Cambodia: reform needed to combat poverty – Bertelsmann Future Challenges

| August 10, 2011
Cambodia: reform needed to combat poverty – Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Cambodia: reform needed to combat poverty

Cambodia is among the world’s poorest countries. While parts of the economy are making considerable progress, more than 30 percent of the population still live in poverty. Though the government has proposed many strategies – like the the Poverty Reduction Strategy Program, Cambodia Millennium Development Goals and the National Strategic Development Plan – little progress has been made in improving people’s living standards. On the 2010 U.N. Development Program’s Human Development Index, Cambodia is ranked 124 out of 169 countries, just above Myanmar but below Laos. This is a slight improvement over 1995-2005. Over the past few years, Cambodia’s economic growth rate has been in double digits which has helped reduce poverty from 34.8 percent in 2004 to 30.1 percent in 2007, according to World Bank figures.

Cambodian government policies aimed at reducing poverty will not work without collaboration from people at the grassroots level, civil society organizations and donor communities. An active grassroots civil society would ensure that citizens’ diverse voices are articulated and heard by local governments. It would also act as a check on local government action and ensure that it complies with the wishes of citizens – a community-based monitoring function that enhances accountability. Both roles would promote governance for the benefit of the poor.

Poverty reduction is one of the mandates of international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and has been their joint focus since 1999. Their continued financial and technical assistance is crucial to both government and civil society organizations. There are huge grants from major donor countries and agencies that prioritize a formidable range of pressing issues including agricultural and rural development, human rights issues, decentralization, disability and rehabilitation, disarmament and demobilization, education, electoral reform, fishery and forestry sectors, gender and women’s participation, governance and transparency, health and HIV/AIDS, landmines and unexploded ordinances in affected communities, land reform, microfinance, resettlement and rights of affected people and the rule of law. If policies in these sectors are effectively implemented they will contribute to poverty reduction.

Since the early 1990s NGOs in Cambodia have been heavily involved in post-conflict reconstruction, emergency relief work, repatriation and resettlement of refugees, and assisting with the implementation of basic services and infrastructure. NGOs work hard under difficult conditions in many sectors and geographical areas where the Cambodian government has outsourced, ignored or failed to provide assistance.

Despite their contributions to government policies, the activities of some of these groups – especially those that advocate civil rights or fight corruption – are obstructed or rebutted by the government in the name of protecting national security and the social order.

The central issue here is thus the lack of cooperation between the government and civil society organizations. There is no communication and coordination between government and donor agencies so that funds can be channeled properly to avoid duplication of tasks, and no common fund-requesting procedures to facilitate the organizations’ work.

In addition, there are donor-driven agendas to which NGOs often have to conform to maintain their funding. Such shifts may not be appropriate neither for NGOs themselves in terms of expertise nor for the particular development needs of the various communities. They also create conflicts of interest among civil society organizations when jockeying for funding which ultimately contributes to a lack of collaboration between them.

Furthermore, there are many challenges for people at grassroots level who wish to exercise their rights. A small oligarchy of high-ranking government officials, army generals and rich entrepreneurs dominates the country politically, socially and economically. The National Assembly and the Senate do not fulfill their functions effectively and hardly take any initiative on their own. The judiciary system, which is not dependent on the executive power, provides the rich and mighty with impunity. All TV channels and most of the radio stations and print media are controlled by the government and do not report fairly on the opposition parties.

Corruption is rampant in Cambodia; in fact, corruption is one of the main sources of human rights violations and one of the main factors fueling poverty. Instead of being properly consulted, rural and urban community leaders are intimidated and pushed aside. In most cases, the courts do not protect their rights to a fair trial. Grassroots activists who try to resist are arrested and given heavy sentences.

The poorest and most disadvantaged parts of society have limited opportunities to exercise their civil and political rights. They neither know about their rights nor how to advocate for them. The failure of the authorities to protect their rights, and excessive use of force by security forces sometimes lead to counter-violence. Thus in order to tackle poverty and violence, civil society organizations and donor communities need to lobby the government for administrative and judicial reforms and empowerment of people at the grassroots level.

Poverty reduction requires a strong government role in collaboration with civil society. First, the Cambodian government should work toward a clean, highly competent and courageous leadership. Second, Cambodia must develop a highly educated, development-oriented, non-corrupt, efficient bureaucracy. The new anti-corruption unit, recently established after the long awaited law on anti-corruption was finally adopted, should be aimed at strictly and independently enforcing the law.
Third, all civil society and government stakeholders interested in the development of the country should work towards a culture of mutual collaboration, through extensive community consultation rather than through pressure exerted by powerful groups or lobbies.

