institutions, and sub-national level have been increasing, as the national economic growth rate is around 7 percent.

This increase may sound like many of the ministries and other institutions, but in reality of expenditure, Where are these budget properly allocated? Why? Where can the documents, which contain the data about the allocation of budget, be found? Are the ministries and institutions only aware of that? For the public, there are no clear sources where they can find such data. Also, on the websites of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, and the National Assembly, it is not published. All we can find is the handbook of Royal Orders, signed by the king monthly.

So, where are the so-called “transparency” and “accountability”? Can the citizens have only assesses to the reforms and new policies, showed off by the government? When will the data of spending and budget of each institution be open to public? Even many members of the National Assembly do not know about that. From one year to another, they would just look for the data from different sources to analyze or compare to establish the appropriate plans of spending. Until now, the Assembly meetings are still held behind closed door, and a specific law is often adopted by the majority, most of who come from the ruling party (Cambodian People’s Party). Hence, it could be imply that some member will just raise their hand because they have to follow their colleagues, being afraid something bad will happen to them otherwise.

“Up to today, the exact data of spending in the previous year remains the “top secret”. In contrast, the data of government’s spending from 2000 to 2011 can be found on actual current budget expenditure databases from NGO Forum (www.cambodianbudget.org). For example, comparing the actual government expenditure in 2010 and 2011, we can notice that the spending of some ministries in 2011 is almost identical to that in 2010, while the spending of the other ministries almost 200% just in one year as Council of Ministers was spent around 287 billion Riels in 2010 and 505 billion Riels in 2011 while the expenditure of Ministry of Agriculture went down by 60 %, from 151 billion to 91 billion. Regarding this aspect, the transparency has to be proved and this question answered: why did the Council of Ministers accumulate their spending so rapidly while the Ministry of Agriculture underspent its budget so much just in one year?

Meanwhile, the individuals working in the sub-national level, especially the district-municipal level, have complaint about the underspending of their budget, which is only about 17 million dollars. Some districts or municipality have approximately 20 to 30 million Riels left in the budget. The common cause for that, according to my interviews with the officials from district/municipality level, is the long time and complicated process of applying part of the budget from the three provincial departments, which requiring going through a bunch of bureaus and departments, such as the Department of Public Functions, the Department of Economy and Finance, and the Provincial Treasury.

This process has 15 check points, and from one step to the next, the district officials will have to spend at least $5 of their own money. Totally, they will have to spend $90 per document. Considering the filling and submitting the application papers, many mistakes are usually found, so they have to go back and forth between the district and the provincial center so many times, which takes at least two weeks. Just like a Khmer proverb, “the fortune teller could lie, and the craftsman could steal!”, someone does not want to allocate the budget. That “someone” is making the process so complicated that the district officials do not no longer want the money.

This is just an example from a corner about the under-spending in the district administrative levels. The money left from the planned budget will be reserved for the next year’s use, and the process repeats again and again. Therefore, the Ministry of Economy and Finance has to reconsider their processing procedures trainings and performance of their provincial officials, as the ministry is a part of the Decentralization and Deconcentration (D&D) reform. Yet, to what extent can the ministry participate in the sub-national administrative development?

Furthermore, the senior officials of the Ministry of Economy and Finance seem to prejudge the exact spending, an act also known as the public estimation of national public expenditure. For example, they do not increase the pension for the retirees, as they think those people are no longer productive, and they consider some ministries, such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Veterans, useless. These are the roots of the problem, which has impact on the national budget expenditure. The question is “How can the Ministry of Economy and Finance bring transparency and accountability which support the four principles “To look at one’s image in a mirror, To take a shower, To rub off the dirt from the body and To treat someone” of appropriate work appearing in the speech about the drafting of the law on financial management and the reason statement for proposals of financial management in 2015.
In conclusion, the current national budget expenditure could not be reached with 100 % accuracy; it is sometimes a little higher or lower than the exact number, but it cannot be too much different. Moreover, the allocation of budget of unexpected functions which in the other countries, the president or the prime minister have the right to approve the budget. In accordance with the real needs of Cambodia, that aspect lies in table “B” of the law on the financial management in 2015, yet transparency is needed. Otherwise, the debates about and adopt on this law, which is the center of attention, will become a waste of space. That is due to the fact that the national assembly is the one who adopt it, but the body knows nothing about it. That is a shame for Cambodian legislature.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com

 

To What Extent Can Cambodia Prevent Sexual Violence?

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 10 JUNE 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

តើ​កម្ពុជា​អាច​ទប់​ស្កាត់​អំពើ​ហិង្សា​ផ្លូវ​ភេទ​ដល់​កម្រិត​ណា?

Entertainment workers always suffer from gang rape "Bauk".  Sovann Philong

Entertainment workers always suffer from gang rape “Bauk”. Sovann Philong

This morning in London, United Kingdom, representatives from 100 countries around the world participated in a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The objectives of the meeting are to discover internationally accepted solutions and mechanisms to prevent sexual abuse taking place when war breaks out.

In Cambodia, a country whose cultures and civilization dates back thousands of years, it used to be so rare to think that sexual abuse against woman was a deviance and crime. In the past, such deviance used to be practiced by only powerful people, such as the chiefs or the rulers. For Example, Dab Chhuon aka Majol Pich (translated in English as “the Diamond Needle”), the ruler of Siam Reap province during the 1950s-1960s, was well-known as a rapist, whom women and parents who had daughters almost cried when they heard his name. Not until the era of Cambodia Civil War, particularly the Gen. Lon Nol regime, which began in 1970, had rapes become widespread in Cambodia. Despite the lack of research or document about the rape cases in this period, it was known that most of the victims were ethnic minorities.

