The Government needs help

This is a really good example of what’s wrong with Cambodia. I have no problem with respecting the culture and traditions of a nation–I encourage it–but….pointing your foot at a car? Who was offended? The government makes a big deal of things like this to convince the populace that the government is with them and protecting them. And such antics distract from the failures of the government to do all the things it should be doing: providing schools, insuring medical care, protecting the forests and rivers, preventing land grabs, etc.

Insulting the nation….

This is the kind of silliness the people of Cambodia must put up with. Their government regularly, frequently, arrests–and jails–people for innocuous Facebook posts. It is not unlikely that some of the offensive posts are actually true, but true or not, the government officials are so sensitive and thin-skinned that a bit of criticism or negative comment draws the thought police. It’s an insult to the people of Cambodia….

Official’s Respect….Not

Recently I went to a graduation for a school for children with disabilities. Near the end the graduating students presented small gifts to officials who had come, as a little thank-you. When these two students with disabilities approached this official, he stood and at the same time his phone rang. He pulled out the phone and talked for three to four minutes while the two students–and the whole assembly–waited for him to accept his gift.

Now maybe it was his wife and she was calling with a special ring that they only use for real emergencies–but I suspect that was not the case. I suspect it was another example of the lack of respect and courtesy many government officials show toward the people they are supposed to serve.

Several years ago, we had a similar incident on Deaf Day. The main speaker and honored guest was a high official in a ministry. Right in the middle of her main talk, her phone rang–and she answered it! She talked for three or four minutes and we could hear every word from the microphone on the podium. She said she was busy at the time and then proceeded to set up a lunch date on another day. This is the disrespect and patronizing attitude so many in the government exhibit here.

The Real Cambodia

Abusing the poor, abusing the kingdom…

The government of Cambodia is in thrall to China. Article after article in the newspapers–and the personal anecdotes of people we meet–tell how Cambodia has been sold to China. The Chinese government gives $600 million a year to Hun Sen’s government—with basically no strings attached. You can imagine where that money goes. And you can guess why the Cambodian government does little to stop the sinacization of their country.

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This checkpoint erected by a Chinese company on a village road was set upon and overturned by angry locals, (photo from Phnom Penh Post)

Here is a link to an article that describes the incredible transition of Sihanoukville, a coastal town, into a Chinese town.

And here is another article that describes the drive for development that is displacing hundreds of people who live around the boeungs (lakes or flood plains) and is causing flooding and other disruptions because the normal rainfall now has nowhere to go.

Money Trumps All

Unfortunately too much of life in Cambodia comes down to money. Not much happens here without money–often LOTS of money–being part of the deal. Cambodia is moving from a developing country into the lower middle income bracket and that generates lots of opportunities for gifts and bonuses and outright graft. The prime minister is known by some business people as Mr. Ten Percent. Things that would be free of commercial taint, like traffic signs in other countries, become income generators here.

Pandering to the Populace

110 cc and 125 cc motorcycles
(waiting on the sidewalk for a red light, but that’s another problem).

Khmer Times (newspaper): What kinds of vehicles cause the most traffic accidents in Cambodia?

Colonel Visal (Chief of the Traffic Police Office): “Causing the most accidents is motorbikes, including the ones used to drag a cart and tuk-tuk. Accidents caused by motorbikes account for 70 percent of all accidents in Cambodia. The new law states that motorbike drivers whose rides are 125cc or less will no longer need a license, yet our statistics prove that it is that kind of rides which cause most of the accidents in the country.”

Cambodia averages five or six traffic deaths a day, with many more injured. The government’s response? Eliminate the need for a driver’s license for the largest category of vehicles (by far) on the road. It makes the locals happy because they don’t have to pay for the test and bribe the test official, and it makes the government happy because it gains them votes. It’s like, in the United States, if the government said that no driver licenses would be needed for any vehicle selling for under $40,000.