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CDC caught in "red light" politics

CDC caught in "red light" politics

FOREIGN investors approved by the Cambodian Development Council (CDC) face having

to pay bribes to other government officials to push forward their projects, according

to Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

In impromptu comments during last week's corruption conference, Ranariddh complained

that the work of the CDC "one-stop" shop for foreign investors was being

obstructed.

In fact, he said, there were many other "stops" for investors, and they

were all "red-light" stops.

"The red light lasts very long if you don't fuel it with some green paper,"

he said in reference to bribery.

Ranariddh complained that the CDC tried to decide on all investment applications

within 45 days of receipt, but it could take up to two years before investors got

all the necessary approvals from other government bodies to start work.

"It's very, very bad...it's very frustrating," he said, but did not refer

to any particular projects which had been delayed.

The CDC, chaired by Ranariddh and headed by the Funcinpec Secretary of State for

Finance Sun Chantol, is widely considered to be politically-controversial. Diplomats

and lawyers say Cambodian People's Party leader Hun Sen has little support for the

CDC, particularly since it was instrumental in arranging a contentious contract with

Malaysian firm Ariston to develop Sihanoukville.

In February, Ranariddh said he was unhappy with the lack of progress on the Ariston

development. The Malaysian firm replied that it was intent on completing the project

on schedule, but had faced delays in getting clearances from Cambodian government

ministries and departments.

Hun Sen has been silent on the Ariston deal but an adviser to the Prime Minister,

Om Yentieng, recently told the Post that the government had no interest in "killing"

existing contracts with investors.

Yentieng would not comment on the Ariston deal but noted that the Cambodian investment

climate was "complicated."

"There are many factors to be looked at and implemented appropriately before

contracts can start," he said.

"Sometimes problems arise from investors relying on the approval of the CDC

and ignoring other technical issues concerning other ministries and authorities,

such as land tenure."

The Ariston contract has been surrounded with secrecy, raising questions from some

MPs and other observers who want full details of the deal to be made public.

Some suggest the issue could become openly political, even leading to allegations

of corruption.

"Hun Sen is going to use this deal as a weapon against Prince Norodom Ranariddh,"

Tioulong Samoura, wife of political dissident Sam Rainsy and the former deputy governor

of the National Bank, told the Post recently.

Meanwhile, MP Son Chhay last week suggested he would support a complaint of corruption

over the Ariston contract if the government did not answer his questions about it.

Son Chhay, of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party, was one of a group of MPs who

last year requested a copy of the contract, as permitted by Cambodia's Constitution,

but were ignored.

Chhay said that, in the absence of answers from the government, the contract seemed

particularly suspicious and could warrant investigation. He intended to raise the

issue in the National Assembly and, if unhappy with the government's reply, seek

support for such an investigation.

"We know where to go to get that information but we need the right kind of support

to do so," he said.

"I think some elements in the CDC could provide good information, some people

at the Ministry of Tourism, and even the people who are working for Ariston themselves

could provide some sort of information [to investigators]."

Son Chhay acknowledged that some people believed his campaign over Ariston was on

behalf of Hun Sen, whom he has good relations with, but denied that was true.

"I am not making any secret deal with Hun Sen and gaining any personal benefit

or political gain from him. When it comes to the national interest, I always...speak

my own personal view."

He said he was happy to be described as Hun Sen's "god-brother", and to

accept an "open and friendly" relationship with the Prime Minister.

But he noted that "any contract since the formation of the Royal Government

must be signed by both Prime Ministers" and "anything wrong is the responsibility

of both Prime Ministers."

The Ariston contract was signed by Sun Chantol (Funcinpec) and also by the CPP Minister

in charge of the Council of Ministers, Sok An.

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