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Confusing Pieces of Information about Money

By: Norbert Klein Posted: June-27-2011 in
Norbert Klein

The Cambodia Daily of 4-5 June 2011 reported that during a session of the Council of Ministers on 3 June 2011, the Prime Minister raised US$259,000 in investment pledges from the members of the Council to rebuild the market in Kratie which had been destroyed by fire the day before. US$259,000 raised on the spot – not in response to longer term planning how to allocate scarce resources for the many needs in the country.

The Evaluation Committee reported that the fire destroyed $700,000 worth of goods and we calculate that the old market cost $130,000, so in total the price will be $840,000.

During the reconstruction, if the amount collected is not enough, Mr. Hun Sen said he would pay for the rest out of his own pocket.

It is at least surprising that the members of the Council of Ministers, who are not known to receive extraordinarily high salaries, can make such investment pledges on the spot. It is no surprise, that such pledges also raise the question, where such monies can come from.

Recently, there had been several press reports that the Anti-Corruption Unit of Cambodia is “aware” of payout reports by the Australian minerals company OZ.

…Board members, who received more than $900,000, were the mother-in-law and the daughter of officials from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

Another board members said last week she had been a mere stand-in for her husband,…
(The Cambodia Daily, 3 June 2011)

It should be remembered that one point of criticism of the anticorruption legislation is the fact that the obligation to declare assets does not include the obligation to declare assets of family members.

It will probably remain a mystery forever, how the members of the Council of Ministers quickly raised $259,000 without any pre-warning. – Over the past years, whenever an old market burnt down or was torn down to be modernized, there were almost always tensions between those who had had their shops in the old market already, the the planners and investors, who expected higher rental fees than before. To own and operate a market – not just a stall in the market – seems to be good business.

The different salary scales of officials in Cambodia were taken up in an international publication recently, in a completely different context, by a Canadian journalist living in Cambodia, sharing some of his observations:

No foreigners over the age of 50 can marry any Cambodian women, even if they were both consenting adults… the same age, or older. That means if a 50-year-old man were to meet a 60-year-old woman and fall in love… they would be legally forbidden from tying the knot.

If that weren’t enough, foreigners who make less than $2,500 a month are forbidden from getting hitched with Khmer women. This equates to about 10 times the national Cambodian salary, in a country where police make $25 a month…

Not to mention the fact that the Prime Minister declared his assets for the first time in the country’s history last month – at a laughable salary of just over $1,400 a month… Yes, that’s right you read that correctly. To marry a Cambodian woman as a foreigner you now have to make almost double what the Prime Minister makes.

In March 2011, there were several surprises about this new marriage law in The Mirror, asking among other questions that “it would be interesting to know what kind of economic data from which countries were used, and how it was established what ‘living a decent life’ means – in Japan, or in India – in a big city, or in the countryside? Now this figure of $2,500 has been put also into a specific Cambodian context.

While such different random figures in reports and regulations do not show any consistency, it should not be forgotten that the president of LICADHO had raised, in this context, a much more fundamental question:

Kek Galabru, president of local human rights group LICADHO, praised the government’s intention to protect Cambodian brides. But she said the new guidelines “go against Cambodian marriage law and international law” – specifically the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“This is discrimination against women because they will not be allowed to marry men who are over 50 … while Cambodian men can marry any foreign woman they choose,” she said.

These different figures are randomly collected and put together on purpose, because they all relate to the economic context, in which we all live in Cambodia, Cambodians and foreigners alike. By putting these figures together, they are a reminder of the complex economic and legal injustices, which all wait to be rectified.



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