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'A grave responsibility'

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Canterbury's former archbishop calls on a new generation of Cambodians to take up the mantle of ethical leadership

Photo by: VANDY RATTANA

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey spoke at the Asia Leadership Centre forum in Phnom Penh last week.

In a country where one is often born into leadership, or pays for it, how do you instill the concept of leadership based on merit and initiative?

Whenever you have a state that is corrupt, you are going to have people who buy power. When you realise that people are getting on by bribes or by backhand payments, it's very subversive for the nation and they need to transcend that. Exercising their roles in society in an ethical way will perhaps be the hardest challenge for young people in Cambodia today. I'm sure it's the most effective thing they can do, and in the long run it will lead to major change, but initially it may not seem that way.

How does the everyday Cambodian forge leadership in a country where so many have been victims of development projects?

There's a lot of tension in Cambodia between development opportunities and the individual rights of villagers. You can't suddenly destroy community life because you want to bring development in, but development is good. There is a very hard balance to strike between development issues and human rights.

How important to development are environmental sustainability, social justice, cultural diversity and spiritual well-being?

It's vital. The balance still has to be struck between development, which is inevitable, and a sustainable development program. Advancing that has got to be its commitment to individuals and human rights. It is essential that Cambodia pays attention throughout its development to the way it treats its citizens, particularly the very poor, who are often brushed away.

As a founder of the World Faiths Development Dialogue, how do you see religion and global governance cooperating to alleviate disadvantage in Cambodia?

The [WFDD] came about because we saw an evident gap between development and religion. We saw that religions have enormous networks and great influence at the local level, but are fairly invisible when it comes to being seen by government.

Empowering women is one of the issues that we feel is very important in alleviating disadvantage in the developing world. They are the most effective providers of family care, but are often invisible in the developing world.

How strong is the need for communication between different religious minorities in Cambodia?

There needs to be much more cooperation between religions at the local level in any country. Cambodia, however, which has one dominant faith, does not have the same problems as say African nations, where you have strong groups of Muslims, Christians and Hindus, and can have a really creative dialogue. When you have a dominant religion, however, it's still difficult. But it's worth doing because minority faiths can puncture the complacency of a dominant religion by questioning and testing its standards.

What are the greatest challenges for the younger generation of Cambodians today?

The biggest challenge for them is to face up to the issue of how they can exercise their influence in the future so that they have adequate jobs and make a difference. Cambodia needs young people to go into areas like teaching, which is one of the most important vehicles for change.

Will this change come at a grassroots level, or will it begin from the top down?

Grassroots are very important, but you can't overlook top-down change. If you look at the best governments around the world, they are always saying, ‘We will not entertain corruption' and ‘We will reform our courts and police force', so change needs to be a combination of top-down and bottom-up initiatives. In Cambodia, however, bottom-up change is frustrated when you see the top tier getting kickbacks of wealth. So, when immorality is the name of the game, it could take generations to make major change.

Also, charitable organisations have a role to play. In Cambodia there is a way in which outside or external charities and individuals can actually make a contribution to the nation.

What can religion contribute to development in Cambodia?

Religion mustn't be seen as a major player on the surface, but it ought to be in the background helping individual players to be more effective. Moral issues are always a part of decision-making, and this includes non-religious people. Every one of us has some element of transcendent moralism in us that is inclined to do something for the greater good of humanity.

What does it mean to be a leader in a developing country, such as Cambodia?

A wonderful and grave responsibility to create change for the nation that will directly impact the lives of ordinary people. It means you have to have a long-term prospect in mind and be able to cooperate with other people. They have to help people live happy, fulfilled lives.

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