Prime Minister Hun Sen today outlined the key challenges and opportunities that Cambodia faces in its pursuit of both economic growth and sustainable development, as a leading business figure highlighted the importance of tackling corruption.
The premier’s comments were part of the opening address to more than 300 international development partners, nongovernmental organisations, experts, economists and businessmen at the Fifth Cambodia Outlook Conference, held at the Phnom Penh Hotel.
“We now see more clearly than ever that Cambodia is well positioned to benefit from three important opportunities,” said Hun Sen, “harnessing the benefits of regional integration in our dynamic East Asian region, the management of our considerable natural resources in a sustainable way and investment in the future through agriculture, infrastructure, education and higher savings.”
He added that success in dealing with the related challenges of vocational education and training, tertiary education, human resource development and labour market responsiveness, in response to the country’s growing need for a skilled and educated workforce, “will also be fundamental to our success”.
Stephen Higgins, chief executive officer of ANZ Royal Bank, praised Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments, calling them “very balanced”.
On a more granular level, there are still many things Cambodia can do over the next 12 months to move the country toward achieving the goals laid out by Hun Sen, one expert claimed.
Putu Kamayana, country director for the Asian Development Bank, said the growth hoped for in agriculture, the garment and manufacturing industries, as well as infrastructure and telecommunications, can start by providing technical and vocational training for Cambodian workers right away.
“I would hope that by next year we will see some significant improvements in the types of training being offered and the number of training centres providing high-quality training to better address the needs of the employers,” he said.
Putu Kamayana also advocated diversification in the agriculture business, investments in agriculture technology and regulation and more financing for small and medium-sized enterprises.
“A lot of things can be done in the short term to move the economy along,” he said.
Higgins believes that Cambodia’s business environment is “very supportive” in ways that will make attaining those goals possible, and he sees consolidation in the education, banking and telecom spaces are short-term ways to reach the conference’s goals.
But the country still struggles with one important issue, he said: corruption.
Higgins pointed to a Post story in which some Singaporean investors visiting the country last week named corruption as their No 1 concern.
While the country is making strides to solve the problem, he said, more work needed to be done.
“I think the government is putting the right building blocks in place,” Higgins said.
“They just really need to drive home the enforcement part.”
Hun Sen did address the issue during his speech, noting that Cambodia’s anti-
corruption legislation and the establishment of an anti-corruption commission “sends a clear message to the nation, to investors and to the international community that we take anti-corruption measures seriously”.
He did admit, though, that the Kingdom needs “to work harder, in cooperation with the private sector, to continue to … practice to a higher international standard, strengthening institutions and building the capacity of government officials to build a healthy and dynamic but well-regulated environment for businesses”.
Higgins said bringing a number of high-profile corruption cases against government officials and businessmen in the private sector would show international investors that Cambodia does, in fact, take the problem seriously.
Speaking to the conference’s theme of growth without sacrificing sustainability, Higgins said the present government could take a lesson from other countries struggling with civil unrest right now.
“They do need to make sure that the benefits from growth flow through broadly,” he said.
“And we’re seeing in North Africa the consequences of when that doesn’t happen, which is why issues like [Boeung Kak] lake, they have to deal with that in a different way.”
“What is happening at the lake at the moment does not reflect well on the country,” he said.