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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Comment: The path to a fair and just Cambodia

Comment: The path to a fair and just Cambodia


Pou Sovachana, right, former Undersecretary of State for Tourism, offers

his view of the real issues facing Cambodia

Pou Sovachana, former Undersecretary of State for Tourism,

offers his view of the real issues facing Cambodia

AS A government official, I have an obligation to the people of Cambodia to give

an objective account of the real issues of Cambodia based on my personal experiences.

In Cambodia, I don't try to understand everything; some things will just never make

sense. I accept this is an ugly reality of life and until I can change it, that's

the way it will stay.

I have learnt not to be discouraged by failure and not to be threatened by the success

of others. I have learnt to return to the starting point; to re-evaluate the situation

and seek a new path. This has been one of the most amazing, inspiring, at times horrifying,

but always fascinating experiences.

When people talk about Cambodia, they mostly talk about Pol Pot's genocidal regime,

human rights violations, land mines victims, the UN sponsored election of 1993 at

a cost of $ 2.2 billion, the fighting and looting of July 5-6, 1997, the result of

the free but not fair election of July 26, 1998, and the violent events that led

to the formation of the new government on November 30, 1998.

And when investors talk about Cambodia they don't just talk about the tremendous

possibility, the lucrative opportunity, but they also talk about poor public safety,

security problems, under-developed human resources, unnecessary red tape, endemic

corruption, uncontrollable bribery, serious deficiencies in infrastructure, political

stability and uncertainties.

People only hear about these valid points, and as a result they create a deceptive

perception of Cambodia. They start asking themselves; why were the Cambodians, who

are Buddhists, able to commit such unreasonable acts? Can the society as a whole

accept these disgraceful, absurd and immoral acts? What are the real causes, the

real issues, and the opportunities to restore the country's lost honor and dignity

and people's ways of life?

First and foremost, I believe the answer to these questions lies in the hands of

the bigwigs and the people of Cambodia because they are not big enough people to

disagree on individual issues and work together for their common goal: restoring

Cambodian dignity and pride.

The main cause is war created by irresponsible politicians. Cambodia has been littered

with ineffective and incompetent leaders.

The superiors who hold power think only of their own welfare and personal benefits,

not the real needs of the people.

Most Cambodian leaders who serve the country place individual and political party

interest over the national interest. The culture of violence, lawlessness, injustice

and impunity permeates Cambodian society.

Knowing that transformation is a slow process, corrective action must be taken. The

powerful leaders must learn to identify and to recognize that the value of people's

life is best measured not by years spent in accumulating power, wealth and possessions,

but the moments spent giving one's self to put the interests of the Cambodian people

first, to inspire hope for a better future, to implement fair and pragmatic governance,

to set a workable standard of economic development, to deliver sustainable progress

in all fields, to ensure political stability and physical security, to establish

the rule of law and order, but most important, to improve education and to invest

in training.

They also should strive to improve Cambodia by performing good and honest works,

struggling for social justice, treating everyone fairly and equally.

The current administration has failed to make the Cambodian people freer, safer,

and securer. I don't think people who haven't lived through military dictatorship

can really understand what it means to have democracy.

And I am sure I will go to heaven; I spent my time in hell for two days at Tang Krasang

[Funcinpec military compound] on July 5-6, 1997.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The universal values of justice,

freedom, and peace cannot be emphasized enough as the guiding principles.

In an era of coexistence and co-prosperity not only in the region but also in the

global framework, the Royal Government of Cambodia should continuously and tirelessly

help business and investors to create a more conducive investment climate without

bureaucratic hurdles to enjoy economic growth.

The government must focus with discipline, determination, endurance, and continuity

on what is essential and critical to lay the foundation on the real sustainable development

of Cambodia.

The government must produce acceptable results by eliminating barriers to growth.

The culture of violence, lawlessness and impunity must be replaced forcefully with

the culture of law and order by not producing them on a piece of paper but by implementing

and enforcing them from the top down.

Only actions speak louder than words. Intelligence, vision, and knowledge are essential

resources but only effectiveness and competence can convert them into productive

results. Elected leaders are the servants, not the masters, of the people. There

are no bad people; there are bad leaders.

