Pou Sovachana, right, former Undersecretary of State for Tourism, offers
his view of the real issues facing Cambodia
Pou Sovachana, former Undersecretary of State for Tourism,
offers his view of the real issues facing Cambodia
AS A government official, I have an obligation to the people of Cambodia to give
an objective account of the real issues of Cambodia based on my personal experiences.
In Cambodia, I don't try to understand everything; some things will just never make
sense. I accept this is an ugly reality of life and until I can change it, that's
the way it will stay.
I have learnt not to be discouraged by failure and not to be threatened by the success
of others. I have learnt to return to the starting point; to re-evaluate the situation
and seek a new path. This has been one of the most amazing, inspiring, at times horrifying,
but always fascinating experiences.
When people talk about Cambodia, they mostly talk about Pol Pot's genocidal regime,
human rights violations, land mines victims, the UN sponsored election of 1993 at
a cost of $ 2.2 billion, the fighting and looting of July 5-6, 1997, the result of
the free but not fair election of July 26, 1998, and the violent events that led
to the formation of the new government on November 30, 1998.
And when investors talk about Cambodia they don't just talk about the tremendous
possibility, the lucrative opportunity, but they also talk about poor public safety,
security problems, under-developed human resources, unnecessary red tape, endemic
corruption, uncontrollable bribery, serious deficiencies in infrastructure, political
stability and uncertainties.
People only hear about these valid points, and as a result they create a deceptive
perception of Cambodia. They start asking themselves; why were the Cambodians, who
are Buddhists, able to commit such unreasonable acts? Can the society as a whole
accept these disgraceful, absurd and immoral acts? What are the real causes, the
real issues, and the opportunities to restore the country's lost honor and dignity
and people's ways of life?
First and foremost, I believe the answer to these questions lies in the hands of
the bigwigs and the people of Cambodia because they are not big enough people to
disagree on individual issues and work together for their common goal: restoring
Cambodian dignity and pride.
The main cause is war created by irresponsible politicians. Cambodia has been littered
with ineffective and incompetent leaders.
The superiors who hold power think only of their own welfare and personal benefits,
not the real needs of the people.
Most Cambodian leaders who serve the country place individual and political party
interest over the national interest. The culture of violence, lawlessness, injustice
and impunity permeates Cambodian society.
Knowing that transformation is a slow process, corrective action must be taken. The
powerful leaders must learn to identify and to recognize that the value of people's
life is best measured not by years spent in accumulating power, wealth and possessions,
but the moments spent giving one's self to put the interests of the Cambodian people
first, to inspire hope for a better future, to implement fair and pragmatic governance,
to set a workable standard of economic development, to deliver sustainable progress
in all fields, to ensure political stability and physical security, to establish
the rule of law and order, but most important, to improve education and to invest
They also should strive to improve Cambodia by performing good and honest works,
struggling for social justice, treating everyone fairly and equally.
The current administration has failed to make the Cambodian people freer, safer,
and securer. I don't think people who haven't lived through military dictatorship
can really understand what it means to have democracy.
And I am sure I will go to heaven; I spent my time in hell for two days at Tang Krasang
[Funcinpec military compound] on July 5-6, 1997.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The universal values of justice,
freedom, and peace cannot be emphasized enough as the guiding principles.
In an era of coexistence and co-prosperity not only in the region but also in the
global framework, the Royal Government of Cambodia should continuously and tirelessly
help business and investors to create a more conducive investment climate without
bureaucratic hurdles to enjoy economic growth.
The government must focus with discipline, determination, endurance, and continuity
on what is essential and critical to lay the foundation on the real sustainable development
The government must produce acceptable results by eliminating barriers to growth.
The culture of violence, lawlessness and impunity must be replaced forcefully with
the culture of law and order by not producing them on a piece of paper but by implementing
and enforcing them from the top down.
Only actions speak louder than words. Intelligence, vision, and knowledge are essential
resources but only effectiveness and competence can convert them into productive
results. Elected leaders are the servants, not the masters, of the people. There
are no bad people; there are bad leaders.
