The traffic in Phnom Penh is beginning to rival that of the infamous bad-traffic cities like Bangkok. There are multiple problems behind the traffic mess. One is the sheer number of vehicles that increases significantly every year. There is no place to park or drive the vehicles we have, but last year more than 200 vehicles were registered per day on average. So far in the first six weeks of this year, the average is 876 per day. Another reason is government incompetence. Everyone knows there is a huge problem but even the most simple remedies, ones that don’t even entail spending any money, are ignored. The above article is from a new newspaper, Capital Cambodia. An article in the past week in another paper lists several steps that the government is finally going to initiate. There is little expectation of change because of the way the government functions–or doesn’t function.
Transparency International this week released its global Corruption Perceptions Index and Cambodia was the highest ranked country in ASEAN–for corruption, that is. It ranked #161 of 180 countries, earning a place lower on the list than all its ASEAN neighbors and near the bottom for all countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Cambodia government and its flunkies of course criticized the report and said it was “biased and politically motivated.” Huh? When you’re at the bottom of the ranking–even if there is some political motivation (which there probably isn’t)—it would seem something is wrong.
This is just the latest example of a government some would call craven and venal selling off public lands, property, or buildings, usually to their developer friends. It will be interesting to see what replaces the fire headquarters which was near our Maryknoll office. I’m sure the new building will make a lot of money for someone–and probably that someone will be a friend or colleague of a government official, or maybe the official himself.
As for the people who will suffer…20 kilometers is 12 miles. In the Phnom Penh traffic now it takes 40 to 50 minutes to go 4 miles to the airport. The new fire headquarters is 12 miles away! How long will it take a fire truck to get to a fire in the city? Of course, on the positive side it will give the owners of the burning building more time to collect money because the fire department has a reputation for demanding money, once they arrive on the scene, before they start to fight the fire.
December 10th this year was the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration on Human Rights. It’s a public holiday in Cambodia but that just means that the government schools and government offices and the banks are closed. Everything else is open.
This is the headline on the Phnom Penh Post on Monday, December 10. No one in the government of Cambodia would see the irony of the government forbidding–on Human Rights Day–a march celebrating human rights. It would disrupt traffic, said the government flunky with a straight face.
To make matters worse, today, the day after Human Rights Day, the newspaper announces that Cambodians enjoy “full freedoms”—except the right to peaceful assembly, that is.
Today was Cambodia’s official celebration of the International Day for People with Disabilities. The UN-designated day was 3 December but the government here transferred the celebration to today. The annual event is rather a charade. No person with a disability spoke or had any role in the planning or enacting of the celebration. No person with a disability was even on the stage except for Mr. Veasna, in a wheelchair, who is head of the National Center for People with Disabilities. We were required to be in the hall 1.5 to 2 hours before the starting point, the deputy prime minister spoke for 1.5 hours, they gave $1.25 to each person with a disability, and that was it.
Sounds like a good idea to me!
[NCR publishes a “Francis Chronicle” every Tuesday and Thursday. Go to NCR online to subscribe to Pat Marrin’s view of the Vatican in the world.]
Headlines and news reports from United States media frequently make reference to the campaign to raise the minimum wage in the U.S. to $15 an hour. The minimum wage is also a matter for discussion in Cambodia but here the goal of organized labor is a minimum wage of $182 PER MONTH. The current wage norm here is $170 per month, raised before last July’s elections in order to get the garment industry workers to support the ruling party.
Tens of thousands of garment factory workers–usually young women–ride to work each day jammed, standing up, in the back of open trucks. Many of them are killed in the frequent accidents when trucks overturn and collide from speeding and throw bodies everywhere. The government’s response? “Training” drivers to obey the law and “urging” them to get driver’s licenses. That’s a neat idea.