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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dollars and Democracy

Dollars and Democracy

The United Nations has been paying the soldiers of the newly created Cambodian Armed

Forces for two months now. All soldiers of the three formerly warring factions are

getting paid, some for the first time in many months. The money, released from a

United Nations contingency fund, is in the eyes of some members of the UN transitional

authority in Cambodia a guarantee of political stability during this transition period,

due to end if the constituent assembly accepts the constitution when it votes on

15 September.

The United Nations may well be getting more than they are paying for. Whatever effect

payment will have with respect to the stability of the current provisional government,

it will create certain expectations in the minds of the soldiers that will be hard

to eradicate. Those expectations may operate to constrain the government in the future

and may be a breeding ground for democracy.

The Mixed Military Working Group took seriously Gen Sanderson's demand: "I want

accountability." What that meant was that the three former factions were required

to produce nominal roles, to specify ranks, and to commit themselves to a pay scale

that was uniform across the factions. Teams of interpreters and clerk typists worked

round the clock to produce computerized rosters, with name, rank and I.D. number.

An organization was being created, in part by numbering, naming and listing. Successes

against the Khmer Rouge have been important in helping to unify this new armed forces

but the importance of participating in "rationalized" pay operation should

not be under-estimated.

The Cambodian soldier may gain something he has never had before: to be of account.

If the soldier comes to see himself in a relationship of expectations that work not

just down but also up, there is a greater chance of loyalty of course, but there

will also be a growing awareness that those at the bottom have the right to hold

those at the top to a set of expectations about treatment which is uniform and predictable.

Contrast this to the situation of prisoners in Cambodia. Many are incarcerated, with

no indictment, no trial, no conviction, and little hope of release. The Human Rights

Component has forced the Cambodian Judiciary to inventory its prisons and make a

roster of the incarcerated. Just the act of counting and listing has become a step

in the direction of taking responsibility for and being responsible to.

But in Cambodian prison, once you are incarcerated you become a non-entity. Unfortunately

this is an attitude about prisoners that the population as a whole shares.

Unfortunately, the prisoners in Cambodia may always need an external intercessor.

They by themselves will be unable to hold their government to international standards

of behavior.

In the case of the soldiers, UNTAC has shown them how a pay operation should work.

The work of U.N. Military Observers across the country has created expectations that

the government will find very hard to disappoint. The payment of the soldiers in

September will be in the hands of the Cambodian government. The data base and rosters

will be turned over to the government, and they will collect signatures and pay,

one soldier at a time; and their work will be checked by UNTAC.

Caught between the expectations of an armed forces that has been taught what to expect

and the demands of donor nations that money invested in Cambodia end up in the pockets

of those intended, the government has little choice but to conform to standards which

will in the long run be self-sustaining. They will be sustained by the expectations

that have been created at the very bottom. And what is democracy about if not forcing

the government to conform to the expectations of its citizenry? Unfortunately for

those in Cambodian jails, it has so far been impossible to force the government to

treat them as humans with rights.

If there is a lasting lesson in all of this, it may be that the highest pay-off operations

in this country in terms of creating the conditions for democracy, were those in

which the Khmer people participated: helping UNTAC prepare and conduct elections,

participating in them, and participating in a real pay operation.

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