Most Cambodian people have forgotten the value of ethics and moral behavior.
The Cambodian people are lacking confidence in joining together to improve society
as a whole. They have lost their personality, their integrity, and their identity.
They become enmeshed in battles and influences from the political parties and from
outsiders. They don't know what is truth any more.
They are socially, economically, and politically corrupted. They sell and buy everything
to reach the top; their soul, their conscience, their values and their family life.
And once they have tasted power, they change.
Cambodia now is a country weary of hopeless existence. It is a country where the
impossible becomes possible, the immoral becomes acceptable and the insane becomes
Just look at the crazy traffic in Phnom-Penh, listen to people, talk to investors.
Cambodia is a country where a dual morality, hypocrisy, and nonsense have been allowed
to dominate politics and the mass media for years.
In many cases, governmental authority has to choose between enforcing the rule of
law and protecting rich and powerful cronies with whom they have had a long and lucrative
The high and the powerful officials also have shown Cambodian people the desecration
of universal values and respect.
Undoubtedly, the Japanese, the French, the Vietnamese, the American, the Thai and
the Chinese have had a hand in the tragedy, but it is ultimately the Cambodian people's
unwillingness to put aside their differences and work things out in a peaceful, civilized
and Buddhist manner that is destroying the society and the country.
In Cambodia what hinders progress and prosperity more than anything else is deep-rooted
When mistrust of others is directly against oneself, one experiences powerlessness.
When directed against others, it takes the form of refusal of dialogue and ultimately
Doing what one has to do to survive can result in devastation to one's self-concept
Only education, mutual understanding, accepting the reality and making change can
help to liberate one from this self-destruction.
Since convictions are the mainsprings of action, the driving powers of life, Cambodian
people need to change their own convictions; such as to recognize that nobody is
above the law.
The environmental crisis offers not only a challenge but also an opportunity to transform
the foundation of society.
The future of Cambodia depends on how the rest of the world perceives it; as a marketplace,
as a tourist destination, or still a battlefield.
The country also faces overwhelming challenges in addressing broader issues such
as economic and public administration reforms, reform of the legal system, and ending
corruption, massive illegal logging and environmental destruction.
The Royal Government is lacking means, resources, and competence.
The vast majority of the people accept corruption as part of their daily life.
Inadequate salaries in part have fueled a system of informal fees and bribes collected
by everyone, including police officers, soldiers, custom officers, teachers, health
practitioners, dishonest government officials at all levels.
Corruption becomes not only a habit but also a character. How does one begin to reform
such a messed up system? Does the government have the financial resources to carry
Can the people of Cambodia change and adapt to the Buddhist way of living in peace,
compassion and harmony?
Yes, Cambodia can do much better. Effective, competent, and strong government is
the surest way to prosperity. The country can be built through pursuing and implementing
Realism is essential to maintain the international com-munity's support, to unify
all efforts and to solidify progress.
Political factors more than anything have played and will continue to play a pivotal
role in Cambodia's economic, judicial and social performance.
Future endeavors could succeed if they are built on humility not arrogance, on hard
and honest works not on complacency, on a goal of shared prosperity and not on a
So don't be intimidated by position or power or wealth. If little people work together,
they can do a great deal to transform Cambodia.
They must call for all leaders' efforts and commitment to ensure that the present
generation lives by the standards of legal, political, economic and social justice.
The world defines peace as the absence of hostility. In Cambodia, peace also means
prosperity, mutual trust, health, and people's happiness.
The real issues are not only problems for the Cambodian leaders and the Cambodian
people to overcome but also the opportunity for all of us to restore the nation's
honor and to attain a life of real peace, harmony, and prosperity.
The ultimate goal of democracy is not to pursue material abundance but to nurture
the dignity and values of each individual.
May the leaders of Cambodia serve the country with heroic mind and compassionate
May the people of Cambodia learn to trust one another and work together to transform
Cambodia to a state of realism.
May Lord Buddha bless Cambodia.
All of us can make a big difference for our present and our future generations. Don't
just say it, do it, and make it happen before it is too late.