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Development Council in 'surprise' shakeup

Development Council in 'surprise' shakeup

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidth will take a direct role in running the Council

for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) after Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree

restructuring the foreign investment body.

The July 27 sub-decree will expand the executive from six to seven members, placing

Prasidth above Funcinpec Finance Secretary of State Kong Vibol.

Minister of Finance Keat Chhon will remain as first deputy chairman, but his role

will shift towards soliciting and co-ordinating international aid money.

As deputy chairman, Prasidth will concentrate on raising private investment in Cambodia,

organizing free trade and export processing zones, and streamlining "one-stop

shopping" mechanisms for investing in Cambodia.

"What the Prime Minister has done is try to align trade and investment, because

whenever there is discussion of trade there is discussion of investment," Prasidth

said.

"In the past I was saying one thing and people in Cambodia would say something

different. Now we are trying to be more efficient and trying to speak the same language."

Prasidth has been at the forefront of Cambodia's push for accession to the World

Trade Organization (WTO) and the move will allow him to represent a broader portfolio

in discussions with the WTO, ASEAN and APEC.

Within government and the private sector Prasidth is viewed as a stronger negotiator

than Keat Chhon on proposed changes to investment laws.

"When the new investment laws were proposed I was the first to express my concerns,"

said Prasidth of the controversial changes mooted by the World Bank's Foreign Investment

Advisory Service.

"[At that time] the situation was different. Since then there has been a world

economic slowdown [and] all amendments have been put on standby until they are satisfactory

to the government and the private sector," he said.

Senaka Fernando, Chairman of the British Business Council, welcomed Prasidth's appointment.

"Cham Prasidth is quite active and he's really trying to promote the capacity

of Cambodia, so having him there is really a plus. However the results of it cannot

be known until we see something concrete," Fernando said.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Cambodia has been in decline since 1999. In the

first quarter of 2001 the number of new investment projects plummeted to only half

the level seen in the same quarter last year, according to the most recent Cambodia

Development Review.

Under the current system, foreign investors wanting to take advantage of incentives

such as tax holidays and import duty exemptions, need to go through a cumbersome

registration process with the CDC. The proposed new investment laws would eliminate

these incentives, possibly making the investment body irrelevant. However, with Prasidth

pressing for the retention of investment incentives the CDC is more likely to retain

its viability.

Private sector representatives will present their case against proposed changes to

the investment laws at a UN and CDC investment workshop in Phnom Penh today. Representatives

of the International Business Club will also plead for greater fairness in tax collection

and more transparent governance, including consultation prior to the issuing of "surprise"

sub-decrees.

While discussion of changes at the CDC was on the drawing board for some time, the

10-page sub-decree came as a surprise to the private sector, said Fernando.

Other changes contained in the sub-decree include expanding the number of bodies

comprising the CDC from 16 to 39, giving most ministries representation. New members

include the National Police Director General and the President of the Phnom Penh

Chamber of Commerce.

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