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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Academy begins long haul for answers

Academy begins long haul for answers

T HE fledgling Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy, which will identify, research and suggest answers to the litany of Cambodia's problems - political, economic, cultural and social - is now searching for money. The academy last week appointed American Professor Everett Kleinjans as president. Kleinjans developed the East-West Center in Hawaii into what it is today - a prestigious, $25 million operation that gathers the world's keenest minds to deal with international problems. The Cambodian academy intends following its lead.

In an interview with Matthew Grainger, Professor Kleinjans tells of his history, and explains the goals and problems faced by the year-old academy.

EVERETT KLEINJANS first realized he wanted to work for peace after "certain experiences as an infantry soldier during World War II."

He taught English in a college in China for nine months, "getting acquainted with the people" before the Korean War broke out. As an American "things got a bit tense and we decided to leave".

He taught for five years at the Meiji Gakuin University in Japan and for a further four years as the university's academic vice president.

He then accepted an invitation to become president of the East-West Center in Hawaii, a research and training body dedicated to promote better relations and understanding between the United States and the Asia Pacific region.

He resigned in 1980 after developing the center into a $25 million, internationally renown "think-tank". He then became Professor Emeritus at Hawaii's Pacific University, given free rein to teach "something big" to the students - he settled on a course investigating "all the world's problems".

"With cross-cultural communication, even with the best will in the world, people will misunderstand each other through cultural boundaries," he says.

"All the world's problems are interrelated," he adds.

Asia - and conflict resolution - is Everett Kleinjans' forte.

Meanwhile, in Phnom Penh after the 1993 Paris Peace Accords Doctor Thach Bunroeun was trying to piece together a institute similar to the United States' East-West.

Dr Thach realized Cambodia could barely face its many problems without international help - not adversarial or critical - but by experts who could work at and offer solutions.

King Norodom Sihanouk gave his blessing and name to Thach's scheme - The Preah Sihanouk Raj Academy - the Asia Foundation gave money and the embassies of Great Britain, Thailand, Germany and Canada helped with equipment.

Thach remembers arriving on moto-taxis, dripping wet, to plead his case.

Kleinjans was one of the original planning committee members, as are many distinguished international academics and Khmer leaders.

Simply, Thach visited Hawaii on his honeymoon, and told Kleinjans: "You would make a good president". Kleinjans accepted.

The task, Kleinjans admits, is "daunting".

"My first impression (of Cambodia) is that there is a tremendous amount of energy here," says Kleinjans.

"I have talked to many prominent people here both in the government and outside it and I have found that even with all the problems there is still a lot of hope."

The academy has identified seven institutes that should be established as soon as possible - international relations; natural resources; social and political development; industrial and urban life; education; cultural development and economics and trade - "and perhaps some we haven't yet thought of," says Kleinjans.

Kleinjans' first task is to find the money to set them up and the right people to head them.

As to which of them deserve priority "I don't know where to start," he says.

Two are already working: cultural development under Professor Chheng Phon and an "anti-corruption" group under the political development umbrella.

Both, he admits, were opportunistic - money from the Toyota and Asia Foundations were available respectively for each "and if you happen to have money there for a project, then get it started," he says.

The type of money involved is huge: "We could spent $1 million very quickly on just one institution each year, there is so much to do," he says.

"I don't know where the money will come from, ultimately the Cambodian economy will improve and (the government will be able to) support it but that will take years."

Kleinjans cobbled together international funds while at the East-West Center - even from the governments of places such as Papua New Guinea Bangladesh "simply because we wanted all these countries to be partners with us and have a stake in the answers."

The findings and recommendations of the Cambodian academy's institutes are to be seen as a possible basis for change.

"Take political and social development for example, what does this mean? The first is that there should be no corruption in society."

"Our group will investigate the impact corruption causes and the possible solutions to the problem. We will bring in experts to speak at seminars and through this the data and answers that emerge could be used to educate people," he says.

"You have heard the saying 'Truth will win in the marketplace'. That is nonsense - truth will only win if it is wrapped up in a human being, willing to fight, and if necessary to die for it."

"Truth doesn't walk down the main street. We want to help give knowledge and training to people willing to put that into action."

Cambodia seems a bit like the 19th century Wild West "but there are people around that want to do something, to improve things. I'm pleased to have met many government officials," he says.

"One of them who was highly-placed said to me: 'We want the straight goods, whether it is criticism or not, we need it.' The academy will make constructive criticisms but we are not here to oppose, we are here to get the facts to help people," Kleinjans says.

"We do not support one political party or the other, we are ultimately here to enhance the quality of life for the people."

However, he says: "Both (Dr Thach) Bunroeun and I recognize that almost everything we do will be political, especially when the government has so much to do."

"We are bound to bump into somebody, someplace."

"But we are not here to criticize but to build. If our ideas are different from others, OK throw them out - but we will try to get to the facts and get them out as positively as we can."

He said the academy would try to give positive, objective views about various problems.

Kleinjans has no set tenure at the moment. "We don't even have a board at present. We are in the process of appointing one."

"But for me there will be only two items on the agenda. One, is the president doing a good job? If the answer is yes, the second item will be the adjournment. If no, the next would be who can we get to replace him?"

"I have no contract except the human one of making promises and working on how to keep them."

"This institution will succeed. We don't need a big publicity campaign or need a big name. If we get the work done, and done well, people will recognize that."

The academy was also at present developing ties with similar centers, such as Kleinjan's former employers the East-West Center, the Institute for South East Asian Studies in Singapore, and others in Malaysia and Japan.

Kleinjans says he is not against power per se, but the institute had its own ethical standards of how to use and disseminate the knowledge it gained.

As to the institute's future "five years from now is easier to predict than the short-term future."

"In one year from now I would like to see set the basic funding structure of the organization and how we bring people in to run our institutions."

" I don't see the academy developing rapidly."

Kleinjans says the challenge for Cambodian people is immediate and despite the problems, people will rise to meet that challenge.

"I see roads being mended, buildings renovated, things being sharpened, cleaned...."

"Hope is the dimension of the human psyche that lies in the future. Hope is wrapped up in a human being, like Martin Luther King, or Ghandi."

"We want to work with people with hope, and give them more knowledge and skills to get in there and work gradually to make a difference, to make a change."

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