July, 2020

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Posted by: | Posted on: July 29, 2020

Cambodia’s PM Earns $2,500 a Month. Where Did He Get So Many Million-Dollar Watches?

“Probably the richest leader on the planet who rules the poorest country in the world,” wrote one Cambodian Facebook user.
Another asked: “Should I be proud or be ashamed?”

———“Loyalty [to Hun Sen] is handsomely rewarded—the tycoons variously appear to have enjoyed immunity from the law, the rich spoils of the government’s state looting and the use of state forces to guard company operations and violently crackdown on protests against them,” the report reads.
“Hun Sen’s love for multi-million dollar luxury watches is just obscene in a country where per capita GDP is just $1,500 a year,” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a lecturer at the Edinburgh Napier University, told VICE News.

——–“A leader like Hun Sen will not be ashamed of being seen wearing a $3,200,000 Patek watch even if it appears glaring in a poverty-stricken country because it shows his fitness to rule,” Strangio said. “The same is true with many parliamentarians from his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CCP), a lot of them are incredibly wealthy and have remained in power for so many years because of the political system that plays to their benefit.”
“Wealth and power mutually reinforce and complement his strongman image, even if many Cambodians resent it,” he noted.

———-Indeed, shielded by Hun Sen’s power and influence, his family has engaged in a “huge network of secret deal-making and nepotism that emanates from the Hun family and underpins the Cambodian economy,” according to a Global Witness report on the Hun clan’s fortune.

———–“Hun Sen has always emphasized that he is a man of the people and compares himself to them. He’s good at speaking the rural idiom and often says he understands the hopes and desires of rural folk. But discontent is rising, with landgrabs, evictions, and job losses,” Strangio said.
“Hun Sen is growing increasingly out of touch with Cambodians because he is surrounded and in a sense, protected by layers of yes men and advisors filtering reality to him. And more young Cambodians are connecting the dots, being able to criticize the regime and system in ways their elders could not.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen promotes a carefully curated everyman image, but his wrist tells a different story. By Heather Chen Original source for your reference: The VICE, July 27, 2020, 10:43pm

As the tagline goes: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

In the world of luxury, a Patek watch isn’t just a device for telling time, it’s a one-of-a-kind handcrafted heirloom that transcends generations—the cheapest model can set one back by tens of thousands of dollars, while the finest run into the millions.

The watches are the kind of status symbol at home on the wrists of billionaires, CEOs, playboy philanthropists—and, curiously, the strongman ruler of one of the world’s poorest nations.

Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia appears to be an avid Patek Philippe fan, and his love hasn’t gone unnoticed on social media, where he was called out for wearing a $1.2 million Sky Moon Tourbillon with a hand-engraved white gold bezel and blue leather strap.

“No one simply rents a Patek Philippe watch. It is a very high end brand that’s associated with big players,” said Tom Chng, founder of the Singapore Watch Club, who examined a separate post featuring Hun Sen on Instagram, and confirmed the watch featured to be another, even more expensive Patek.

“Hun Sen’s watch is no ordinary watch; it’s a rare and unique find. The high-end elements like the diamond enamel dials and handcrafted motifs combined with the level of master artistry that went into creating such a bespoke piece will definitely fetch a sky-high auction price,” Chng told VICE News. “I definitely wouldn’t see a man of Hun Sen’s status having any issue with getting his hands on a model like this.”

However, Hun Sen came from humble beginnings, and has been in either the military or public service his entire professional life, currently earning a modest official salary of about $2,500 a month. He also cultivates a carefully nurtured everyman image, disseminating images of himself hobnobbing with farmers and motorbike taxi drivers via his widely followed Facebook page.

But according to an eagle-eyed watch enthusiast blog, he has been spotted wearing watches with values totalling close to $9 million, including a rare limited edition Richard Mille Tourbillion Sapphire Dragon valued at $950,000, a model exclusive to Asia with only 55 of its kind available in the world.

“The pretense that Hun Sen earns this salary is absurd. Nobody will buy the idea that he is able to afford these million dollar watches on his salary alone,” said Sebastian Strangio, a Thailand-based political observer and author of the book Cambodia: From Pol Pot to Hun Sen and Beyond.

