Upheaval can have its benefits

Voters prepare to cast their votes at a polling station in Kandal province
Voters prepare to cast their votes at a polling station in Kandal province during the general elections in July. PHA LINA

Upheaval can have its benefits

Dear Editor,

The present upheaval in Cambodia is one of the best things that could have happened to this country.

Just imagine another overwhelming CPP victory and the crushing weight of corruption and nepotism to be endured for another five years. At the same time, it is the right time to reflect on what has gone wrong in the past.

As a foreigner it is appropriate for me to reflect on my country’s performance. And there is a dismal record. Embassies and agencies have been basking in the usual self-praise of their achievements, at the same time admitting that more has to be done (so they can keep their jobs).

Again and again we hear the argument that too much pressure is counter-productive (and inconvenient for all sides) and so no pressure at all on the government to reform has been applied and the past years have changed nothing.

It has been a story of wink, wink, say no more. The CPP, embassies and agencies are working hand in hand for their own benefits and to the detriment of the people (those who miss out on the corruption). Let me give you an example.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is responsible for a lot of donations. This can be done in two ways. With some effort to make sure it stays fair and just, or by simply handing it over to the government (which is the same as handing it to the CPP).

Sadly the second (more convenient) way seems to have been chosen. Donated rice has been handed over to so-called village elders (people appointed by the party) to distribute more or less as they please in a work for food program.

Besides the fact that this is legally questionable (work is a form of payment and the donations stipulate that there should be no payment for the rice) and also unfair since it discriminates against the sick and the weak who can’t work, but are most in need of help, it also plays into the hands of the CPP, who make themselves out to be the true source of this benevolence.

By distributing the rice they are also adding to their reputation of power and influence and thereby the ability to intimidate. This fits into the picture of their main task of controlling the votes. Another example is that the police often seem strangely reluctant to supply ID cards and then you have a so-called village elder coming to the rescue and exerting his influence. All Glory to the party.

All of this shows the laziness and thoughtlessness we foreigners have displayed in this country. Not least the inability to tie all donations to actual improvement of the situation. One of the most ridiculous excuses by governments not to do so is that Cambodia then would turn to China. Really?

Since when has China actually given money to Cambodia (instead of lending it, which means it has to be paid back with all its consequences)?

Burma has soon enough come to realise this and is desperately trying to free itself from the Chinese embrace. So the present situation seems to be somehow beneficial since it seems to focus the minds of all concerned, instead of going back to business as usual.

Heinz Wiese
Phnom Penh

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