IF you want to be a Khmer citizen, all you need to do is have $500,000 invested in
the Cambodian economy or donate $400,000 in cash to the State budget.
And at once, you can become a Cambodian. You can get a passport. You can own land.
You can vote.
Under the Law on Nationality, a foreigner who has behaved well, had good moral conduct,
committed no crime, has stayed here seven years, can speak and write Khmer and "may
accept good Khmer custom and tradition", and won't endanger or burden the nation
due to mental or physical defect, can apply for naturalization.
Any "foreigner" actually born here has to fulfill the above, but only needs
to have lived here for two years.
But the most important condition - that of having to have stayed here for seven years
- is immediately thrown out the window if someone has enough cash.
"[The law] offers nationality for sale - a practice that doesn't exist in other
countries," said Im Sethy, a CPP parliamentarian.
Article 10 of the Law on Nationality, which was passed on July 17, says that a foreigner
can apply for citizenship if they have received an investment authorization, and
carried out "a concrete project worth of 1,250,000,000 riel (roughly $500,000)
Article 11, passed the same day, seems to be even easier. It says that as long as
you've invested the half million dollars, you need not have even applied for an investment
authorization, as long as it's "according to the guidelines of the Royal Government".
Article 12, which has yet to be adopted, says a foreigner can do the same if he or
she has donated to the national budget 1,000,000,000 riel in cash (roughly $400,000)
or more "for the interest of restoring and building the economy of the Kingdom".
For Articles 10, 11 and 12, the provision for having had to stay in the country for
seven years is automatically rescinded.
The government sees this as an encouragement to attract more foreign investment.
But critics say the law puts Khmer citizenship up for sale.
"We must consider conditions and take a preventive position [against an influx
of foreigners]," Sethy said in Parliament last week.
Others said that the law appeared to open the door for criminals and money launderers
disguised as investor's.
"The government wrongly perceives that they can attract investors by this law.
"They may attract criminals but not real investors," said an observer who
Other MPs did not just limit their fears to the supposed sale of citizenship.
They said that the question of getting naturalized citizenship did not seem to bother
investors. Their real goal behind applying for naturalization might be to get land
ownership title, they said, an issue which remains arguably the most basic and fiery
problem in Cambodia.
"The main concern is land ownership. Why should we believe that they [investors]
want to be Cambodians?" Om Radsady asked the question during a session last
In apparent reference to the 70-year lease of land for development in Kampong Speu
province given recently to the Ching Hai religious group, Pol Ham said: "My
fear is that there will be more giant China towns in Cambodia and that the interests
of Khmer people will be overrun."
Another legal expert described the law as a "free ticket" for investors
to exploit Cambodia's natural resources to the detriment of locals.
"This is about land, logging, raping Cambodia's natural resources.
"Those people who have this amount of money don't want Khmer nationality, they
want to own land. They have better passports," he said.
The original draft law prepared by the Ministry of Interior did not mention the three
articles, which were added when the draft was examined by the Cabinet, said co-Minister
of Interior Sar Kheng.
Although he admitted that problems might occur implementing of law, Kheng strongly
defended the provisions by saying that they were meant to promote jobs for the people.
The co-minister said that applicants for naturalization were still subject to having
good moral conduct, good mental and physical aptitude, and be able to speak and write
Ek Sam Ol - an MP who has supported every bill debated in the Assembly - described
the provisions as a "concession" which responds to the Kingdom's need for
With the countdown of Hong Kong's handover to China already underway, he said he
thought the "concession" may attract rich businessmen to Cambodia.
While naturalization is only a favor by the Kingdom, MP Chhuor Leang Huot said that
the requirements made it even harder for people to become citizens legally.
"What's to worry about is not [for the fact that] the rich people from other
countries want our nationality but our nationals are eager to have a foreign nationality,"
Huot fired back in an apparent reference to politicians with dual citizenship.
When it came to the vote 79 out of 89 MPs said yes to Article 10; while 80 out of
89 MPs agreed with Article 11.
However, legal experts did not foresee any major changes will be made. Describing
it as a "joke", they said that the law already failed to legally prove
they are Khmer.
According to an amendment in Article 8, an alien wishing to apply for naturalization
must produce a letter which certifies them as having lived continuously in the Kingdom
for seven years - rather than five years in the original.
The amendment, in effect, refuses to recognize non-Khmers previously given residency
permits under the State of Cambodia regime, said a legal expert.
"It's likely all ethnic Vietnamese are excluded [from Cambodia], no matter how
long they have lived here.
"[The expulsion] may not happen now but in a long run, in the elections it will
when every one tries to show he or she is nationalist," he said.
So far, 11 out of 24 articles have been passed and the law is scheduled to return
to the Assembly's floor in mid August.
Parliamentarians are presently on a recess.
When they return, they will continue debating the Law on Nationality.
Assmbly chairman Chea Sim said after that they would be voting on the positions of
minister and secretary of state of Women's Affairs, Mu Sochua and Im Run respectively,
and secretary of state of the Government in charge of relations with the National
Assembly. The candidate for this position is Tep Darong.