In addition, regarding the rape cases in Khmer Rouge regime, though civil parties have complained against the KR regime at ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia), the rape victims or rape witness the rap in this era remembered about them is “rape activity and raped and killed later”. According to research reports of Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP, 2011), 104 KR survivors reported sexual torture and violations during the epoch of Killing Fields. Among them, 28.8 percent are the witnesses, and 6.8 were the victims of sexual violence. In 1979, the so-called Democratic Kampuchea was overthrown by the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation and the Vietnamese army. Many politicians have interpreted this event in different ways, based on their own perspectives and theories (realism or liberalism). While some of the politicians have defined it as a neighbor’s friendly intervention and liberation, the others have viewed it as the “Vietnamese Invasion of Cambodia”. One question should be asked: “Did those Vietnamese soldiers engage in the sexual abuse of Cambodian women while they were ones who held power?” There are no reliable statistics that can be used to answer this question, nor has there been any research yet.

“During the 80s and 90s, there were many cases of sexual abuse in insecure regions along Cambodian-Thai border, where hostilities between the government army and the Khmer Rouge guerillas have taken place. According to my recent research on health problems in those regions, the locals told me what they know about those cases of sexual crime. There has been no detailed research on this issue. Such abuses also happened to refugees who sought shelter in camps on Cambodian-Thai Border. Some of my friends and relatives have also told me that they have witnessed the murders, tortures, and rapes committed by Thai authorities against Cambodian refugees.

Although the civil war in Cambodia ended more than 30 years ago, it casts a shadow on domestic politics and economies. This has led to the loose enforcement and drafting of laws, as well as corruption and bribery. So far, there has been no reliable statistics on rape cases, even from the police. Most of the sources are NGOs that help the victims file their complaints. ADHOC alone received 313 complaints of rape in 2012.

In some cases, offenders pay their victims to withdraw their complaints or refrain from sueing them. Sometimes, the victims force themselves not to file the complaint for the sake of their reputation. Furthermore, there have also been reports of unique rape cases, such as incest rapes (the rapes committed by someone who is close to the victims, including their family members and relatives) and gang-rape, or“bauk,” which refers to one or two young males luring a sex worker to where there are several peers waiting to coerce her to have sex with all of them. This is sometimes accompanied by violence. The“Bauk” mentality extends to women and more surprisingly transgender “Kteuy or Srey Sros” as well. Most victims of group rape are sex workers while most offenders are male youths.

In accordance with the findings of research focusing on young males from wealthier families, aged between 15 and 24, 10.8 percent of the 240 men interviewed in 2009 admitted to have been involved in bauk against sex workers. For the same research done in 2014, particularly in the previous three months, the result was similar to that in the last five years, with 10.6 percent out of 258 young males (Soprach, 2009 & 2014). Because issues of sexual abuse in Cambodia tend to occur during the period of chaos or wars and even in the post conflict period, the following solutions should be implemented:

1. The reigning government has the custom of condemning and criticizing the previous rulers. This may have consequences not only on its policies, but also on the works of the scholars and researchers. The reigning rulers urge scholars or researchers to conduct the research related to the advantages of their regime and the drawbacks and criticism of the previous, overthrown regimes (for example, the Pol Pot Regime).

For instance, if the scholars want to find statistics about sexual abuses committed by Vietnamese soldier against Cambodian women during and after 1979, the current government will never allow them to do that since such an act will have negative impacts on the long-lasting Cambodia-Vietnam relationship. Additionally, those scholars, in spite of their degrees and capacity, will not receive any funding to carry out their research. On the other hand, some scholars are biased and use their knowledge to benefit the government for their own current or future position in the government.

To solve this problem, a clearly defined complication, the government should be divided clearly between politics and the research system, in order help scholars discover the facts and data of sexual violence in conflict, which can ease the enforcement of law.

2. The news about rape cases in the media lack necessary details and qualities. To make matters worse, some journalists use humorous terms in their work or even show actual photographs of the victims. Some media outlets choose to propagate lots of political news and attempt to avoid coverage of sexual abuse or to downplay them in very short articles. This will not attract law enforcers or policy makers to pay attention to this issue. Editors and reporters should be properly trained in covering gender issues, and sexual abuse and its solutions in their publications.

3. The cases of sexual violence during the Khmer Rouge regime, and the evidence that ECCC is investigating in order to add more indictments to the defendant’s verdict are utterly crucial. The fair and square persecution of perpetrators will be a good warning and lesson for further generations to prevent such crimes from happening again.

4. The typical offenders of sexual abuse in the period of war were military personnel. Thus, they ought to be educated about gender equality and issues of sexual abuse against women and children. Meanwhile, Cambodian youths should be educated through moral education and religion(s). This action can help to prevent gang-rape and sexual abuse in society when young people see or experience bauk. More importantly, it will also work in periods of war or chaos, for they may one day become military personnel.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com

 

Comments on how Cambodia’s legislation can be improved and made more transparent

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 27 MAY 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

ការ​ផ្តល់​យោបល់​លើ​សេចក្តី​ព្រៀង​ច្បាប់​គឺ​ធ្វើ​ឲ្យ​ច្បាប់​កាន់​តែ​ល្អ​ប្រសើរ

Single party meeting in National Assembly recently. Sreng Meng Srun

Single party meeting in National Assembly recently. Sreng Meng Srun

Freedom of speech in Cambodia seem to be deteriorating while the tendencies of opposition and criticism to the government has increasingly emerged among people, ranging from the parliament member of opposition parties to the ordinary citizen, especially those who have suffered from the injustice, exploitation and oppression. These problems are the results of the poor drafting and enforcement of laws.

The suppression of political rights and freedoms in Cambodia tends to be complex and systematic. We can find such examples by just looking at the office buildings used for the implementation of legislative, executive, and judiciary policies. In the front of the former office building of National Assembly is a park, which is located in front of Botum Vatey Pagoda, and the protesters can use this garden as the place to gather and demonstrate.

