>Taxpayers fund Cambodia’s corruption

>The Guam Daily News
By A. Gaffar Peang-Meth

Cambodia’s July 27 general election, the fourth since the 1991 United Nations “Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict,” is, again, a lopsided political competition for power among eleven political parties — reduced from more than 50 earlier — for 123 parliamentarian seats.
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There’s nothing “fair” and “equitable” about an election where the ruling Cambodian People’s Party controls the nation’s 30 TV and radio broadcast outlets, and opposition parties have little voice. More than 8 million people have registered to vote.

The non-partisan Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia observed on July 2, “at least 16 cases” of “disturbance, intimidation and threat against political parties” in the first week of the election campaign, and charged, “civil servants, authorities and armed forces have not only taken part in supporting the ruling party but have also conducted activities against other political parties.”

The July 9 Cambodia Daily’s Kuch Naren wrote about electoral “campaign complaints from political parties who have reported alleged vote buying, bias, threats and violence.” Chhorn Chansy reported 10 of 11 parties (absent was the Cambodian People’s Party) competing for election “pledged publicly … to enact an anti-corruption law within the first six months of being elected.”

Earlier, the June 23 Inter Press Service reported that 40 Cambodian civil society groups jointly expressed concern over increased political violence in the first half of the year; and that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused the ruling party of political intimidation and manipulation of the judicial system leading up to the election.

The leading opposition Sam Rainsy Party charged that the party’s deputy secretary-general, former Minister of Women’s Affairs, and nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Mu Sochua, an SRP candidate, was physically assaulted by a CPP “army general,” that left her blouse “undone, leaving her half-naked” before a crowd of men.

There’s nothing “free” and “fair” about such an election. Neither does it take a sage to predict the winner. Some say it’s better to have a less than free and fair election than to have no election at all. But when political parties are obliged to participate in grossly flawed elections do they not “legitimize” the victors who can claim a mandate through polls?

IPS says Sen “has already vowed that CPP would govern alone” after its victory, and Agence France Presse said he has vowed publicly to remain in power until he’s 90 — he’s only 55 today.

An Asia Times Online statistic shows Cambodia’s rate of poverty at 35 percent — defined as those who live on less than one dollar per day — out of a total population of 13.3 million.

Yet donor countries are pumping in financial aid worth nearly half of Cambodia’s national budget to enable the current regime to hang on to power.

If you Google “Global Witness Cambodia’s Family Trees,” you can read a 95-page report by the London-based non-governmental organization Global Witness, released in June 2007, titled, “Cambodia’s Family Trees: Illegal logging and the stripping of public assets by Cambodia’s elite,” complete with names and photos of political and military personalities, and their kin, alleged to be involved in dismantling the country’s wealth.

The report, banned in Cambodia, alleged “evidence of entrenched criminality with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces,” and accused China and the United States of “providing direct military assistance” to the CPP’s RCAF.

The report charges, donor countries “have refused to acknowledge the fact that the (Cambodian) government is thoroughly corrupt … billions of dollars worth of aid funded by western taxpayers have done relatively little to improve the lives of ordinary Cambodians,” and that the regime “is successfully exploiting international aid as a source of political legitimacy.”

I confess that certain shocking parts of the report took my breath away.

In the Aug. 8, 2007 Asia Times Online, Marawaan Marcan-Makar’s “If a tree falls, does the World Bank hear it?” mocked World Bank president Robert Zoellick, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, for his “mild tone against corruption in Cambodia,” and for choosing “words carefully when reprimanding errant states in which (the Bank) has big stakes.”

Marcan-Makar reported that in a 2006 survey of corruption in the Asia-Pacific region, the Berlin-based global anti-graft watchdog, Transparency International, listed Cambodia among countries with “the highest … corruption,” perpetuating “rampant corruption” and “undermining improvements in quality of life for the poorest citizens.” Transparency International ranked Cambodia 151 among the 163 countries, with the least corrupt nations ranked with lower numbers.

Sadly, Cambodia’s Mekong Times reported that King Father Norodom Sihanouk, who has paid “close attention to reports of injustices and irregularities in Cambodian society” and who is “vigilantly watching all such issues,” has said he has “no power to deal with deficiencies and injustices … at present.”

We speak of justice and equity as a basis for peace, but donor countries’ financial assistance to Cambodia’s ruling party, an organization chastised by non-governmental organizations and rights groups, is not a source of comfort. It raises questions about donor countries who would appear to pursue their interests at the expense of the welfare of the people who are suffering under the rule of a corrupt regime.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years.
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