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What Does It Take for the Cambodian Economy to De-Dollarize? 

Written by: Song Daphea, Junior Student majoring in Political Science and International Relations at Paragon International University Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News Photo Credit: Rie Ishii My very first experience in Thailand was shocking as I saw my dad rushed to find the currency exchange counter in one busy Thai district. I turned to my dad and asked him: “Pa, why can’t we just pay them in dollars like in our country?”  I remembered he replied with a slight giggle, “In Thailand, only Bahts are allowed here. But in our country, we use dual currencies.” I asked again, “Then, why can’t we use only one like them?”  Although my dad never really answered my last question, we can find out the answer together in this very article. And we are going to find out how to use only the riel instead of using other foreign currencies. You and I are aware that our country welcomes both the riel and the dollar. But we now should think of how we can start using only our very own money.  Generally, dollarization is never an uninvited guest. Its presence indicated that a particular economy is at risk. In the case of Cambodia, there was a chain of instability and risks occurring one after the other. But dollars stepped foot in Cambodia during the transitional period (UNTAC). It was when up to 1.7 Billion USD poured into our economy through the UN-led missions. That was also when dollars began to earn the trust of our people and made a way to become one of our main currencies.  Economically speaking, Dollarization in Cambodia is a big help through which we could find a better substitute to diminishing inflation, attract FDI, and, ultimately, restore the economy. In addition, the dollar has been aiding our economy, and it eventually allows us to learn to stand on our own.  Nevertheless, persistent dollarization also has significant disadvantages. First of all, we do not have an independent monetary policy. Every dollarized economy generally is influenced by the United States. In other words, if the U.S. were to depreciate its dollars to expand its liquidity or to increase exports, consequently, the Cambodian economy or any other dollarized economies would experience inflation due to the reduction of the dollar value.  Secondly, it is the loss of seigniorage, a term given to describe the difference between the value of the money and the product cost of making it. In other words, seigniorage is the profit that the government gains from generating the money. For example, to produce 10,000 riels, it would cost the government 1000 riel for production expenses. So, the seigniorage would be 9,000 riels. With this gain, the government can allocate it to the national development program based on its priorities. But, when the dollar is highly regulated within our economy, the loss of seigniorage would go up, suggesting that the national revenue is not fulfilling.  Therefore, the question is, "how can we de-dollarize our economy?" There are some practical solutions I would like to raise. First of all, having a great core or a healthy macroeconomic framework is the best starting point. Since Cambodia has had limited control on monetary policy driven by the steady progress of dollarization, it is better to establish credible financial institutions. This practice should be a priority because it will help the people to place their trust in the riel and also for it to circulate with proper regulations and transparency.  Moreover, a closer step to de-dollarizing our economy would be finding a currency to back up for the riel. I refer to the currency that is universally recognized and can be kept as our reserve in case of extreme unexpected events happening to the riel. In other words, we need to find an anchor currency. According to Rasheed J. Griffith and LOR Samnang’s Monetary Policy and Rielization, Cambodia can carefully pick an anchor currency. The authors explored a few options that could be the possible anchor currency for Cambodia, such as the USD, Yen, Yuan, and Asian Monetary Unit. Moreover, the country must also analyze the economic well-being afterward. Secondly, the exchange rate system is another factor. As Nombuleo Duma stated in his paper for the IMF, the exchange rate system in Cambodia is relatively fixed to the USD. In return, this strategy has stabilized the inflation rate and prompted more investments into the country. However, this explains why Cambodia is still the most dollarized country. When the real exchange rate is stabilized relative to the inflation rate, the dollar is preferable. This action is contradictory to the de-dollarization strategy. On the other hand, if the exchange rate is too flexible, it will cause an uproar in the economy. Therefore, finding a suitable exchange rate policy is necessary.  But what is more important here is the people. We all know that people are a driving factor of the value of the riel. Thus, I think that we can do so much better to navigate the value of our currency. Even though we have been using dollars way too much, we can alter this by embracing a shift in our preferences, habits, customs, and mindset.  When it comes to our habits, I want to stress a little bit here. In some religious rituals, most people tend to make an offering in which replica cars, houses, and paper money are burned for their deceased ancestors. The replica paper money people commonly burn is the dollar. Sometimes, it can be other foreign currencies such as dong, euros, yen, or yuan, but not the riel. It already symbolizes that even the departed prefer the dollars.  Furthermore, shoppings and price tags, as well as most daily transactions, are in dollars. It can serve as significant evidence that the use of riels should be further encouraged among the people in Cambodia. It is time for us to use our currency if we want to achieve proper de-dollarization.  Nevertheless, one thing Cambodia should avoid is forcing de-dollarization. Unlike other countries, the dollar has a long presence and has taken deep roots in our country. Therefore, any reversal in practice is going to be time-consuming, and, of course, enforcing de-dollarization will only end miserably. By saying this, we can study history to see the backfires some countries encountered. Lao PDR, in particular, attempted to impose swift de-dollarization by issuing a decree to make the kip the official currency in every transaction. In the end, the demand for it depreciated remarkably.  Finally, I also want to emphasize that some factors suggest Cambodia is on the right path to de-dollarization. One is the removal of small-dollar banknotes as the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) has tried to get rid of $1, $2, and $5 banknotes from the economy since 2020. Last but not least is the establishment of Bakong, a blockchain-based technology that allows users to transfer, peer-to-peer transact, and pay via the digital platform. Apart from de-dollarizing and promoting the riel, Bakong aims to include the unbanked households and boost digital payments. This system has so much to achieve and can even foster digital transactions, cybersecurity, and stricter monetary policy. Indeed, Bakong could be the catalyst for our country to drive a complete de-dollarization.  All in all, dollars have a long presence in our country. Thanks to its existence, we could achieve a lot. However, I believe it is high time to begin regaining our independence in terms of monetary policy. It, of course, is going to be time-consuming and arduous to do so, but there is a saying: "good things take time". So does de-dollarization, which can happen gradually without harshly enforcing. Instead, we should take the time to develop credible financial institutions, find a suitable currency exchange rate, introduce an enduring reserve currency, and instill the spirit of the riel among our people. 