Ultimately, the Cambodian government should enforce reforms of the administrative, legal and judicial, military, economic and financial branches to improve the living conditions of the Cambodian people. Only if these reforms are implemented will poverty reduction policies be feasible

Change to new blog address

| March 27, 2009
Dear all readers,

I would like to thank for your visit and support on my blog.
Last few months, my blog got some problem and it was disorganized.
So, i have tried to figure out the problem and changed to a new address.
Therefore, i hope to see your continuing support and contact.

Please visit my new blog at


Civic Responsibility and Education: Hirokami higashi school Case

| December 1, 2008
Author: Chak Sopheap

Following my previous article on “Understanding the Japanese Spirit to Success,” I would like to raise the civic responsibility in Education system in Japan which plays as a central pillar for achieving the JAPAN foundations. This article is reflected from my field trip to visit a primary school, Hirokami higashi school.

Well-designed curriculum: The school has consistent programs that allow the students to learn step by step with a long term visionary. Students are not only learning theoretical parts but know-how lessons including building a small house, taking care animal, planting rice, cooking the rice, and organizing the program for schools. You may wonder why Japan, a leading economy nation, adopts such a program that sounds agricultural and non-business approach to students at the young age (it does not mean that Japan do not train their students to be businessmen, but until they reach colleague or university level).

Through these activities, students are trained to work as a team, to have a strong communication among teachers and students and the public, as well as to understand their individual and social responsibility. If we go deeply to understand their concept, students are instructed to value their surrounding environment: Value the crops that they have spent time to grow so that they will also value the farmers who support their food security; value the environment and animal life (through their warming heart learning the complexity of ecosystem at this young age); and value the community to which they are belonging through their contribution in social projects like raising fund to support rural schools where they have poor infrastructure.

What even striking me the most is that the students learn the peace concept and they are working together to make “With One Hearth, Dreams Come True,” peace project possible. It is one of the best examples for a long-term peace advocacy.

Motivation and parent-school Partnership: School, teachers, and parents play important roles to motivate students to be active and hard-working to achieve their goals. Taking English language learning as example, school have designed programs where student can expose to communicate directly with foreigners, like the filed visit that I was invited is one of the example. Students are encouraged to speak with delegates and their works have been exhibited during the School Festival where parents and public are able to investigate and see how their kids behave and work at school.

Personally, I think these activities are necessary to build a well-cognitive behavior for students and the society need to address the need for such attitudes that can build a better future for the young generation with civic responsibility so that the world can be peaceful and harmonized.

Understanding Japanese Spirits of Success

| September 10, 2008
Author: Chak Sopheap

Japan is an island nation situated in the Northeast coast of mainland Asia. After World War II, Japan, which was virtually ruined, went through a period of restoration, followed by high economic growth, eventually becoming the world’s second largest economy. It is a member of the United Nation, G8, G4, OECD and APEC and a world leader in technology and machinery. This clearly indicates that Japan can both reconcile and reunite citizens to succeed in its own country development as well as to reintegrate into world diplomacy and global economy.Knowing how Japan has arrived at this stage is a good lesson learnt for other developing countries, especially those without the exception of Cambodia who experienced similar war destructions. The following remark is my personal point of view followed by a series of lectures of Japanese professors, CD documentation on “Keys to Japan” by JICA, and personal observation on Japanese society. There are five foundations that JAPAN can transform itself to the current phase of development—that is JAPAN:Japanization: Wakon Yosai spiritA Rule of Law PunctualityA strong collaboration between Public and Private Sector Nationalism and Meritocracy

1. Japanization: Wakon Yosai spiritJapanization is a concept that Japan adopts and adapts western method into its own spirit. The Japanese leaders and scholars who spent their time oversea return home with the western system and philosophy and make it suit to Japanese practice. It includes the political system—the incorporation of German constitution as its model, the transportation, and mainly the economic development. One example is how Shibusawa Eiichi, the father of economy of Japan, learnt from western concept and applied it into Japan. He tried to seek for the answer how to generate money in order to serve public purposes. That is bank system which allows the money flow from individual to entrepreneur and the state and the money will return to household in the form of interest, business transaction and public services. In addition, Japan invested huge amount of its budget on foreign experts in order to develop the country as well as to learn from their skill. It means the price have to pay.

2. A rule of law
A rule of law means that no individual, president or private citizen, stands above law. The core principle of "rule of law" is an autonomous legal order that does not depend so much on law's instrumental capabilities, but on its degree of autonomy—the degree to which law is distinct and separate from other normative structures such as politics and religion. Japan is considered as a rule of law state. People consciously obliged to follow the country’s rules and regulations including the Constitution, administrative procedure, environment, traffic and other state’s policies. Corruption and impunity less likely exists. It may result from high salary payment for employees in both government and private institutions as well due to the citizen’s high virtue. I would like to point out one example:
Traffic Law: Japan has a point system (you get "points" for various bad things and extra penalties kick in when the points reach certain limits). A strict focus on alcohol and driving—“If you are drunk, do not drive”. There is a subjunctive observation if you've been drinking or not. Interestingly, Japanese people like drinking alcohol, yet they will chose not to drink if they are going to drive home or somewhere else. It shows clearly how effective of law enforcement in Japan is and how people are highly obliged to the country law.