However, the new National Assembly is connected to the main road by two streets and there is only a small garden in the middle of these paths. Moreover, the fence and the entrance, which surrounds the National Assembly, are so strongly built with two walls that it is difficult for protestors to break them. At the Senate, on the other hand, there is no space which the protesters can use to demonstrate. In front of the senate is Norodom Blvd. Around the office building of the Ministers’ Councils and the Peace Palace building stand fences, which are as tall as the walls that surrounded the fortress at Longvek.

“This condition allows no protester to enter the courtyard if the doors are closed as Prime Minister Hun Sen vetoed the first construction plan and held his officials responsible if protestors were able to breach the walls. As for the municipality court, if protesters want to demonstrate there, the only place they can assemble is the Olympic Stadium. Our leaders have copied-and-pasted the office building structure of the Assemblée National in Paris located in front of three boulevards, represent the repression of speech and freedom on demonstration. Obviously, these buildings leave no place or space for the protesters to gather and demonstrate. These reflect the narrow minds or mind-set of the leaders.

Based on my experience abroad, these kinds of buildings are open to the public in many countries and some of them are even open to tourists. The Palace of Westminster, at which the House of Commons is based, has a large yard which is big enough for a large group of people to gather and show condemnation of their rulers. In front of The Rajya Sabha (RS) or Council of States, the upper house of the Parliament of India, is a yard full of benches. The front courtyard of the Capitol in Washington D.C. has the capacity for at least a million people while the former House of Lords in Berlin, the base of the German parliament, is available for tourists to go in and explore the whole building.

As each related institution assures that it will protect and promote the constitution, the limitations in the process of law drafting and regulation have consequences on these supreme laws of state. For example, article 18 in the regulation of The National Assembly of Cambodia lays down that, “All the logs and documents, which are the properties of the National Assembly, have to be kept in the secretariat. Revealing them to the public or giving them to individual or group of individuals outside of the Assembly without the consent from the president of Assembly is not permitted.” This article, however, contradicts the third paragraph of article 83 stating that,”… In this case, the specific agenda of the extraordinary session has to be broadcasted to the people with the date of the meeting.”

This feature implies that the citizens have the right to be informed of all the actions through the live broadcast on televisions and the article in newspapers. Why is the restriction on gaining access to the Assembly’s logs and documents so serious while the broadcasting of extraordinary sessions is allowed? This restriction should only extend to materials which strongly affect national security.

The restriction on gaining access to the assembly’s logs and documents will have negative impacts on the interpretation and the enforcement of law, especially, in the judiciary, police and parliament. It will even lead to confusion and a public illusion among the MPs in terms of their ability to interpret the laws.

This condition will also give advantages to corrupt judges and lawyers. Once they are bribed, some judges may use legal ambiguities to reduce jail or prison sentences or allow the defendant to escape while remaining on bail. For instance, Mr. Cheam Yeab, an active Senior MP from the Cambodia People’s Party who has participated the formal discussion and debate over the making of many laws, was involved in a hit-and-run accident resulting in a fatality, but he managed to avoid prison sentences, for he had paid a large sum of money to the victim’s family. This case indicates the impunity of powerful and influential people in terms of law enforcement. Meanwhile, lawyers will use this situation to gain the benefit from both the plaintiff and the defendant. The ones who can afford to pay them more will be the winner. Here in Cambodia, if you are poor, you have to be ready to suffer from injustice and repression.

Therefore, the logs and documents are crucial to law enforcement officials since these records help them to get rid of any errors in the interpretation of laws. These records should be kept in the national library and published on the website of National Assembly.
Nonetheless, some MPs will intentionally interpret the laws in a skewed way in spite of the availability of Assembly logs and documents. For example, based on the constitutional council’s interpretation of Paragraph 1, Article 76 and Article 95 of the Constitutional Law on 22nd July, 2003, it was stated that, “The National Assembly must have at least 120 members. Here, it means that 120 members of the Assembly are required in order to be established for each term. The Election Laws do not allow the Assembly with less than 120 members to be created.”

Nevertheless, the current one-party Assembly comprises only 68 members, and it still has the authority to make and adopt the laws, even major ones. As you may recall, in the previous week, the Assembly adopted three contentious drafts of laws on the Judiciary’s independence, namely the law on the organization of court, the legal statute of judges and prosecutors, and the Law on the organizing and functioning of the Supreme Council of Judges.

Many NGOs and citizens have criticized this act as “the manifestation of Executive’s influence on the Judiciary”. Yet, Prime Minister Hun Sen mockingly responded to them by saying that he did not allow those civil societies to have any comment on the three laws. On the other hand, Mr. Yim Sovann, one of the MPs from the Cambodia National Rescue Party who has boycotted the Assembly, has shown his opposition to the adoption of these laws by claiming that if the opposition party had the power in the Assembly and in government, they would revise those laws. This encroachment of the executive on the judicial results from the lack of reconciliation between elected political parties in the Assembly and the restriction of the citizens’ freedom on speech and politics.
Moreover, according the theory of legislature, the laws, which are created with bias and injustice are not the real laws at all. In the previous week, why has Judiciary had to use the budget of the Ministry of Justice while the Executive and the Legislative have their own separate budgets?

In most developed countries, the governments have begun taking advice and comments from the public by providing them with access to their websites. In England, you can do that by going to http://www.parliament.uk. Next, you click on “Get Involved”, and the select “Have your say”, which will enable you to communicate with English MPs. This measure helps to save time and money; furthermore, those comments can be used in analytical studies to draw conclusions, and make decisions in accordance with the participation of the citizens, which is the basic tenet of democracy. In addition, each of the MPs in developed countries have around 10 legal experts as his or her assistants; in contrast to the MPs in Cambodia, many MPs have only one to carry documents, and a driver.