Cambodia Should Foster Youth Environmental Engagement

Written by: Chea Sameang, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News Photo Credit: LICADHO In Cambodia, youth civic engagement seems to have increased significantly over the past years. They have become more interested in partaking in social works as well as expressing their opinion on social media platforms on different topics while trying to get involved in any activities that aim to raise the wellbeing and quality of life of people in their respective communities.  However, youth engagement in environmental protection appears to be facing more challenges with shrinking civic space and increasing restrictions. Some of them have also risked being arrested and imprisoned.  As can be seen, three environmental activists who are members of the environmental NGO Mother Nature Cambodia—Sun Ratha, Ly Chandaravuth, and Yim Leanghy—were arrested two days before the Queen Mother’s Birthday. All of them were formally charged with plotting against the government and insulting the King under articles 453 and 437 of the Criminal Code, ostensibly after they had documented water pollution in Tonle Sap River.  Moreover, this is not the first case that involves the arrest and imprisonment of environmental youth activists. Five other members of Mother Nature Cambodia were also sentenced to jail for incitement to cause serious social chaos as they planned protests against the filling of Boeung Tamok Lake in Phnom Penh.  Personally speaking, it has now become more common in Cambodia that environmental youth activists are accused of being anti-development or allegedly trying to topple the government. But what I want to emphasize is that it is outrageous when young and environmentally-concerned citizens have to face unfavorable conditions, having to confront apprehensions and incarceration for taking part in safeguarding the environment and natural resources.  Any negative actions taken against them by the authorities only discourage other people, especially youngsters from expressing their opinions freely and meaningfully, and this action would prevent them from thriving to become more active and environmentally responsible citizens in the future.  Regarding the prosecution of environmental youth activists in Cambodia, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah already warned that legal actions are not only the attempt to intimidate members of Mother Nature Cambodia but also “the entire generation of Cambodian youth who have dared to stand up for human rights and environmental justice.”  Thus, if the onslaught against young people continues, I would say, it will impact the future of Cambodian youth. And the next generations will not have enough courage to demonstrate their passion and commitment to protecting the environment and natural resources Moreover, the enduring fear of being arrested and jailed would only continue to trigger the so-called self-censorship. They soon will lose interest in actively participating in tackling issues facing our society. Environmentally speaking, we only will end up failing to address the environmental problems such as growing deforestation and pollution if the involvement of young people is lacking. Of course, the majority, if not all of us, will be the ones who eventually will be badly affected by this failure.   Environmental Activism Is Indispensable  Based on my observation, it turns out to be less and less common for young people to show concern and express ideas on sensitive yet essential issues such as the environment, politics, and human rights. Frankly, they turn out to focus more on other things, including social trending and any topics that are less beneficial to society.  Even though this can be a bit disappointing and depressing, I remain hopeful that we can change this and work together to promote environmental activism in our country.    Currently, we need more voices from youth in resolving social issues and their active participation in civic engagement. And it is essential to keep promoting and supporting environmental youth engagement if we want to see their more proactive role in addressing the environmental issues. Here I would offer three humble reasons why youth environmental engagement is crucial.  First, it can serve as a role model that allows young people to influence or inspire others. By granting them space and supporting their active participation will aspire them to be mindful of the environment, voice their concerns with reasons, and take appropriate actions to deal with all challenges. A prominent example is Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has become a role model for youth globally for her effort, confidence, and bravery in leading the global climate strike movement and demanding climate actions. If the country can free up more spaces for young people to discuss, debate, offer solutions as well as defend the environment, it will both improve its natural resource management and create a more inclusive and open society.  Second, it enables a diversity of opinions expressed by young people on environmental issues. Through debating and discussing, I think, people will not only be able to expand their knowledge but also change their mindsets as well as their behavior toward the environment. These changes are very instrumental for our country to build a better and more resilient future for our younger generations. Third, granting our youngsters opportunity and space to interact in environmental protection also improves the public image of our country. While young people in other countries earn appreciation and support for their efforts and actions, Cambodian youth, who care about the environment and are courageous enough to speak up against anything that impacts the environment negatively, face arrests and prosecution. Therefore, if this continues, it will only further damage the good image of our country.  As a developing country, Cambodia has a population of around 15.8 million —two-third of whom are under the age of 30, meaning that we need to listen to their considerations carefully. Furthermore, we also need their active participation in safeguarding nature and preventing all kinds of environmental destruction as the government alone can’t solve all problems facing our environment.  All in all, the attempt to block the environmental youth campaign in any form must end, and the government should also drop all charges against those arrested environmental activists. Doing so allows the government to demonstrate that it recognizes the importance of youth in any stage of the development process and indicates its genuine efforts and intention in working in partnership with the youth in tackling environmental problems and creating a sustainable future for younger generations. 

