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Watchdog slams partnerships

Watchdog slams partnerships

NEWLY announced charitable partnerships between members of the private sector and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces constitute a “blatant violation of basic governance and transparency standards”, according to international watchdog Global Witness.

In a statement released on Friday, Global Witness said the partnerships amount to the selling-off of military units, calling on international donors to renounce the initiative.

“It is unacceptable for private companies to be financing a military renowned for its corruption and involvement in illegal activities and human rights abuses,” Global Witness campaigns director Gavin Hayman said in the statement.

The plan to which Hayman referred was first laid out in a document signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 22. In that document, prominent companies and individuals from the private sector – including ANZ Royal Bank, Bayon TV and Canadia Bank – are partnered with government offices and military units. This arrangement, government officials say, will provide military families with daily necessities such as food and shelter, though some observers fear it will leave the armed forces accountable to private rather than public interests.

Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said Sunday that Global Witness’s concerns were “groundless”.

“For the defence of the nation, there must be collaboration from all sectors, including the private sector and the people,” Chhum Socheat said. “The formation of the partnership demonstrates transparency and good management.”

Past reports from Global Witness, which have focused on corruption in resource management by government officials and their associates, have been banned by the Cambodian government. Following Global Witness’s 2007 report detailing government involvement in illegal logging,
Kampong Cham provincial governor Hun Neng – brother to Hun Sen – threatened to beat any Global Witness staff who return to the Kingdom “until their heads are broken”.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said the government “never gives any value to reports from this organisation”.

“Global Witness never reports any good things from Cambodia. They are like representatives of the opposition,” Koy Kuong said.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson had not responded to a request for comment as of press time Sunday, and Chinese embassy spokesman Qian Hai said he was unfamiliar with the issue. British ambassador Andrew Mace declined to comment.