The government should throw its weight behind Cambodia’s young and dynamic private sector, which has the talent and skills to capitalise on the opportunities presented by ASEAN regional economic integration, a government adviser said during a forum on Friday.
Sok Siphana, managing partner of Sok Siphana & Associates law firm and an adviser to the Cambodian government, said the private sector is the driving force behind the Kingdom’s high economic growth, and young professionals and entrepreneurs have advanced in ways the government cannot match.
“The private sector is five steps ahead of the government,” he said during a lecture organised by the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS). “At the end of the day, one would hope that we have more young, educated government officials who can match our young Cambodian entrepreneurs.”
He urged efforts to bridge the knowledge gap, adding it was difficult for the government to develop policies and strategies for things it does not understand.
“You have this young association of entrepreneurs, who are very advanced, and then they go and have a meeting with a very senior official in the ministry, who has no clue what this guy is talking about.”
Fortunately, he said, technology can level the playing field, whether for the government to catch up, or the private sector to compete more effectively with regional competitors.
“Use technology to skip the learning curve because, at the end of the day, technology is the great equaliser,” Siphana said.
CISS co-founder and president Kung Phoak said he believes the government has the potential to fill the knowledge gap, and has made many recent improvements by adopting technological solutions, such as online business registration.
“I think the government will be able to catch up soon,” he said. “Cambodia has only opened up to the world since the early 1990s, so there is a lot more for the country to learn on how globalisation works, because the world is changing fast and the region is also changing fast.”
Phoak said the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) last December has given Cambodia access to a huge market for trade and investment, but requires the government to design policies that can assist the private sector in capitalising on these opportunities.
“Policymakers try to promote the kind of benefits people can get from the AEC, but at the same time you can feel the nervousness amongst the private sector – and some policymakers as well – questioning the abilities in which governments within the region will take advantage of the AEC,” he said.
“This kind of debate is not just happening in Cambodia, but in other countries as well, so I think it is good for Cambodia to start a little bit early [to open dialogue] so that some views and ideas can be shared,” he added.