Why Should Cambodia Stop Arresting Youth Activists?

Written By: Samoeurth Seavmeng, 3rd Generation Leader of Politikoffee Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Educationat The University of Queensland, Australia  Photo Credit: Mother Nature Cambodia The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, once said  “A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifetime; it is condemned to bleed to death”. Youth’s participation in socioeconomic and political developments play crucial roles for Cambodia as a developing country. Youth accounts for more than 30% of the Cambodian population of more than 16 million people. Youth and their civic and political engagement are in danger when their freedom of expression is suppressed. In recent years, some outspoken youth activists have been arrested and jailed for expressing their concerns on critical issues impacting their community and society. Why should they be in jail for expressing concerns on important social issues? Why, as youth, do they have to end up in prison rather than receive praise for their activism? What are the negative impacts of the suppression on youth that prevents them from expressing their opinions? Arresting youth activists means dwarfing their potential Three members of the Mother Nature Cambodia were accused of “plotting” to oust the Cambodian government and were arrested in 2021. The previous arrest of this youth group has, no doubt, affected young people’s ability and freedom to think and express themselves. Although their sentence has been reduced and now that they are out of jail, the arrests have already scared other young people and youth activists who want to express their concerns. The damage has already been done. The arrests and jailing of young people have undoubtedly affected Cambodian youth’s freedom of thinking big. This damage will continue to affect their thinking for a long time. More importantly, the act of arrests or imprisonment to silence the citizens only opens a bigger gap between the “governed” and the “governors” and it could cause more misunderstanding and conflicts. There is one saying that goes: “Real gold does not fear the test of fire”. If you do not commit the act, you shall prove your innocence. You should not be scared. The government should first hold discussions with the concerned parties to listen to the problems before having any accusations. The “Culture of Dialogue'' should be practiced more often, especially in the future. I believe this practice will contribute to a closer and better relationship between the government and citizens. Government is more than just governing the country peacefully and it is more than just a group of politicians deciding alone how the country should be governed. It is about everyone’s participation in the process. Politics is supposed to be inclusive, participatory and, more importantly, free for all. When the culture of self-censorship is rooted among the citizens, especially the younger ones, the ability to think creatively and independently will be dwarfed. Cambodia does not only need more creativity and innovation in businesses and startups, but it also needs political innovators, which is crucial for the country to build a more unique and prosperous nation in the future. The world is dramatically changing, meaning the current political system might not work for Cambodia in the future. In this regard, the next generation should be encouraged to think big, free and beyond. Arresting youth activists will only suppress their potential to think beyond things and dwarf their potential in thinking creatively and innovatively. Therefore, youth civic and political participants are extremely crucial for Cambodia and no youth should be arrested for expressing their opinions on issues that matter to them and their country. Why is youth and civic engagement important for Cambodia? As a citizen, we have the responsibility to lead our country along with the government officials and politicians. We have the role to direct the country with them. Cambodia is not owned by anyone. The next generation will inherit everything from their current leaders. Therefore, the government should not pressure themselves to overwork and work alone. Some issues could be helped by the citizens who have the right to help and keep the government accountable for what it has promised in its elections campaign. This could help the government save some time to focus on bigger issues. Significant problems like deforestation, overuse of plastics, filling of lakes and rivers, and sand dredging, among other issues, should be shared responsibilities between Cambodian people and the government. Youth activists, for a concrete example, could help the government by observing the issues and reporting to the government and media to help spread words so that solutions to the problems can be proposed. The government should not overreact but instead try to understand the issues and figure things out. However, so far, there have been little discussions or frank talks between these two sides. The culture of not talking ends up a confusion between them. I believe young people have no intention to put their country in danger. All they want is inclusive development, less corruption, responsible leaders and transparent governance. The government should act as “parents” instead of “enemies” for youth and other citizens.  