Dollars or Riel?

One of the actions of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot was to abolish money, specifically the Khmer riel, the national currency. Partly because of that and partly because of inefficient handling of monetary policy after the Khmer Rouge were defeated, the riel never regained the trust and acceptance of the Khmer people. When a new post-Khmer Rouge government was established, the US dollar became the central currency in use in Cambodia, and it has remained as a fully legal currency until now. Transactions can take place in either the Cambodian riel or US dollars, and they are freely interchangeable.

Now, however, mostly for reasons of national pride, but also to give the central bank more control over the national currency, the government is encouraging de-dollarization and increased use of the riel. Recently to support use of riel, the government has discouraged the use of US $5 and $1 notes. After a period in which they could be exchanged for riel at no cost, the government has allowed banks to charge a fee to accept the $5 and $1 bills to create a disincentive for using the smaller US bills although they still remain legal.

That measure has had its intended effect. The majority of $5 and $1 bills previously in circulation for small transactions has disappeared. A typical transaction today is paid only with riel, or if a larger US dollar note is used, any change under $10 will be returned in riel. For example, if a person offers a $50 bill to buy an $11 book, the buyer will receive in change a $20 bill, a $10 bill, and the equivalent of $9 in riel. Smaller amounts of riel paper notes are also given because the Cambodian monetary system has no coins.

These smaller U.S. bills are increasingly going out of circulation in Cambodia although they are still legal tender for all transactions.
These are the smaller Cambodian riel notes that are replacing the smaller US notes. The general exchange rate is approximately 4000 riel = US $1.00. I.e., the 1000 riel note above is the equivalent of US $0.25.
These larger riel notes are being used more also as more purchases are transacted in riel. The 10,000 riel note would be the equivalent of US$2.50. There is also a 20,000 riel note and a 50,000 riel note but they are used less commonly.

Politics and Theology

The incredible events in our nation’s Capitol Building are more than politics. They are also indicative of our theology. Here is a link to an article by Jim Wallis in Sojourners magazine. Read the full article and reflect on how to respond, but for me these were the ideas that struck me the most.

In addition to the political ramifications for our democracy of the attempted coup, there are also theological questions Wallis raised:

1. Truth is a central tenet of Christianity. “Does the truth matter to Christians and Christian leaders who supported Donald Trump?”

2. “[T]he biblical abomination of racism and its ideology of white nationalism…stands at the core of the Trump base…. This is no longer just politics, it is theological heresy, and one that needs to be exorcised from white Christianity in America.”

I encourage you to read the article.

An Election Prayer

Let us pray . . .

For the world and its leaders, may all those in authority have the courage to walk the path of peace.

For our nation in this time of election and transition, may we be gifted with a spirit of reverence for what is right, charity for those with whom we disagree and concern for the common good.

For all who serve in our national and local governments, may they commit themselves to building a more perfect union.

For reconciliation among families and friends, may we learn to love each other not despite but because of our differences and may we focus fully on the work that continues beyond this election–the work of building God’s beloved community.

For those most affected by the choices we make, those who are made poor, those seeking safety in our land, those who are ill or without homes, those without food or meaningful work, and for all whose lives are undervalued, may they find welcome in our hearts and in our country.


Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Corruption or Incompetence? Or Both?

This is a headline from February 21, 2020 in which the newspaper reports that there are no ghost workers, i.e., people on the government payroll who don’t actually do any work.

This is a headline from February 24, 2020 in which the ghost workers are admitted. Given that the prime minister’s “official” salary is $4,000 per month (Ha!), recovering $1.7 million seems to indicate there were a LOT of ghost workers.

The country of Cambodia is good, the people are wonderful, but the government is corrupt and incompetent.

How would you call it?

Notice the headline: “Hun Sen” is the actor. It’s not the Ministry of Health or the government or port officials that let the passengers disembark from the cruise ship MS Westerdam in the Sihanoukville harbor after it was denied docking rights in other countries because of fears of the COVID-19 virus. It’s Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister, who claims credit. He makes the decision and the Post dutifully applauds him as a good government newspaper should. Isn’t that one of the marks of a certain governance style that centers on one all-powerful person?

Shoot the Messenger!

After the most recent examination to select students for training for Cambodia’s judiciary, 50+ students complained that there was corruption in the exam process, and that more than $2 million in bribes [“hiccups”?] was paid to get good scores. That’s not a surprising claim in Cambodia where there is constant buying and selling of government favors, civil service positions, etc., by corrupt officials.

And here’s the way the government typically responds:

Transparency International in their latest report described the kingdom as “highly corrupt” and ranked Cambodia at 162nd of 180 countries. That was a drop of one place from last year’s report. This year’s report noted: “Key structural and systematic reforms–in particular with regard to strengthening rule of law and justice–have made little to no progress.”

It would seem that if the country year after year scores so low on the corruption index the government might acknowledge there could be something wrong and address the problem. Instead the government spokesman dismissed the report as “just an advertisement of NGOs to promote their own interests.” Ahhh…the Kingdom of Wonder….

So he says….

Hun Sen is the prime minister of Cambodia and has been since 1997. He is the longest-serving head of state in Asia and everything–good and bad–in Cambodia can be attributed to him. One wonders what he means when he avers he will never sacrifice the national interest. The prime minister has his hands deep in the pockets of China and so he has to go wherever China goes. The Chinese set up huge gambling operations in Sihanoukville and took over everything. A newspaper article reported that 90%+ of the businesses in Sihanoukville are now Chinese owned and half the population is Chinese. That’s in Cambodia’s national interest?