One of the most recognisable brand names in the world is Coca-Cola. As a brand that originated in the United States, the Cambodia manager for the Coca-Cola brand, Paul Popelier, General Manager, Cambodia Beverage Company Ltd, agreed to answer a few questions about a matters of interest to Cambodia on the occasion of the Fourth of July.
Do you have an opinion about the Cambodian Anti-Corruption Law?
Anti-Corruption Laws have been implemented in many countries across the globe. The passing of the Anti-Corruption Law (ACL) marked a move in the right direction for Cambodia.It was an important step on the road to combating corruption and the next step will be to put the law into daily practice. However, we should realise that this can take years of serious efforts. It is not the government’s responsibility alone, but I believe society at large needs to understand the new law and proactively engage with it.
Corruption has been recognized as one of the problems hindering Cambodia’s development. USAID Corruption Assessment Reports, for example, have estimated “annual diversions”, and without going into detail, these estimate sare substantial indeed.
What is your understanding of how it has worked so far?
Coca-Cola Cambodia, or, Cambodia Beverage Company, embraces the Anti-Corruption Law. This bold and forward-looking initiative obviously necessitates top-level commitment from the government to enforce it, as well as a supporting infrastructure and processes to execute the law at the ground level.
There is surely a risk of disconnect between these two levels. However, it has been good to notice in my personal interactions with eg top officials at the General Department of Customs and Excise that this reformation is taken very seriously at the top as well as at, let’s say, the front-line; this whole process is supported by transparent rules and regulations.
Great initiatives have been launched over the past few years, like the 'Public Relation Unit' at the General Department of Customs and Excise with which we are in regular contact with, and the 'Customs-Private Sector Partnership Mechanism' for which we are currently applying for membership.
Let us also not forget that the private sector has an important role to play in the success of the ACL. If the private sector continues paying either direct or indirect 'unofficial fees', this risks becoming a vicious circle. Not to mention that 'unofficial fees' are nowadays simply illegal.
Finally, it should be recognized that knowingly or unknowingly,part of the 'unofficial fees' are not being paid to government officials at all but to 'phantom officials' working eg in the periphery of Customs and ports.
How could the situation be improved?
A good example in this regard is how Singapore tackled the issue of corruption. Like many countries, Singapore had problems with political corruption in the early 90’s and the government introduced various highly effective reforms which I recommend people to refer to.
As stated previously, compliance with law can take years of effort to (take) affect. The ACL was passed in 2011 and we cannot expect everything to change instantaneously. I think the enforcement can be successful if:
- The business sector as a whole understands, supportsand complies with the Anti-Corruption Law
- There are efforts to communicate with and enable government officers to comply with the law
- Capacity to enforce the law is developed
- Public notices state relevant government fees
- Official receipts in the value of what has been paid to the government are issued.
- Evidence from around the world demonstrates that cumbersome anti-corruption implementation works best if it goes hand-in-hand with more or less corresponding adjustments of salaries of governmental officials.
We have seen some improvements since the introduction of the Anti Corruption Law in August 2011, for instance receipts being given for fines by the traffic police. I think this is a good example of positive change that the government can build on as it continues the work of enforcing the ACL.
From your position at Coca-Cola what are some of your biggest concerns about Cambodia?
Coca-Cola embraces the implementation of the Anti-Corruption Law which fully corresponds with our company’s belief in how to do business. Coca-Cola has a universal 'Code of Business Conduct' that is applied, without exception, around the world, and covers much more than just anti-corruption.This code covers three chapters:
- Integrity within the Company, like correct Financial Records and proper usage of Company assets and information
- Conflicts of interest, like conflicting private investments or employment outside the company.
- Integrity in dealing with others, which covers not only dealings with governments but also, for example, customers, suppliers and consumers. Coca-Cola pursues an extremely cautious approach when it comes to receiving or providing gifts, and entertaining customers or officials.
What’s more, in a 100 per cent US-owned Company like ours, we are governed by the US FCPA, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Actthat is at least as strict as certain elements of our Code of Business Conduct.
So, you can understand that we at Coca-Cola Cambodia welcome an audacious initiative like the Cambodian Anti Corruption Law and hope it soon becomes a genuine success in its implementation.
If you look at Coca-Cola as a valuable brand, and you take the same idea and look at Cambodia as a brand, what would you suggest about how to protect the Cambodia Brand?
I think Cambodia is doing some fantastic work in tourism in general and Angkor Wat in particular, in addition to exploiting and further developing the rice and other agricultural products. People from all corners of the world visit Angkor Wat and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and are, without exception, impressed by the hospitality of Cambodians.
I wish that doing business in Cambodia was perceived as positively as visiting this great world heritage site.
So, my slogan for now, for a successful future of Cambodia is:
'Make doing business in Cambodia as attractive as visiting Angkor Wat.'
Needless to say, possibilities to achieve the above ambition are greatly enhanced if Cambodia moves up the ranking of countries with 'least perceived corruption', as published annually by Transparency International.
Only then we can proudly say: 'Doing business in Cambodia is as attractive as visiting Angkor Wat.'