A World Bank sponsored business seminar quickly lost its demure and academic tone
when participants were asked what they found were the major problems in doing business
Participants at Wednesday's seminar became markedly more animated when they were
given a chance to discuss kidnappings and corruption rather than infrastructure or
The seminar, which was jointly sponsored by the World Bank and the Association of
Cambodian Local Economic Development Agencies (ACLEDA), was designed to elicit feedback
on the preliminary findings of a World Bank survey conducted last October on "Constraints
Affecting Private Business in Cambodia".
The survey sample consisted of 200 businesses from across Cambodia, ranging from
"small" businesses with as few as three employees to "large"
businesses of more than 50 employees.
Many of the survey's preliminary findings regarding the impact of the Kingdom's chronic
infrastructure limitations on business operations were predictable - only 36% of
survey respondents had phone service and 1/3 lacked electrical power.
However discussions on those topics were left behind when the seminar's presenter,
Andrew H.W. Stone, Senior Specialist of Private Enterprise Development for the World
Bank, asked the dozen assorted business people in attendance for their opinions on
the major problems they face in doing business.
"Kidnapping threats," one man said immediately, evoking a murmur of agreement
from fellow participants.
According to a female participant, smaller Khmer businesses were particularly vulnerable
to kidnappings by well organized gangs.
"It's the small firms that have the biggest risks (of kidnapping)," the
woman explained. "They don't have the bodyguards with them everywhere they go."
The woman alleged that kidnapping rings work in collusion with government officials
in the selection of potential kidnap victims.
"Kidnappers have very accurate sources," she said. "They know exactly
how much [victims] have in their bank accounts, so [government officials] must be
Participants also agreed that the problem of government corruption is worsening rather
One participant, describing the near-institutionalized practice of paying small bribes
to government officials for processing essential paperwork, said corrupt officials
appeared "hungrier" than in earlier years.
"We're having to pay more than before," the participant complained. "Ten
dollars used to be enough [for most transactions] but now they want more."
The increasing monetary demands from corrupt civil servants were suggested by one
seminar participant as harmful to the international competitiveness of Cambodian
"That's why the prices [of some goods] in Cambodia are much higher than in Vietnam
or Thailand," she said.
The preliminary findings of the World Bank survey indicate that private business
in Cambodia put little faith in the judicial branch of government interceding to
alleviate their concerns regarding corruption and personal safety.
A survey question asking respondents to rate how "quick, honest, fair and impartial"
they considered the judicial system evoked the responses "never" "seldom"
or "sometimes" from a full 82% of respondents.
Stone stressed that the survey findings divulged during the seminar were strictly
preliminary and deferred any comment until the final version of the survey results
are released later this year.