The National Assembly of Cambodia should be open-mined enough to take the lessons provided by developed democracies such as England as role models, and accept comments from the public in order to improve the quality of laws rather than restricting freedoms of speech and politics.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com

 

Tong Soprach, IVLP Cambodian delegation interviewed with RFA after finishing IVLP

Unofficial Translation
FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2014
RADIO FREE ASIA HEADQUARTER
WASHINGTON D.C
BY TAING SARADA

សម្ភាសលោក តុង សុប្រាជ្ញ ពីសារសំខាន់នៃវគ្គបណ្ដុះបណ្ដាលភាពជាអ្នកដឹកនាំ

#IVLP, Meridian International Center, Washington DC, USA, 2014.

#IVLP, Meridian International Center, Washington DC, USA, 2014.

This is Radio Free Asia broadcasting in Khmer. We welcome you from the studio in the Washington D.C., the United States of America!

From the Washington D.C., I, Mao Sotheany, welcome all our dear listeners. Today is August 1, 2014.

For today’s interview, we have a guess Mr. Tong Soprach, the social analyst and columnist of The Phnom Penh Post as well as the only Cambodian participant in the International Visitor Leadership Program initiated and sponsored by the Department of the State of United States of America, which is called this program as the “Youth and Community Conflict Resolution” program. Through RFA, Mr. Tong Soprach has shown the special interest in this program, which has involved 23 countries around the world. He also claimed that it is very constructive, as it has given him a lot of knowledge and experience, which will be useful and practical for his work and the development in Cambodia as well. Next, please listen to the telephone interview conducted by Mr. Taing Sarada, RFA (Washington D.C) with Mr. Tong Soprach (Los Angeles, CA).

RFA: How do you do, Mr. Tong Soprach?
Soprach: How do you do, Mr Taing Sarada?

RFA: Mr. Tong Soprach, Regarding your participation in the leadership program sponsored by the Department of States of America in the last three weeks, what have you learned from this program?
Soprach: During these weeks, today is the last week, I have learned many new things, for example, about the “bullying”, and how it becomes the cause of the conflict and violence among youths. It includes many forms such as mocking: curly hairs, white, black, short, Kteuy (LGBT) or calling family name as example. And some mocks online humiliation: Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and so on. These aspects are new program for me and obscure to most people in Cambodia. We just say about it, but there is no specific policy or guideline to deal with these aspects in our country. With this point lead me to think to design as guideline or SOP (Standard Operating Procedures). Here’s in the United States, just Washington of District of Colombia, they created and issued the bullying policy to implement and include into the school curriculum. And all schools under supervision by the district must have the bullying curriculum to address the conflict and violence resulted from bullying. Because in US, there is diversity of ethnicities if they don’t take into account in the earlier, the problem will be increased widely and nationwide.

RFA: With this problem if there is any solution on it, how do they deal with the dispute?
Soprach: This solution, firstly, they do through youths in schools, they have used what we called the “peer educators” who are smart and volunteer to help their friend. Actually, besides providing the formal education about these aspects, it simply means that they explain their peers as young people’s cohorts about how to solve the conflict. Secondly, in school is not enough, they have youth centers to support wide range of extra-curricular activities that help the teenagers build up their friendship and closeness, which help to lessen the chance of the emergence of conflict and violence. The example of these recreational activities includes create spaces for the planting, sporting, freedom of expression, debating and so on. It means that they try to get young people away from this dispute issue. The solution, they address one-by-one according to each issue with positive way.

RFA: Yeah, Mr Soprach, relevant to this leadership program and program of youth conflict resolution you have learned for three weeks; So far, what states have you been to? What are they?
Soprach: As scheduled in the program, I have learned five states. They are Washington D.C., New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Los Angeles of California.

RFA: You have experience learning about conflict resolution in the United States as well as many other international delegations who came from different countries. According to those experiences, what is your recommend how to deal with the problems emerging from the conflicts among youths as well as gangs and their activities in Cambodian society?
Soprach: This point is strongly related to the elitism in Cambodia. In the United States, most of the wealthy or noble (government officers) parents are concerned with their children’s education and ethic, and therefore, send them to good school as well as be strict with them in term of their social development so that their children use their wealth and prestige to cause trouble in the society. On the contrary, many Cambodian children from rich and noble family (government officers) are often treated indulgently or spoiled by their parents, or their parents do not pay much attention to their children’s education or activities, which has consequences on their social developments and peer relations. They may build up rings of gangs or gang leaders, using their wealth and prestige to recruit the members of the rings. The two activities are different trends or characteristics.

In addition, some rich and noble (government officers) Cambodian parents protect their children from law enforcement when they do anything wrong. For instance, when the children cause traffic accident or fight other youths, their parents tend to use their power to help them get away with it as impunity that fuel the injustice in society. In conclusion, education and parental guidance are the main differences between Cambodian and American societies. In the United States, I once asked directly to a police officer for suggestion, you do a good job in addressing the issue in your community but whereas my country as example if the kids of the rich and/or noble government officers do activities as fight other youths or use the car to crash anyone. This violence problem, police officers only arrested them or send to the court, after that these authorities released them freely. What do your suggestion to deal with issue? He (The police officer) answered that only the strong commitment and decision making of the government to reform the court system and improve the enforcement mechanisms can solve the problem and they should get away from any political manner of your leaders.

