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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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