Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - This time around, the political cards are on the table

This time around, the political cards are on the table

This time around, the political cards are on the table

FIRST Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh promised aid donors during the recent

Tokyo summit that he would work to set up a Constitutional Council and a Supreme

Council of Magistracy over the next year.

Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, sitting beside his fellow leader, said nothing.

Ranariddh and Hun Sen did promise donors they would work together, specifically toward

elections which will require the passage of necessary laws.

The closed door parley between the Prime Ministers and donors produced political

commitments that are, at best, the first to be given to the international community

that can be scrutinized in 12 months time when the Cambodians next ask for money.

At worst, the promises were woolly and unworkable, and at least one - that of setting

up the key Councils - was offered by only one of the two PMs.

Tokyo's Consultative Group meeting consisted of two closed door meetings and a later

pledging session. In the first, Finance Minister Keat Chhon, Foreign Minister Ung

Huot, and Council of Ministers heads Sok An and Veng Sereyvuth were grilled on specific

concerns by delegation heads, including forestry revenues, the killing of journalists,

the rights of children and women, human rights violations in general, and law and

order.

Forewarned of what to expect by their Japanese hosts, the four ministers gave most

of the right answers, and also took the sting from the donors' meeting later with

Ranariddh and Hun Sen.

"It was good diplomacy on behalf of the Japanese," said one delegate, "the

[PMs'] meeting didn't look so much like an interrogation."

Chhon promised that all State revenues would go through the Treasury. In the key

area of timber profits, even outspoken British environmental group Global Witness

was cautiously happy about the steps Chhon outlined to stop illegal and corrupt logging.

"The co-Prime Minister have put their international reputations on the line

by publicly undertaking to deal with uncontrolled deforestation, corruption and fiscal

transparency," Global Witness said.

They did note though that a steering committee that will be set up to follow the

recent World Bank/UN forestry report included the same people who brokered "unconstitutional

and illegal" logging deals in the past.

Cambodia's decision to appoint an international assessor to monitor logs going across

the border was publicly applauded. Privately, donors joked about pitying the person

hired to do that "hell of a job".

During the PMs' meeting later, Hun Sen unintentionally prompted hidden smiles when

he said that in worrying about democracy and human rights, donors "were looking

at the trees and not the forest."

The PMs - in private and sitting side by side - promised to work together toward

the 1998 elections and to strengthen democracy. Ranariddh noted it was a "tough

and painful process" and Hun Sen said the elections would be held with or without

international help.

US delegate Kent Weideman, in a conciliatory speech, asked that the Constitutional

Council and Council of Magistricy be set up. Ranariddh immediately replied that he

would strive to do so over the next year. Hun Sen remained silent.

Said one diplomat: "The international community won't be looking very closely

about how free and fair the elections might be. It's easy for [the PMs] to set up

elections... it's much harder for them to agree on the important issue of setting

up a Constitutional Council, for example."

Donors said they were unusually united in Tokyo, agreeing beforehand on three themes:

political stability; centralizing State revenues; and increasing spending on health,

education, and rural development, especially agriculture.

"It was hard-edged and not bleeding heart," said one Western diplomat.

"In [the ICORC] Paris meeting, every donor tended to go off on their own and

it wasn't focused. This was different, it was agreed that these [themes] were the

ones on which to concentrate."

He said that in general the international community "did not want to walk away

from the poorest people in the world just because of problems of governance at the

top".

When asked whether donors would withhold money at the next CG meeting if the PMs'

promises had not been kept, specifically the formation of the two Councils, he said:

"It's a game of who blinks first, and you've identified a dilemma... All I can

say is that our side [the aid donors] are a hell of a lot stronger when united and

focused like we were in Tokyo than what we were in Paris... The PMs were sitting

together, so we considered that a joint statement."

"You must remember that this is the first time we've come away with these sorts

of commitments from the government. We don't want to give them a blank check, but

we've got to give them a fair chance over the next year," he said. "We've

got to believe them."

However, others were more cynical, one describing the Tokyo meeting "like that

Woody Allen movie, Take The Money and Run."

One Asian diplomat said the meeting was "recognition that Ranariddh is slowly

going to the boondocks."

"At the moment, they say to Ranariddh and Hun Sen, you must work together and

you will get this money. The question is who will cast the first stone, to say we

will not give you money because of what has been happening in Cambodia? I'm saying

that nobody has the guts to do it, so in practice, Hun Sen will keep on pushing and

probing. They [donors] know that."

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