Indeed, the post with Hun Sen’s Patek Tourbillon caught the attention of many Cambodians and drew a flurry of critical comments, with some questioning where Hun Sen’s money came from.

“Probably the richest leader on the planet who rules the poorest country in the world,” wrote one Cambodian Facebook user.

Another asked: “Should I be proud or be ashamed?”

Both poverty and corruption remain deep-rooted in Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country where an estimated 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, and millions more hover near it. In Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia scored an abysmal 20 out of 100, ranking 162 out of 198 countries.

Indeed, Hun Sen’s family and inner circle have “profited hugely from the system of grand corruption instituted during his reign,” according to a 2018 Global Witness report.

“Loyalty [to Hun Sen] is handsomely rewarded—the tycoons variously appear to have enjoyed immunity from the law, the rich spoils of the government’s state looting and the use of state forces to guard company operations and violently crackdown on protests against them,” the report reads.

“Hun Sen’s love for multi-million dollar luxury watches is just obscene in a country where per capita GDP is just $1,500 a year,” Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a lecturer at the Edinburgh Napier University, told VICE News.

“Even with Chinese money being pumped into Cambodia, most Cambodians survive on less than $5 a day. The prime minister and his ruling elite are amassing immense, stunning wealth and there is a clear correlation between them and other countries in the region which sees the boldness of such demagogues in their ostentatious displays of wealth and nepotism.”

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Posted by: | Posted on: July 21, 2020

Cambodia: Joint Open Letter to Foreign Governments

Cambodia: Joint Open Letter to Foreign Governments

July 21, 2020 Original source for your references: Asian Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Your excellency,

We, the undersigned 32 civil society organizations, urge the Governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America to echo the European Union (EU) in its call for the respect of human rights in Cambodia. On August 12, 2020, the EU will partially suspend Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) tariff preferences in response to the Cambodian government’s “serious and systematic violations” of four human and labor rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize No. 87 (1948), the ILO Convention concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively, No. 98 (1949), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). 

The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders  to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. While 74 opposition members, detained on spurious charges, were released from detention in December 2019, the charges against them remain, and they risk re-arrest. Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s criminal trial for unsubstantiated treason charges has been marred by irregularities since it began in January. Sokha remains banned from politics and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The Prime Minister announced that the trial could drag on into 2021. 

In April, the Cambodian government used the Covid-19 crisis to adopt an unnecessary and draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association – rights that have already been severely restricted during his 35 years in power. Currently, another 30 political prisoners are behind bars due to the Cambodian government’s continued onslaught on free speech in the guise of combating Covid-19.

Cambodia committed to protecting and promoting fundamental human rights, providing equal protection of the law, and holding genuine periodic elections when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Cambodian government ratified all of the fundamental ILO Conventions that protect the rights of workers and trade unions. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential for a stable and flourishing business environment over the long term. 

Cambodia agreed that access to the EU’s Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme is conditional on adherence to the principles in 15 core human rights and labor rights conventions. The European Commission’s decision on February 12, 2020 to partially suspend Cambodia’s EBA preferences followed a yearlong process of ‘enhanced engagement’ between the EU and Cambodia during which the Cambodian government was given every opportunity to cooperate and make significant progress in improving its protection of human rights and labor rights. The European Commission concluded that Cambodia had failed to take necessary measures to retain full EBA benefits. 

We agree. For example, on January 22, 2020, 23 companies and nongovernmental organizations, including major international garment brands sourcing from Cambodia, raised concerns about the labor rights situation and urged the government to amend or repeal two deeply problematic laws, the Trade Union Law and the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), and drop all outstanding criminal charges against union leaders. The government’s tokenistic amendments to the repressive Trade Union Law fell considerably short of what was required to address that issue. More broadly, the government has demonstrated an unwillingness to take concrete and meaningful steps to improve the rights situation; to the contrary, Cambodia adopted further repressive laws and arrested more peaceful critics during the intensive monitoring and evaluation process. 