Most Cambodian people have forgotten the value of ethics and moral behavior.

The Cambodian people are lacking confidence in joining together to improve society

as a whole. They have lost their personality, their integrity, and their identity.

They become enmeshed in battles and influences from the political parties and from

outsiders. They don't know what is truth any more.

They are socially, economically, and politically corrupted. They sell and buy everything

to reach the top; their soul, their conscience, their values and their family life.

And once they have tasted power, they change.

Cambodia now is a country weary of hopeless existence. It is a country where the

impossible becomes possible, the immoral becomes acceptable and the insane becomes


Just look at the crazy traffic in Phnom-Penh, listen to people, talk to investors.

Cambodia is a country where a dual morality, hypocrisy, and nonsense have been allowed

to dominate politics and the mass media for years.

In many cases, governmental authority has to choose between enforcing the rule of

law and protecting rich and powerful cronies with whom they have had a long and lucrative


The high and the powerful officials also have shown Cambodian people the desecration

of universal values and respect.

Undoubtedly, the Japanese, the French, the Vietnamese, the American, the Thai and

the Chinese have had a hand in the tragedy, but it is ultimately the Cambodian people's

unwillingness to put aside their differences and work things out in a peaceful, civilized

and Buddhist manner that is destroying the society and the country.

In Cambodia what hinders progress and prosperity more than anything else is deep-rooted


When mistrust of others is directly against oneself, one experiences powerlessness.

When directed against others, it takes the form of refusal of dialogue and ultimately


Doing what one has to do to survive can result in devastation to one's self-concept

and self-esteem.

Only education, mutual understanding, accepting the reality and making change can

help to liberate one from this self-destruction.

Since convictions are the mainsprings of action, the driving powers of life, Cambodian

people need to change their own convictions; such as to recognize that nobody is

above the law.

The environmental crisis offers not only a challenge but also an opportunity to transform

the foundation of society.

The future of Cambodia depends on how the rest of the world perceives it; as a marketplace,

as a tourist destination, or still a battlefield.

The country also faces overwhelming challenges in addressing broader issues such

as economic and public administration reforms, reform of the legal system, and ending

corruption, massive illegal logging and environmental destruction.

The Royal Government is lacking means, resources, and competence.

The vast majority of the people accept corruption as part of their daily life.

Inadequate salaries in part have fueled a system of informal fees and bribes collected

by everyone, including police officers, soldiers, custom officers, teachers, health

practitioners, dishonest government officials at all levels.

Corruption becomes not only a habit but also a character. How does one begin to reform

such a messed up system? Does the government have the financial resources to carry

it out?

Can the people of Cambodia change and adapt to the Buddhist way of living in peace,

compassion and harmony?

Yes, Cambodia can do much better. Effective, competent, and strong government is

the surest way to prosperity. The country can be built through pursuing and implementing

effective reforms.

Realism is essential to maintain the international com-munity's support, to unify

all efforts and to solidify progress.

Political factors more than anything have played and will continue to play a pivotal

role in Cambodia's economic, judicial and social performance.

Future endeavors could succeed if they are built on humility not arrogance, on hard

and honest works not on complacency, on a goal of shared prosperity and not on a

winner-take-all game.

So don't be intimidated by position or power or wealth. If little people work together,

they can do a great deal to transform Cambodia.

They must call for all leaders' efforts and commitment to ensure that the present

generation lives by the standards of legal, political, economic and social justice.

The world defines peace as the absence of hostility. In Cambodia, peace also means

prosperity, mutual trust, health, and people's happiness.

The real issues are not only problems for the Cambodian leaders and the Cambodian

people to overcome but also the opportunity for all of us to restore the nation's

honor and to attain a life of real peace, harmony, and prosperity.

The ultimate goal of democracy is not to pursue material abundance but to nurture

the dignity and values of each individual.

May the leaders of Cambodia serve the country with heroic mind and compassionate


May the people of Cambodia learn to trust one another and work together to transform

Cambodia to a state of realism.

May Lord Buddha bless Cambodia.

All of us can make a big difference for our present and our future generations. Don't

just say it, do it, and make it happen before it is too late.



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