RFA: Mr Soprach, As you may be aware of the issue in Cambodia that the kids of the rich and/or noble government officers who disturb society; sometimes, the police officers are scary of those kids or don’t arrest those kids and/or ignore sometimes their guilt and wrongdoing; example, related to traffic accidents when they ignore when they saw those kids drive SUV Land cruiser or Lexus car passing the stop red light. Around this issue, in your opinion, how does it affect Cambodian society and Cambodian youth?
Soprach: Yes, that’s not good role model. In fact, in the United States, the police officers / any authority enforce the law under their territory managements such as city or county level, they can implement well, and no one could interfere in their work through political agenda / economic elitism or nepotism as Cambodia. Here (in the States) Americans are equal under the laws, they arrest all as well as the court. I also asked the judge and attorney, they enforce the laws equally and independently. It is not through the high ranking officials who order to release anyone. This cause a problem in our nation until now.

RFA: Now look at the youth involvement in the politics, to what extent that the American youths have their rights and freedom in participating in the political activities that you have learned or observed?
Soprach: Relevant to the politic, youth participate through freedom of speech, in the United States, the American youths can express their freedom of expression freely, not just only go to school. They also take part in trying to understand the politic and in expressing their points of view toward the government’s politic and processes of political activities through volunteer, trainings, sports… etc. They seems to have enough capacity to involve in politic, not just learned how to distribute any present the poor as many Cambodian youth do. In here (The States), they have many activities that lead their youth join in develop their community.

RFA: Can you compare in social developments for youth in Cambodia and the United States?
Soprach: Social development for youth in Cambodia, there are two main points: Firstly, in our country, National Youth Development Policy passed but there is no clear action or enforcement mechanism regarding youths’ social development. In fact, they have what they plan to do on the paper, but they have no tools to make it practical. For example, they planned to create play sites and recreational parks for children, yet secondly all the land scape or state land have been sold out, and almost lakes were filled out for so-called development and investment; especially, Beung Kok lake case and now Tompun lake is on going to fill out. And other state lands were sold out as example, the red soil space around the Olympic stadium where I used to play football when I was a boy, now sold out. Therefore, youth start not to have no place to play sports or recreational activities, they are highly likely to be involved in any wrongdoing/illegal activities or the rings of gang and getting worse and crime. This opposes to the United States, I found out two important places; as example, firstly in New York even densely populated area, but they try to create sport fields: Baseball pitch, soccer pitch and basketball for their young people play. Secondly, in Minnesota state, Minneapolis city keeps big lakes, in which young people can gather and enjoy swimming and rowing. This condition allows peer education and idea sharing, and thus improves their social development. I am here and aware of the two different nations.

RFA: Thank you, Mr. Tong Soprach, for your time with RFA.
Soprach: Yes, Thank you. Mr. Taing Sarada.

VOA Interviewed Mr Tong Soprach from Cambodia about IVLP participation

Unofficial Translation
TUESDAY, 15 JULY 2014
VOICE OF AMERICA HEADQUARTER
WASHINGTON D.C
BY POCHIN CHOEUNG

Tong Soprach at VOA Headquarter, July 13, 2014

Tong Soprach at VOA Headquarter, July 13, 2014

Welcome to the Voice of America in Khmer!

Good Morning, dear listeners! Today is Tuesday, the15th of July 2014. I, as well as my associate, welcome you from the Washington D.C.

For today broadcasting, we present to you the interview with Mr. Tong Soprach, a Cambodian social analyst and a participant in the “Youth and Community Conflict Resolution” program initiated by the Department of States of the United States of America through US Embassy in Cambodia.

VOA: Good Morning, Mr. Tong Soprach!
Soprach: Good Morning, Mr Pochin!

VOA: Welcome to the VOA studio in Washington D.C., and we really appreciate your presence here. For what reasons have you come to the Washington D.C.?
Soprach: I have come here as a participant in an International Visitor Leadership Program. This program has been called as the “Youth and Community Conflict Resolution”, it is one of IVLP program.

VOA: Does this program focus on youths or ordinary citizens?
Soprach: This program focuses on both youths and community. To be specific, it deals with the activities of young people and their effects on and relation to the communities.

VOA: How many days will this program take? Have you been any other places beside Washington D.C.?
Soprach: This program will take three weeks, and it includes five locations in the field trip: Washington D.C., New York, Minnesota, Wyoming and Los Angeles.

VOA: To what extent do you consider the program’s importance?
Soprach: This program is crucial for Cambodia, where the conflicts caused by some groups of youths, better known as gangs(Kmeng Tomneng), and their activities are causing so much trouble. For example, violence usually breaks out among them while they are dancing in the wedding or other celebrations due to some small arguments and bad temper. Worse, some start the fight because they are not pleased when they are stared or looked at directly on the face, which they consider as rudeness or humiliation. These problems emerge as our concerns. Furthermore, most parents are not only afraid that their children may become the gang members but also that they will bully or harm their children. Furthermore, the entire communities find them as a threat to their security.

VOA: As you have mentioned, these problem seem to be extremely serious in Cambodia. What are your plan and tactics to tackle with them when you go back to Cambodia?
Soprach: From what I have learned from the program, there are many ways to deal with these problems. For instance, we can directly teach all those youths about it in courses or the formal education. We can also make the (enforcement) national youth policy and their activities. Besides, this program involves meeting and sharing experiences with many officials, from the government of the United States and many other countries, who experience working with youths and conflict management resulted from their activities. Most of countries those officials come from are the ones with the experience of encountering and dealing with wars and post conflicts, such as Cambodia, Nigeria, Palestine, Egypt, Nicaragua, Turkey, Israel, and so on. For me, I have come here to learn from them about gangs and conflict management as well as to share my experiences that relate to the topic. As a social-affairs columnist of the Phnom Penh Post, I am going to use what I have learned from the program and the experiences, combined with my ideas, in my writing. Therefore, my work will help the policy-makers and programmer improve their capability and extend their knowledge so that they can better deal with the problem emerged from among the youths. Moreover, when I have chance, I will discuss it with the youths directly in Cambodia.