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Posted by: | Posted on: July 11, 2020

Cambodia to Sign FTA with China to Boost Agro Exports, Potentially Offset EBA Losses

Comment: នេះអាចសបញ្ជាក់ថាលោកហ៊ុនសែនមិនមានចេតនាកែប្រែស្ថានភាពរបត់នយោបាយខ្មែរទៅរកលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យសេរីពហុបក្សតាមការទាមទាររបស់សហគមអឺរ៉ុបទេ ហើយការកំណត់ទៅចិនដើម្បីចុះហត្ថលេខាពាណិជ្ជកម្មដែលមានផលតិចជាងEBAច្រើនណាស់របៀបនេះ ជាការផ្គើនទៅលើសហគមអន្តរជាតិនិងប្រជាជាតិខ្មែរទាំងមូលដែលស្រឡាញ់លទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យនិងការបោះឆ្នោតដោយសេរីយុត្តិធម៍នោះ។ នេះជាយុទ្ធនាការបន្តអំណាចផ្តាច់ការ ផ្តាច់សង្ខារជីវិតខ្មែរ ជាជាងប្រយោជន៍ជាតិនិងប្រជាជន។ ជាការមើលឃើញ សហគមអឺរ៉ុបនឹងដក២០ភាគរយតាមកំហិត ប្រជាពលរដ្ឋជាពិសេសកម្មកររោងចក្ររាប់សែននាក់នឹងអត់ការងារធ្វើ។ ២០ភាគរាយអាចថាតិច តែវាធ្វើអោយកិត្យានុភាពនិងភាពទុកចិត្តនៃការវិនិយោគទុននៅកម្ពុជាពីសំណាក់អ្នកវិនិយោគទុនល្អៗនឹងបាត់បង់។

10 July 2020


FILE - Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China April 29, 2019. (Madoka Ikegami/Pool via REUTERS)
FILE – Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China April 29, 2019. (Madoka Ikegami/Pool via REUTERS)

 PrintPHNOM PENH — 

កម្ពុជា​និង​ចិន​ត្រៀម​ចុះ​កិច្ច​ព្រម​ព្រៀង​ពាណិជ្ជកម្ម​សេរី ខណៈ​កម្ពុជា​សំឡឹង​មើល​..

កម្ពុជា​និង​ចិន​ត្រៀម​ចុះ​កិច្ច​ព្រម​ព្រៀង​ពាណិជ្ជកម្ម​សេរី ខណៈ​កម្ពុជា​សំឡឹង​មើល​សក្តា​នុពល​នាំ​ចេញ​ផលិត​ផល​កសិកម្មមន្រ្តី​កម្ពុជា​បាន​ឲ្យ​ដឹង​ថា​លោកនាយករដ្ឋមន្រ្តី ហ៊ុន សែន នឹងដឹកនាំ​គណៈ​ប្រតិភូ​ធ្វើ​ដំណើរ​ទៅ​ប្រទេស​ចិន ក្នុង​ខែ​សីហា​ខាង​មុខ​នេះ ដើម្បី​ចុះ​ហត្ថលេខា​លើ​កិច្ច​ព្រម​ព្រៀង​ពាណិជ្ជកម្មសេរី ​(FTA)។ មន្រ្តីរដ្ឋាភិបាល​លើក​ឡើង​ថា ​កិច្ច​ព្រម​ព្រៀង​នឹង​ជួយ​បង្កើន​ទីផ្សារ​របស់​កម្ពុជា​ក្នុង​ប្រទេស​ចិន បើ​ទោះ​ការ​នាំ​ចូល​របស់​ចិន​មក​កម្ពុជា​មាន​ទំហំ​ច្រើន​ក៏​ដោយ។ នៅ​ក្នុង​វិបត្តិ​ជំងឺ​កូវីដ​១៩​នេះ កម្ពុជា​សំឡឹង​មើល​ផលិត​ផល​កសិកម្ម​​កាន់​តែ​ច្រើន​ដែល​អាច​នាំ​ទៅ​ប្រទេស​ចិន។ ប៉ុន្តែ​អ្នក​ជំនាញ​ខាង​កសិកម្ម​ចោទ​ជា​សំណួរ​លើ​សមត្ថភាព​របស់​កម្ពុជា​ ក្នុង​ការ​ទទួល​បាន​ផល​ប្រយោជន៍​ពី​ការ​នាំ​ចូល​ទៅ​ប្រទេស​ចិន។ អ្នក​វិភាគ​ក៏​បារម្ភ​អំពី​ការ​ពឹង​ផ្អែក​​កាន់​តែ​ខ្លាំង​ទៅ​លើ​ប្រទេស​ចិន ដែល​នាំ​ឲ្យ​ក្លាយ​ជា​រដ្ឋរណប​មួយ​របស់​ចិន។ លោក ស៊ុន ណារិន នៃ​ VOA​ រាយការណ៍​លម្អិត​ពី​រាជធានី​ភ្នំពេញ។ទទួលព័ត៌មានជាវីដេអូផ្សេងទៀតពី​ VOA: youtube.com/voakhmerserviceទទួលព័ត៌មានពី VOA តាមបណ្តាញសង្គម Instagram: instagram.com/voakhmer