3. Punctuality
Japanese people are creators of habit of being punctual. It may due to their busy schedule, crowed and well-timed transportation, and culture adoption. I have personally experienced how Japanese people respect their time management and agenda during conferences, class orientation, meeting appointments, and bus and train stations. Basically, punctuality indicates integral personality and it communicates self-value to other partners. It also shows how much we respect ourselves and others. We may be occasionally late due to unexpected and unavoidable occurrence. However, punctuality does matter and need to be addressed if we become habitually late. More importantly, time respect is important to succeed in any kind of business. We have to realize how to value the time we have, as quoted from a book, titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teen”: To realize the value of one year, ask a student who failed his final exam last year.

To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly magazine.
To realize the value of one day, ask a daily wage laborer who has six kids to feed.
To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed their flight.
To realize the value of one second, ask a person who survive in an accident.
To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who won a silver medal in the Olympics. Therefore, in my opinion, I think Japanese people value every second they have and it maybe one of determinants for their success.

4. A strong collaboration between Public and Private Sector
Another determinant of Japanese success is that there is a strong collaboration between public and private sector in attempting to develop its economic growth and other policy implementation. Though business mindset is always for profit, there is also for national interest, especially after the WWII where the country needs internal spiritual support. The government adopted policies to support business transaction at the same time to sustain people’s interest, whereas the business sectors incorporate government policies for country development. For example:

Environment Law—Law on Recycling of Specified Kinds of Home Appliances: the purpose of the law is to take measures to appropriately and smoothly implement collection and recycling home appliances by retailers, manufacturers and importers, then to secure the appropriate disposal of waste and utilization of natural resources, and consequently to contribute to preservation of life environments and sound development of the national economy. There is a strong collaboration between the state, private companies and citizens as whole in making this policy work. Every market, restaurant, universities, as well as public places, there is always different kind of waste disposal and there are campaign run by supermarkets in reducing the plastic bags—My bag activity or “Say no to Plastic bag”. I think not only Japan but most developed countries have promoted the environmental friendly policies including the recycle projects. In contrast, the developing countries and LDCs are the countries who used resource inefficiently and no proper waste management.

5. Nationalism and Meritocracy
According to Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the term “nationalism” is generally used to describe the attitude that citizens of a nation care about their national identity and the actions that they take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination. Japan can be categorized as a country whose maintain its nationalism either through its cultural nature, political and economy form and historical destiny. War history indicates that Japanese nationalism provided a political and ideological foundation for the actions of the Japanese military like Bushido philosophy (the way of the warrior), denoting a coherent code of beliefs and doctrines about the proper path of the samurai. For economic point of view, though Japan adopts free-market economy system, there seems strong root of national tendency on local product rather than foreign imported products. Most products in markets are Japanese made. It may result from quality trustworthy and nationalism.

In addition, Meritocracy—a social system in which rewards and occupational positions are allocated justly on the basis of merit, rather than ascriptive factors such as class, gender, ethnic group or wealth—was widely employed in Japanese society, especially within its government system. Shibusawa Eiichi,a leading scholar who was invited to work for the new government with no condition or nepotism, is the best example of meritocracy system. Though Eiichi rejected this provision at the beginning due to his loyalty to his former government, he was convinced by a senior advisor who influentially stated that “Forget the past, think about current country demand for development.” It indicates clearly that the Japanese puts national interest before individual and political interest.

With all these five foundations—JAPAN— Japan could arrive this development stage. I therefore, believe that it is useful for other countries. Yet, it is important that the change agent starts from each individual citizen and then the country as the whole. “Be the Agent of Change."

Local Summer Festival_Moegi-en of Japan (August 09 2008)

| August 15, 2008

IUJ students with local Japanese people at Moegi-en, Japan

Japanese kids's drump performance

It was my great opportunity to be invited by the UMEX (UONUMA Association for Multicultural EXchange) to join the Summer Festival organized by Moegi-en, the nursing and personal care institution for the old aged people. As an international student from Cambodia, I found the Summer Festival was very unique and supportive for the old. The festival setting consisting of dancing and singing performance provided a rich culture and spirit of Japanese people in respecting the old and showed the talent of young Japanese performers. I was so impressed to see how local community could organize such a beneficial gathering—where the smiling faces of the young and the old appeared. In this regard, I could learn how local initiative contributes to social integration and harmony and it should be a good lesson-learnt for Cambodia and other countries. The more we can share and understand one another historical, social, cultural perspective, the more we are able to bridge the gap of misunderstanding and build a better and more tolerant global society, not just from an Asian perspective, but from all global perspective.

IUJ students and UMEX staff

My blog has moved! Redirecting...

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.