VOA: Regarding the problems related to youths and their conflict in Cambodia, do you think they are deteriorating?
Soprach: Actually, the situation has improved a bit, as the government has involved itself in tackling those problems through its local policy regarding the security in the communities and many jobless youths immigrated to Thailand to look for jobs. According to my research finding on youth gang violence in 2003, the root of these problems is unemployment which lead them to involve in fighting very easy and in the rings of gangs and their activities. Once involved in these aspects, they tend to start the argument and the fights easily.

VOA: You have come to United States because you have been selected for the program initiated by the Department of States of the United States of America. How many Cambodians have been selected besides you?
Soprach: To be honest, I am the only Cambodian to be selected for this program of YCCR.

VOA: Can you tell us how to apply for it and what are the required qualifications?
Soprach: Honestly, I don’t know exactly about the required qualifications for the program; I knew only I was nominated and then I saw my name on the list from US Embassy. Yet, I think I was nominated because I have much experience working with youths on a wide range of issues such as sexual abuse, youth violence, gang rape, youth development and so on. But for the process of detail selection for this program I don’t know.

VOA: Thank you, Mr. Tong Soprach! I wish you best of luck, and I hope you will enjoy the rest of the field trip.
Soprach: Thank Mr Pochin!

Who is going to resign if the intervention would be poor during the Water Festival?

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 4 NOVEMBER 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

ហ៊ានលាលែងពីតំណែងទេបើអន្តរាគមន៍គ្មានប្រសិទ្ធភាពក្នុងពិធីអុំទូក?

First night of the Water Festival on Nov. 5 in the Sisowath quay near the Royal Palace. May Virak

First night of the Water Festival on Nov. 5 in the Sisowath quay near the Royal Palace. Mai Virak

Resignation does not really exist in the Cambodian culture even if something bad happens as the result of carelessness, it will be attributed to an accident or natural disaster. Notably, the example of the plane crash, caused by the pilot’s error, was declared on the news an outcome of natural disaster as well.

We can remember during the previous King, H.M. Norodom Sihanouk’s re-coronation and birthday in 1992, there was a celebration and a ceremony of Bun Taing Tok at the Royal Palace, which was opened to the public, and unfortunately, twenty people died in the crowd near the north gate. In 2007, during the Water Festival international boats join in competition, one of the boat sank near the Phnom Penh autonomous port, killing five Singaporean men, as both the police and the marine could not reach them on time. One year later, a female boat-dancer drowned and died after a boat was sunk by the strong flow of water.

Another tragedy during the Water Festival is the stampede on Pich bridge, Koh Pich Island of Phnom Penh, which occurred in 2010 when 353 people were killed and another 755 injured in a human stampede. Last week, another young man was killed in the firework accident on the tenth anniversary of King Norodom Sihamoni’s coronation. Regarding this tragedy, no authority official accepted the responsibility. Instead of admitting their carelessness, they just got away with it by putting their finger on the “accident”.

“The people’s lives in Cambodia seemed to be the things of no value and meaning. If someone dies in such a way, the news of his or her death will be broadcasted on T.V. so that some generous people could contribute some money to his or her family. Even Prime Minister Hun Sen has been doing the same thing, without finding the long-term solution.
Should we allow such careless management to repeat? Is there any measure to deal with it? Could the resignation or dismissal be used as the penalty for the not-on-time intervention or careless management?

Lets look at an example. In South Korea, after the sinking of MV Sewol, occurring on the morning of 16 April 2014 en route from Incheon to Jeju and killing more than 300 secondary students, South Korea Prime Minister Chung Hong-Won was stepped-down himself and the 15 relevant officials were arrested and eventually decided to resign from their office. Could the Cambodian officials not resign because they are afraid that they would not find another job or is it a shame to them? Therefore, the authorities need to show serious commitment on dealing with such situations in their territories. Many things have to be done for internal celebration area (vehicle restriction area) and external celebration area:

1. Internal Celebrating Area:
• The rescue forces should not only mobilize on land and water but also in the air. The parachute rescue force and helicopter will be needed to observe and monitor the situations on land and water, which allows for quick information transmission and intervention.
• Inside of each racing boat must have lifejackets for all athletics.
• The paths to the entrance and exit/ on the way have to be separated in order to prevent stampede. We cannot risk the repeat of the Koh Pich Stampede.

• The undercover security forces have to be expanded to work against the gangs, who cause the chaos, the molesters, and thieves.
• The number of ambulances on the roads needs to be accumulated. According to the Ambulance control office, there are more than ten ambulances in Phnom Penh. So, how do we increase the number of ambulances? The Ministry of Health has banned the private clinics’ ambulance, claiming that their ambulance workers have no required skill. There have been debates over the controversial issue in which the ambulances of Sen Sok Hospital did participate in the emergency medical forces during the Koh Pich Stampede accident.

2. External celebrating Areas:
• There have to be strict regulation for land and ferry vehicles regarding their weight load, especially ferries and boats. The vehicle must not be overloaded because during these holidays, many residents of Phnom Penh will be going to the provinces while those of the provinces will be coming to Phnom Penh to enjoy the Water Festival.
• Road traffic accidents happen every day. During the Water Festival, greater caution needs to be exercised with this issue. The government has to increase the number of the traffic police on the road and temporarily banned big trucks from entering the city. Usually, the drivers of those trucks give some money to the police so that they can drive into the city. Almost every year, all the road traffic police officers gather at nowhere but the Royal Palace and the celebrating forum, as they already get money from the luxury car drivers [high ranking officials] than care about the trucks to allow them to go into the city.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com

Cambodia and Thailand Should Re-discuss OCA

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 28 OCTOBER 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

កម្ពុជា-ថៃ គួរចាប់ផ្តើមជជែកឡើងវិញរឿង OCA

Prime Minister Hun San shook hand with Tanasak Patimapregom, Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs at Peace Palace last month. Hong Mina

Prime Minister Hun San shook hand with Tanasak Patimapregom, Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs at Peace Palace last month. Hong Mina

On 30th and 31st October, the Royal Government of Cambodia will welcome the arrival of The Thai Delegation led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in Phnom Penh. Both parties are going to sign three memorandums of understanding (MOU) regarding the issues of tourism cooperation, human trafficking elimination and victim support, and railway connection between the two countries. However, the overlapping claims area (OCA), in which lie the oil reserves, along Cambodian-Thai sea border, is excluded from the discussion.