Posted by VOA Khmer on Friday, July 10, 2020

Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to be in Beijing on August 12 to sign a free trade agreement with his Chinese counterpart. The new agreement is expected to usher in an enhanced level of economic cooperation between the two countries, deemed especially important to Cambodia.

Cambodia’s undeveloped economy has benefited from close ties with Europe since the United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia helped govern the country from 1991 to 1993 following years of war that had decimated the country.

The deal is another sign of the growing friendship between China and Cambodia. China has become the Kingdom’s largest investor and its’ geopolitical support to counter the West and, on occasion, ASEAN.

The negotiated Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has been kept under wraps since talks began in December. Recently, officials have said it will hinge on agricultural trade and build on Cambodia’s existing trade with the Asian and global economic powerhouse.

Vongsey Vissoth, a permanent secretary of state at the Economy Ministry, confirmed on Wednesday in a press conference that Prime Minister Hun Sen would make the trip to Beijing to sign the agreement.

“Now we have FTA from China and [we] try the best,’’ Vongsey Vissoth said. ‘’FTA is just a market, but we need to have products to export.’’

On April 7, Hun Sen called on citizens to focus on growing and processing agricultural products to sustain the economy because, he noted, other economic drivers like tourism and manufacturing were faltering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will use this difficult time as an opportunity for Cambodia’s agricultural sector, which has slow growth,” Hun Sen said.

Vongsey Vissoth acknowledged that there would be challenges to overcome to fully utilize the FTA, noting requirements for exporting to China would be related to pricing and quality and sanitation of goods and products. The Chinese had indicated, he said, that fish exports had potential in the future.

However, multiple reports including some from the Mekong River Commission, show that fish numbers are fast dropping in Cambodian rivers on account of climate change and the increasing number of dams along the mainstream Mekong.

Cambodia has also struggled to consolidate its agricultural production in the past, largely because of the lack of infrastructures, such as warehousing, cold storage, processing plants, and generally high operating costs, including electricity.

Government figures show that bilateral trade in 2018 was around $7.4 billion, which was heavily skewed in China’s favor, accounting for more than 80 percent of trade. That year, Cambodia exported around $800 million, mostly in agricultural products, and imported large quantities of raw materials for the manufacturing and construction sectors.

FILE- A man carries a sack of rice to dry them under sunlight at a rice farm during the harvest at Kork Banteay village, Kandal province, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
FILE- A man carries a sack of rice to dry them under sunlight at a rice farm during the harvest at Kork Banteay village, Kandal province, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Hean Vanhan, the secretary of state of Agriculture Ministry who took part in the FTA negotiations, said a number of products will be on a tariff-free list, which will be reviewed periodically. For now, he said, rice, bananas, and mangoes will be on the list.

“We opened the blockages and obstacles [to trade],” he said. “The government has tried [to get] the policy and then we depend on the private companies’ capacity.”

A critical aspect to the FTA will be whether it can offset losses from the partial suspension of trade benefits to Europe. There has been no public mention of whether China has agreed to import clothing produced in Cambodia. China, itself, is an exporter of clothing and raw materials used in the manufacturing process.

Hean Vanhan said the FTA would be able to limit damage from the suspension of EU privileges but did not elaborate on how.

“If we lose EBA, I think this agreement, we have has very large benefits and it is better,” Hean Vanhan said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the trade agreement will benefit Cambodia’s garment sector since Cambodia will be able to export to China without tariffs, even though exports to China were seven to eight percent, compared to the 45 percent already being exported to the European Union.

