One of my favorite sayings that guides my reactions to people and events is “Never attribute to ill will what can be explained by stupidity.” Many things in Cambodia can be explained by corruption, greed, malfeasance, theft, the desire for power, etc. Other things are the result of the failure of thinking or common sense, or maybe their absence.
Look at this STOP sign (yellow circle). That fact that no one in living memory has stopped at a STOP sign in Cambodia is another story. Here we are talking about the sign’s location. Most STOP signs are located 3 to 6 feet from the intersecting street where you are required to stop. The intersecting street (red circle) in this picture is probably close to a tenth of a mile ahead. Notice how small the car is in the red circle. It’s hardly identifiable as a car because of the distance. Some road crew without a clue about traffic signage, traffic law, etc., separated this sign from the intersection it controls. That’s incompetence.
This is original growth forest in Preah Vihear Province, part of 1500 hectares kept as a nature preserve. It is beautiful mountainous woodlands with magnificent trees.
This is the devastation less than 20 miles away where the original forests have been cut, the wood sold off (probably illegally and probably with a government connection), and small farmers have taken over.
I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but another area has been cut and replanted in rubber trees–usually in concessions owned by Cambodian tycoons/ministers or Chinese or Vietnamese companies. You can notice the small cups attached to the right side of each tree to catch the rubber as it flows out.
For the past week Cambodia has been experiencing major power cuts, more than the usual shortages. Actually the past four or five years in Phnom Penh have been relatively good after the Cambodian government erected power transmission lines and started buying electricity from Vietnam. It was good enough that at DDP we got rid of our generator because we weren’t using it any more.
All of a sudden, though, the government instituted six-hour rolling blackouts, starting after breakfast and ending at lunch time, or starting at lunch time and going to supper time. The following day the schedule switches so a morning blackout today means an afternoon blackout tomorrow.
The government has been quick to blame it on climate change. 60% of Cambodia’s electricity is hydropower and now at the end of the dry season there is little water in the reservoirs. Yes, the lack of rain has made the problem worse but the problem is caused by the government, not by climate change.
Look at the map. Thailand is our neighbor to the west. Laos is to the north. Vietnam is to the east. We’re all part of the same little peninsula. We have much of the same terrain, the same weather. But Thailand has electricity. Laos has electricity. Vietnam has electricity. What’s the difference? The government.
The governments in the other countries know how to plan and implement. They see people moving to the cities. They see cities growing higher and higher with skyscrapers demanding more electricity. They see the lifestyle increasing, especially the demand for air conditioning. And they plan for it.
The government of Cambodia is incompetent in many ways and this is an obvious example. The prime minister loves to let everyone know that he is the longest serving leader in Southeast Asia, more than three decades. These electricity problems arose since he took power. Guess who should take responsibility for the sad situation we find ourselves in now?
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 PenhPost 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.