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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A debonair diplomat

A debonair diplomat

A debonair diplomat

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081205_06.jpg

Rafael Moreno on how to work with the government and taking a pragmatic view of corruption at the KR tribunal

Photo by:
Brendan Brady

Rafael Dochao Moreno, charge d'affaires of the EC delegation at Hotel Le Royal last week.

Does Cambodian politics now lack a real opposition voice?

You have an overwhelming number of CPP in the parliament, and there's always a risk in a country where one party has an overwhelming dominance in institutions that the appropriate balance and controls are lost.... [But] on the question of what is the role of the opposition, on the question of the checks and balances the opposition is asking for, it is not the role of international organisations to get into the functioning of the parliament, as these are to be discussed and solved within the Cambodian government. As representatives of the European Union, we do not intervene in what should be the role of the opposition in the government.

What balance does the EC strike between using punitive measures versus dialogue to influence the government?   

We prefer to talk about dialogue. We know the Cambodian government is very open to dialogue on any subject. This includes dialogue on the cases we are working on: corruption, governance, election recommendations. It is not a question of "putting pressure" on the government.

What areas of reform do you see as most pressing?

On the legislation side, we have the penal code and Anti-Corruption Law that now seem to be advancing, and this would help attract foreign investment as well.  All international donors have been giving the advice to Cambodia that you have to diversify. You can't count only on tourism and garments because they are very vulnerable sectors. Cambodia is opening to agro-industry, for instance. One of the things the European Commission is promoting is a new way for agro-industry export and development in Cambodia. We recently organised a seminar for branding regional products. In Cambodia you have wonderful products, like Kampot pepper, special organic rice in Battambang, silk in certain regions, and Cambodia has not yet been able to really establish branding for these products. And these products could be sold in specialty shops in Europe. There is huge room for development in quality branding.  

Is the European Commission taking specific measures to help Cambodia deal with the effects of the global financial crisis?

We are worried. There is a construction bubble here, and you see there are risks in many sectors.

As I said, the Cambodian economy is largely based on two sectors (tourism and garments) and it will have to diversify. The people who will be most touched are the poorest people in the poorest regions. We are not only promoting classical corporations, but also financing activities that will provide food security for the Cambodian people. For example, by providing more storage facilities for rice, farmers will be able to sell their product at better prices.

What role does the EC have in brokering contributions by European countries to the ECCC?

Every European country is independent in deciding whether to give money and where to put the money. Of course, in terms of dialogue, we meet with EU member states very often in Phnom Penh and talk about what kind of approach we will have. We are members of the Project Board of the ECCC. Last year we proposed having a special review of all the new management procedures that have been approved in the tribunal. In February and March of this year, the review report came out, and we were quite happy to see that most of the proposals we gave to the Cambodian side of the court were taken into account.... There is a preoccupation on the European Commission side about the allegations of corruption. It is clear for us that an international tribunal should not have the heavy weight of corruption on its shoulders, and we are counting on dialogue between the UN and government to solve these problems, with us contributing to it when required.

How timely is a response?

For certain people, there's an urgent thing that this needs to be solved tomorrow. On the European Commission side, we are quite pragmatic. On the one hand, there is a clear need on the Cambodian side to act and take credible measures against these allegations. Provided that the ECCC can work in a healthy and transparent environment, we will continue giving financial and technical support to the tribunal. The court is supposed to start soon - the beginning of next year - so it's important we have a credible, corruption-free tribunal. And (in the meantime), we'll continue having our eyes on it.

Interview by Brendan Brady

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