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Posted by: | Posted on: July 10, 2020

European banks implicated in Cambodia’s microcredit scandal

Comment: ធនាគារអេស៊ីលីដាគឺចាប់ផ្តើមជាអង្គការក្រៅរដ្ឋាភិបាលទំនុកបំរុងដោយអង្គការសហប្រជាជាតិ(UNDP)និងអង្គការពលកម្មអន្តរជាតិ(ILO) តែធនាគារនេះបានកែប្រែមុខមាត់ខ្លួនជាក្រុមហ៊ុនស្វែងរកកំរៃពេលទំហឹង ហើយកំរៃនោះគឺការប្រតិបត្តិកម្ចីមិនល្អតាមស្តង់ដារអន្តរជាតិតែបន្តិចក៏គ្មាន។ ធនាគារនេះត្រូវតែកែប្រែប្រតិបត្តិការរបស់ខ្លួនចេញ។ ធនាគាររកស៊ីដៃគូល្អៗនឹងត្រូវឡបប៊ីដើម្បី citizen corporation.

Monday, 06 July 2020This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.Sam Rainsy For your reference: The Brussel Times

Cambodia’s largest commercial bank ACLEDA

The unfolding microcredit scandal in Cambodia involves two well-respected European banks, BRED in France and Triodos Bank in the Netherlands.

Both subscribe to the concept of “ethical banking.” But each has a stake of 12.5% in ACLEDA, Cambodia’s biggest commercial bank and the local leader in microcredit.

ACLEDA, which stands for “Association of Cambodian Local Economic Development Agencies” is not just any bank. It has undergone a horrible metamorphosis since its origins. It was established in 1993 as a non-profit making, non-government organization, financed and supported by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organization, with the aim of helping refugees, widows and other victims of war to escape from poverty.

Over the years it has become Cambodia’s most usurious bank and its most ferocious predator. It seizes the land and homes of poor farmers who are up to their eyeballs in debt and can’t make their payments.

Perversion of Microcredit

ACLEDA symbolizes the perversion of microcredit in a poor, corrupt country like Cambodia, where the law of the jungle, not the rule of law, rules over a false “market economy.” Ten years ago, ACLEDA shifted course and has since recorded growth at a breakneck pace. The search for profit has been the only driver of this growth. The mission to help the poor has been forgotten.

Like its competitors in the microcredit sector, ACLEDA has sent an army of salesmen out to the provinces in search of highly profitable new lending contracts. They needed to create needs for cash and consumption among rural families who had until then practised self-sufficient subsistence agriculture. The salesmen knew how to tempt their targets with the promise of new material goods and new consumption habits. They neglected to establish careful repayment schedules based on predictable incomes. But the loans were always based on a form of security, usually the farmers’ land.

The borrowers were easier to convince given the high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy in the countryside. They signed contracts for loans which gave their land as security without realising the possible consequences. The profitability for the banks was assured and even potentially increased by the prospect of seizing land from defaulters. Rising land prices driven by speculation make the final margins even more enticing for the banks. The fact that the land was the farmers’ sole and vital asset didn’t enter into the calculations.

The game changed suddenly with the arrival of COVID-19. The four fragile pillars of Cambodia’s economy, tourism, export textiles, construction and agriculture, were simultaneously demolished.

Even before COVID-19, the respected Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) had exposed the causal relationship between the exponential growth of the microcredit sector and the increase in forced land sales, child labour, economic migration and human trafficking under the weight of accumulated debt. (1)

In 2009, loans in the sector totalled just $300 million, shared between a relatively small number of borrowers. At the end of 2019, more than 2.6 million Cambodians had accumulated more than $10 billion of debt from microcredit establishments. Between 2015 and 2017, the average loan size jumped by 80%. The average “microcredit” in Cambodia is by now, by far, the highest in the world at $3,804 dollars. That’s more than double GDP per head, which is also a world record.

Frenetic headlong growth

It wouldn’t take a genius to predict the outcome of this frenetic pace of growth over the last decade: financial, social and human catastrophe. The number of banks and microcredit establishments has been continually growing. In this new dynamic of consumer credit, customers often juggled several lenders, borrowing from one to pay off the other. This was like digging when stuck in a hole, but there was no choice.

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