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Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol
Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol speaks at a private sector development forum in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo Supplied

Time for business to step up

Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol called on business owners to clean up their activities in the Kingdom, in order to remain competitive, especially in light of the ASEAN Economic Community integration due to be realised at the end of the year.

Private sector companies have traditionally raised concerns on the difficulty of doing business in Cambodia, having to deal with red tape and corruption, the minister said at a conference for private sector development in Phnom Penh yesterday. Chanthol said his ministry had initiated reforms to correct these practices, and now it was time for the private sector to reciprocate.

“The private sector needs to reform. You need to look at yourself in the mirror. You need to take a bath, you need to look at yourself too,” he said, adding that the private sector should realise that if bribes aren’t offered, there will be no bribe takers as well.

“Business as usual will kill Cambodia when we become a member of the AEC. So the private sector must reform, must change, must restructure the way you do business.”

He also spoke of Cambodia Chamber of Commerce regulations that limit the age of members and board members to 30 years or older, calling it an outdated rule.

“No, lower the age to 20 or 25,” he said. “There are so many good young entrepreneurs today so include them in the chamber of commerce.”

He added that businesses need to train their staff on how to work in a competitive and legal environment, and improve their English and computer skills.

The Commerce Ministry, apart from trying to do away with bribes, is working on developing a national single window system, which will link all public agencies to one web portal.

Lim Heng, vice president of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said the new changes will allow businesses to apply for a certificate of origin and register a business online, thereby streamlining these operations.

“The reforms have, so far, provided hope for the private sector,” he said. “We are always ready to participate with the government to boost more economic activities in Cambodia.”

David Van, Cambodia’s managing director for business advisory firm Bower Group Asia, said changes were required both from the government and private sector, urging SMEs, especially, to undertake serious reforms to take advantage of AEC 2015.

“They are complaining, rightly or wrongly, that it is difficult to access finance. But then again if you look at it from a banks perspective, they say how can I lend you money if you don’t have the book keeping to evaluate you?” Van said.

He said the last few government mandates had done little to address recurring issues, such as high interest rates, access to finance and public services.

“Government ministers should also show more accountability by not pressuring private sector co-chairs in some technical working groups to shelve some issues deemed too politically sensitive,” he said. “At least, we can see that in this ‘reform’ mandate, the government is taking more serious action and making a more serious effort.”

Kim Savuth, board member at rice exporting company Khmer Food, welcomed the minister’s call for private sector reforms, but added that they also needed to improve the quality of the workforce.

“The government, through the Ministry of Education, needs to produce good quality workforce. We need quality of workforce instead of quantity,” he said, adding that if the education system is improved, young entrepreneur will perform better.

“The new generation is very dynamic. They have a longer business outlook than the old generation.”

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