This is a good opportunity for the two governments to re-discuss OCA. Especially, the National Assembly and the Senate should give the forum for the debates over the national resources and how the two countries can gain mutual benefits from them, rather than allow its workers, along with their advisors and assistants (of course, also their henchmen/nepotism) to have too much spare time, enjoying their high pay. Notably, some of them are just the secretariats of the Parliament or Senate, but they have so many advisors, whose positions are even equal to those of the under- secretary, although very few of them come to work. Most of them come to the office only on their payday.

In 2001, the Head of Cambodian and Thai governments signed an MOU, which stated their agreement to co-govern the 27000-klometer-square OCA, located in the Gulf of Thailand, yet Thai party imposed the suspension of this agreement in 2009 due to Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra [former Thai Prime Minister] had been designated to be the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Economy Advisor. After a group of Thai delegates visited Cambodia in September this year, the senior official of Thailand’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and Environment reported the a Thai local newspaper The Nation about discussion on the Cambodian-Thai OCA. Cambodian senior official of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, on the other hand, said we did not talk about this topic. But it is good to discuss on OCA issue.

When the oil and natural gas were under management of Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA), the related information seemed to be or partially anonymous. How many Cambodian citizens know about the existence of the oil and natural gas? Do the “higher ranking officials” get much money from them? Does the government keep the fact that they have given the licenses to the private companies to explore those resources hidden from the citizen? What was the money used on? We have no answer to these questions. Meanwhile, the Anti-corruption Unit can only caught the “Small Fish” while the “Big Fish” are swimming freely and peacefully in the water.

“Furthermore, the CNPA authority who worked under the Council of Ministers, seem to have no transparency. They even drafted the false speech for the prime minister Hun Sen, which said that the first drop of Cambodian oil would appear at 12 o’clock on the twelfth of the twelfth month of 2012, bringing him the unforgettable embarrassment.

The case above shows the consequence of centralized power system, which requires the consent from the Council for any decision, including any biding for big projects such as road or bridge constructions. Even the bidding for rubbish collection service in Phnom Penh is also held there; apparently, they want to gather all the under-the-table money there for themselves.

Currently, the oil and gas matter is improving, as those resources are now under the management of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The ministry can get some profits from the oil and natural gas reserves in Cambodian territory. From example, Chevron oil company who has invested approximately $160 million in studying and exploring the oil and natural gas extracting capability in area A in the last decade, sold the 65-million-worth share to Kris Energy Ltd. of Singapore in August this year.

In the meantime, areas B-F are all seems to have their owners by the control of Chinese and/or Japanese companies. Nonetheless, the information about the incomes earned from the negotiations, the permission to explore oil and natural gases, and the bid remains confidential. Considering this aspect, the Ministry should prove the transparency and accountability in revealing the data of income and the Anti-corruption Unit also track down the “Big Fish”, even when there is no complaint. Moreover, the drafting of law on monitoring oil reserves has been postponed since 2010. When will the law be adopted? When will the data about the income be revealed to the public? How much money was gained from those resources and how is it spent?

For the ones who commit embezzlement, I want you to stop your evil deed or you might suffer from, so to speak, the curse of oil, just like Nigeria, a large oil producing country, in which people have conflicts with one another. Cambodia should learn from the other ASEAN member states’ experience of settling the dispute arising from OCAs.
For instance, the documents recorded and complied by the Wikipedia.com describe the settlement of the dispute emerged from the oil and natural gas reserves in Malaysia-Thai OCAs. This dispute began with an MOU from 1979, but because both parties had continually negotiated and thus improved their relationship, they finally agreed to allow the corporations of both countries to divide the benefits from the resources equally (50%-50%).

The fifty-fifty formula could be the ideal choice for the issue of Cambodia-Thai OCAs because it could allow us to know the size and depth of the reserves if one of the two parties claims that their share is bigger. In case that still happens, there could be no solution, as one party may drill to the side of the other. Oil and natural gas are non-renewable resources; if we do pay no heed to them, they may become exhausted in no time. Besides, Cambodia does not have enough experience and expert regarding this issue; therefore, all it can do is to accept the advices of the other countries, which may bring disadvantages. If there is another MOU of OCA, both Cambodia and Thailand need to create the clear-cut boundary between politics and business.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com

 

Why is the approximately 17 million dollar budget for the district / municipal level underspent ?

Unofficial Translation from The Phnom Penh Post’s Khmer edition
TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2014,
TONG SOPRACH

ហេតុអ្វីបានជាថវិកាក្រុង-ស្រុកប្រមាណ $១៧ លានចាយមិនអស់?

 

Miss Tek Nim, Orm Laeng communal council Chief at her office, Thporng district, Kampong Speu province. Heng Chivoan

Miss Tek Nim, Orm Laeng communal council Chief at her office, Thporng district, Kampong Speu province. Chivoan

Last week, the senior government officials were delighted, enjoying their life very much with the bonuses the just received, which included a representative bonus, hospitality bonus, mission bonus and utility bonus. All these bonuses were combined in a single package, as mentioned in the Sub-decree adopted by the government on 13 October, which introduces the positive-based bonuses to government members and advisors of similar positions, civil servants and military officers whose positions range from undersecretaries of state to higher positions. To receive the bonus, the senior government officials at the national level will find it easy since they just need to sign off on the paper work.

