For years, development partners have helped the Ministry of Commerce set up and staff the National Arbitration Center, a body that resolves commercial disputes without going to court. The NAC was officially launched in March, but it still hasn’t handled a single case. Ros Monin, president of the NAC, sat down with the Post’s Hor Kimsay to discuss the centre’s plans.
How has the NAC been developed since its establishment?
So far, we have not received any dispute to be solved yet, because we need to work on some remaining procedures to be ready for operation. Internal rules for operating the centre are still being worked out, and we are actively pursuing this with our members. Until now, we do not even have an office yet, basic equipment and an administrative staff. For all these things we need financial support from the government at the early stage of operation.
When do you expect the NAC will be able to handle disputes?
We are trying to overcome the current challenges, and we plan to be able to accept the cases by early next year. From the official launch until now, we have got many queries from businesses that have disagreements, and they have asked us whether the NAC is available to resolve them. We are speeding up our work, because both local and international companies are encouraging us to have operations as soon as possible.
What is the make-up of the centre, how does it work?
The NAC consists of a seven-member executive board, 43 arbitrators and 11 representatives from the private sector. Arbitrators, the key body to solve disputes, are being trained for two years at a well-known arbitration centre in Singapore. To be successful and sustainable, the NAC, which relies on voluntary demand from businesses, must be independent, fair and provide high quality cost-effective dispute resolution.
What do businesses now do if they have a commercial dispute?
Cambodian businesses usually perceive that they have a limited range of dispute-resolution options. They include negotiation, applying informal pressure via a powerful third party, or going to court.
Negotiation is the first step businesses usually take to resolve a dispute. Businesses rarely consider going to court a worthwhile method to resolve commercial disputes. They would not consider doing so unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Every business owner thinks that the legal system is slow and expensive.
How will the NAC be different from the court?
Our arbitrators are knowledgeable in business and law. They have different specialties, such as construction, banking, accounting, trading and others. So businesses have good options. The arbitrator can discuss and estimate the cost and time in solving the dispute. In this regard, time and finance can be manageable for business, which is much easier when compared to the court.
If the business wants to take their grievances to the NAC, how do they do it?
In short, they just follow the internal rules that we are preparing. They have the option to choose the arbitrator who has qualifications related to their case. Regarding the cost, the disputed parties must pay two major fees. They need to pay for administration costs for the NAC operation, and an arbitrator fee.
How will you get the NAC off the ground so it can start working?
It is necessary that the Ministry of Commerce contribute funds to support the centre’s operation. We need the government support for the cost of an office building and the cost of operations at the early stage, which is roughly the first three years. In the medium to long term, the centre will need to build a revenue model that generates sufficient income for it to be self-sustaining.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity