H is Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk sent a letter of support to Minister of
Economics and Finance Sam Rainsy in what some observers say is an on-going
struggle between the Minister and both Prime Ministers Ranariddh and Hun Sen
over the nation's economic policies, with the most public issue of contention
being the dispute with the Thai Boon Roong (TBR) company over rental fees at the
new Olympic market.
The King in his Jan. 21 letter expressed his
"sincerest gratitude and warmest congratulations to Your Excellency and all your
colleagues in the Ministry for having performed your duty to serve the Cambodian
nation with loyalty, effectiveness and courage, for the higher interests of the
entire Cambodian people."
King Sihanouk noted that Rainsy's report on the
current economic situation, which was transmitted by First Prime Minister
Ranariddh during his recent trip to Beijing "gave a most clear and insightful
report on the economic and financial situation of the Kingdom of Cambodia in
The King and the Queen also sent their best wishes to Rainsy and
those colleagues who had "strived hard and accepted to make sacrifices in order
to faithfully serve the Cambodian people and Motherland."
concluded with "May you continue to always encounter only peace, happiness,
prosperity and renewed success in l994 and in the future."
officials speculate that the King's letter came in response to a request by
First Prime Minister Ranariddh and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen while they were
in Beijing to have Rainsy removed from his current position.
Economics and Finance officials say that Rainsy feels like he has little support
from cabinet officials, CPP members and even members of his own party as he
attempts to bring revolutionary reforms to the country's economic and financial
Although, with a public demonstration by students and traders
on Jan. 20 against the Thai Boong Roong company, observers say that Rainsy feels
he has broad-based public support for widespread economic reforms.
his return from Beijing, First Prime Minister Ranariddh voiced concern that
further tension in the market dispute might drive out foreign investors to seek
business opportunities in neighboring Vietnam.
Speaking on state
television on Jan. 23 the premier appeared to be disappointed at what he
attributed as an attempt to raise support from people who get caught up in the
"While we were in China, some were engaging in demagogy
here," Ranariddh said without specifying who his comments were directed
"Here the question is not about demagogy, just wait for four or five
years when new elections come. Statesmanship and demagogy are two different
things. It's impossible for me to be a practical leader and a demagogue at the
same time, and I would resign to just be president of FUNCINPEC if someone
challenges me," the premier added.
More than 1,000 traders and students
took to the streets on Jan. 20 to show support for Rainsy, while denouncing
Theng Boon Ma, chairman of TBR.
In her late 40s, trader Im Hong said
"Today I decided to close my shop because I'm angry at Theng Boon Ma looking
down on Mr. Sam Rainsy."
"I'm going to pray for the good health of Mr Sam
Rainsy so he will remain a defender of justice for the Khmer people. He is a
real patriot," vendor Seng Y-Gek, holding a bunch of incense sticks said as the
protestors stopped to pray on the riverside opposite the Royal Palace before
proceeding to the National Assembly.
Suong Sophal, a student of the
Economics Institute, said "I support [Sam Rainsy] for his high patriotic spirit
to help the poor. Assemblymen must not turn blind eyes and must not let him act
alone, they must inspect TBR company and kick them out if possible because by
the year 2,000 all land will belong to it."
The unsettled market dispute
has drawn Theng Boon Ma and Sam Rainsy into public confrontation with both sides
using the print media for an exchange of rancorous statements.
Ma labeled Rainsy "Minister of Destroying Economics and Finance" who replied by
calling the businessman a "crooked investor" who operates the country's
"...The Cambodian people, including myself, are
greatly pained at seeing our country under the economic colonialist yoke of the
TBR company which has the backing of the Mafia operating in nearby countries.
Its power is based on the immense wealth it has drawn from the blood and sweat
of the Khmer people," Rainsy said in his statement issued on Jan.
Angered by the TBR company's disrespect for their leader, the
protesters called Theng Boon Ma "a chairman of the devil company sucking Khmer
"Crooked TBR company must be kicked out of the Kingdom of
Cambodia" and "Welcome law-abiding foreign investors" read banners at the most
The demonstrations made authorities nervous and the
Ministry of Interior issued an order banning state-run television and radio from
airing the event, citing organizers' failure to meet the ministry's law
requesting them to submit an application 72 hours prior to the march.
new marketplace provides 4,000 stalls with their prices ranging from US
$6,000-160,000, according to their sizes and prime locations.
estimates the construction capital for the new market at less than US $10
million and said that the rental prices fixed by Theng Boon Ma would make US $30
million in profit for his company which reserves ownership rights on the
building for 15 years.
He suggested that the problem can be solved by
recognizing the "commercial rights" of the 1,951 who maintained stalls in the
old market before the project began. Rainsy argues that these shopkeepers should
be given free rents in the new market.
He also says that he will review
TBR's building permit, check safety and hygiene to see if there is proper
ventilation and access to exits in case of emergency, and determine a fair value
of the market.
He also alleged that TBR made large profits from importing
excessive construction materials before the building was finished.
sources believe that key government officials are financially influenced by the
TBR and are reluctant to deal with the issue on legal basis.
Royal Government of Cambodia accepts the situation, it becomes a defacto
alliance between TBR and the nation. Two opposing natures, an alliance which is
anti-democratic because the people have not chosen to accept the rule of TBR.
It's anti-national, anti-popular," the official added.
Since assuming his
position, Rainsy has launched a series of operations backed by the government
military police, to reinforce rules and regulations in an attempt to control the
country's economy and to collect taxes for the state treasury.
targets are tax and duty from imports and exports which account for 54 per cent
of the overall state revenues.
He recently started reinforcing
tax-collection from vehicles that are believed to have been smuggled and resold
many times from one hand to another without proper documentation.
Consumers have blamed the minister for being unfair and insisted he
should better deal with corrupt customs officers.
And, other sources
argued that Rainsy's policy to improve economic regulations by recalling
mistakes of the previous government would jeopardize cooperation between the two
main parties-FUNCINPEC and CPP-and the new government's investment
"His reference to all negative points in the former regime is
equal to suicide for the two main parties, automatically, then of the people.
The winner without any effort will be the Khmer Rouge. He must not use his
expertise alone, but (pursue) a policy which will be acceptable to everybody,"
said another senior government official who asked not to be
"His effort is mixed with his ambition and personality cult
that he is the only capable person who cares about the country's economy," he
Prince Ranariddh said he would maintain a position of referee in
the dispute and said that his government would seek a settlement satisfactory
for all conflicting sides by relying on the reality of the existing
"We will resolve the problem and we won't make anyone a 100
percent winner or a 100 percent looser," he promised.
Ahmad Yahya, a
parliamentarian, has complained about slow readiness of ministries to come up
with clear-cut laws that would help them to carry out their duties more
"Personally, I'm very upset with the head of the company
[TBR] who thinks that with the power of money they can do anything they want.
But, the constitution alone is not enough, that's why it is very difficult
situation for us to act. We've urged them to prepare bills to be passed," said
"But from 1994 power is not money, power is rules and regulations.
I believe rules and regulations will work," he said.
He insisted that
there must be thorough investigation to produce sufficient proof of improper
business activity by TBR.
Journalists tried on numerous occasion to reach
Theng Boon Ma, but the Cambodian-Chinese born businessman with Thai citizenship
has not been available for comment.
In his statement dated Jan.14, he,
however, categorically denied Rainsy's charges and qualified him as "a low-grade
He accused the minister of attempting to break up solidarity
in the royal government- between FUNCINPEC and the CPP-and said "Such an
attitude and words really threaten investors from doing business to contribute
to the restoration of economic foundation of the nation."
He called on
Rainsy "Do not hesitate to come and inspect our company, we are prepared to
"But if the result does not come out as what you have said,
would you have the courage to be 'a patriot' or not?" he asked.
said "I want things to reverse now. I want good investors to chase out bad
investors with the weapons of law and regulations, weapons of people who are
dedicated to defend the interests of their country."
His response to
Theng Boon Ma was that he would send a team to inspect the company, and he also
said "I will fight until the end for my Nation, Religion and King"-the motto of
the Cambodian constitution.