The officials on the sub-national levels, on the other hand, often complain about the complicated and slow process of documenting budgets for expenditure and detailing how they use it, especially at the district / municipal levels, which seem to be the most complicated. I have been talking with some district officers to forecast the progress and the development of Decentralization and Deconcentration (D&D) through sub-national democratic development. According to their statements, the process of development is not a serious problem, yet the application of the budgeting process and the submission of the reports about it, as required by the new procedure, are really a nuisance. Before, when they [D/M] were under the Ministry of Interior, they would get the budgets just after the financial officer signed some papers at the provincial office.

Since the enforcement of Sub-decree No. 36 in 2013, the budget for district / municipal level has been about 0.8 percent of the national current income [in 2012], which roughly amounts to 17 million dollars. The distributions of the budget depend on the size of the populations in the districts or towns, some of which receive approximately 20 to 50 thousand dollars. The budget covers the salaries of the local D/M officials, allowances for district/municipal councils, maintenance and repair of the offices and the purchase of other facilities, as well as social development, which accounts for the least proportion of the budget at only one percent.

The difficult part lies in the process of submitting the supporting documents to propose the budget at the provincial town. To get the development budget finalized, endorsement from two institutions is required while the application of salaries requires endorsement from three: the Provincial Department of Public Functions, Provincial Department of Finance and Economy and lastly the Provincial Department of Treasury where they work out and generate the budget. In the meantime, it is more difficult if compared to communal councils level to getting the budget requires only direct interaction with the provincial treasury.

Furthermore, the submission of supporting documents is a lengthy process. It takes at least two weeks for the money to be transferred into each official’s account since an official will have to get past three or four offices of the three institutions before they can get to meet the head of the provincial treasury.

“In some offices, there are two or three officers who are responsible for checking the relevant documents, thus the documents have to be examined by around fifteen officers before they are accepted. On top of that, each of the officers need be offered some tips, around 5 or even 10 dollars for senior officers; this is known as “under-the table-money”. Totally, the local official needs to spend around 90 to 100 dollars whenever they come to provincial center to get the budget.

The hardest place to get around is the provincial finance department, where mistakes are usually found on the documents. If the officers there find some mistakes, the documents are returned to their places of origin [district/municipality] to be corrected. Those officers advise on how to correct them if they are contacted, but the relevant provincial officials have not yet provided any course from which they can learn about the new reform.

Obviously, this is a trick of the provincial official to earn some money. Not given a tip, they would just ignore the documents, retaining them and telling the applicants to come back later. In their journey back and forth between the district and provincial center, the accounting officials will have to pay for their own expenses if the district governor does not reimburse them. These costs include gasoline, meals, and photocopying services. If the documents need to be brought back and forth three or four times due to mistakes, they have to spend 25 to 30 dollars for a round-trip, even for districts that is not too far from the provincial center. And what about Veal Veng district of Pursat province, which is located more than 70 kilometers of bad roads away from the center? And how about Sampov Luon district of Battambang province, which is located more than 100 kilometers from the center?

According to some district administration officers offered an interview , some accounting officials have wanted to quit their jobs because they have to spend too much of their own money travelling back and forth so many times each month. Why has the new reform made their lives more miserable? Why don’t the provincial authorities create a one-window service policy to ease the bureaucratic snags and prevent corruption? Is because of nepotism, which allows the district governor to appoint their henchmen to accounting positions? These henchmen may not specialize or even have backgrounds in the relevant fields or know how to work with the reforms. These so-called officers make the situation worse, but some accounting officers claim that this issue demands more attention and effort to ease the implementation of new reforms which always starts with difficulties and becomes more smooth afterwards.

Regarding the budget for development projects, the new system complicates the expenditure, as it sets limitations on auctions and expenses and demands that district officials provide detailed reports about their expenses and send them to the inter-provincial departments. That is because the district governors, including the governors of the autonomous districts, are the ones who have the authority to decide on those expenditures. In 2013, some districts almost exceeded their planned budgets while others had more than 10 percent left – about 20 or 30 million Riels in cash. These remaining amounts were rolled over to be used for the next year. The reasons for the leftovers, as stated by different “officers, are the long procedures, the complicated processes, and the bidding process durability of the development activity. Notably, some claimed that they spent the entire budget, but reports submitted to be cleared at the provincial financial department and the provincial treasury department documented some money left from the budget, which was later regarded as leftovers of the budget this year [in 2013].

In conclusion, the failure to use up the budget for the district/municipal level reveals the weakness in the monitoring and evaluation system of the Ministry of Economy and Finance in their financial reform, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability in subnational development. If the 17-million-dollar budget cannot be all used up, how much is left over? What are real reasons for this underspending? Nothing is known yet!
Regarding D&D reform, the Ministry of Economy and Finance has not been implementing it with real commitment. The democratic development on subnational levels exists only on paper, in principle and title, and it is used only to trick donors into becoming development partners. In fact, the ministry, as well as the government, should reconsider this issue and treat sub-national level development in the same way as development at the national level. For example, they cannot just package all the bonuses for the senior government officials working at national level like they did last week while allowing those at the sub-national level to struggle financially, as they barely have enough money to spend. Therefore, the Ministry of Economy and Finance should find a solution that can ease the burden of the officials working on the subnational levels, allowing them to fully use their budgets, according to plan.

Tong Soprach is a social-affairs columnist for the Post’s Khmer edition.

Comments: soprach.tong@phnompenhpost.com