Youth empowerment in the Cambodian political sphere Among the 20 political parties in Cambodia, there is only one youth party named “Cambodian Youth Party” which is founded by Pich Sros who is the president of the party and a member of the Supreme Council for Consultation and Recommendations. Cambodia's current political arena is occupied by senior people who have been politically driving Cambodia to what it is nowadays. This does not mean they are not capable of leading the country anymore but when they are retired, who will be the next political leaders in the country? And while they do not seem to equip the next generations to become future leaders, how can young people have the ability to lead their country? The commune and national elections are coming soon and if the space of political engagement is still limited, the chance to have more young politicians are far behind and youth will not feel like they belong to the political sphere anymore. Cambodian youth still suffer from the lack of the capacity and mechanisms supporting them to engage in politics and governance. This limitation is a result of a prohibition preventing teachers and students not to talk about politics in schools. Youth have become less active in the political sphere over the past few years. Since the ban was announced, they have practiced self-censorship and have been afraid of talking about politics in schools, which affects their critical thinking skill and political literacy. Youth build these skills by discussing and analyzing political issues with their peers but when this practice is banned, how could they improve their skills? The ban to prevent free discussion about politics will also dwarf youth’s political literacy and this will definitely decrease their participation in politics. All in all, youth and their engagement in political and civic space are essential to build a stronger, more transparent and innovative Cambodia. Youth’s participation in every sector decides the fate of the country. Therefore, their freedom of expression should be empowered and encouraged, rather than suppressed. Arresting active youth or putting them in jail only results in adverse consequences for the country in the long run. Suggestions As a youth and a citizen who wants to participate in civic and political affairs in the country, I have a few suggestions to address this important issue: Cambodian youth are enthusiastic to engage in the country’s governance and they should not get kicked out. The government should not perceive this activism as a threat to the country but instead consider it as a contribution to improve the country. Therefore, there should be more discussions among the two parties to understand each other better. I believe the government should initiate more youth-oriented events so that young people can voice their concerns directly to their leaders. The upcoming elections are very crucial for the government to show to the Cambodian citizens that it really cares about the country, especially the citizens. Engaging youth in the election process is a starting point for participatory elections and a great start to empower youth in politics. Political space should be more open for young people to engage so that they will be able to learn more. The freedom of thinking, expressing and participating in the political process should not be suppressed. Their free thinking will help Cambodia innovate to get ready for the fast-changing future. 

It's Time to Reduce the Anarchy of Alcohol Drinking in Cambodia

Written by: Chea Sameang, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia. Photo Credit:  Reece Ferguson The consumption of alcohol seems prevalent in Cambodian society due to the wave of globalization and integration and the lack of state regulations. Even though people understand that alcoholism causes physical and emotional health problems, alcohol use becomes a normal practice for people to relax, enjoy, and relieve their stress or unhappiness. According to the Straits Times, “Cambodia's drinking habits are on the upswing. On average, Cambodians drank 6.1 liters of alcohol a year”. The rising consumption of alcohol in Cambodia has brought about many problems.  For example, the death toll linked to alcohol consumption has increased in recent years. Research by the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health showed that the increasing alcohol consumption use is associated with numerous public health issues, including the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases. In the first half of 2015 alone, there were 2,500 alcohol-related traffic accidents. However, based on my observation, alcohol use does not only affect our health and cause traffic accidents. Oftentimes, when people become alcoholics, they tend to use violence at home and commit other crimes such as rapes. The lack of legal regulations limiting who and at what age people can purchase and consume alcohol is an unresolved issue. Based on a report by the Asia Foundation, in Cambodia, “there is little regulation of the alcohol industry including the advertising of alcohol products and very few” even though there are increasing complaints from civil society groups. Even though some provincial governors have called to pull out alcohol advertising on billboards, it seems just a temporary action to get people’s attention. There is no master plan or long-term plan to address this issue. In fact, government regulations that limit alcohol sales or advertising are largely absent. Thus, if all these issues remain unresolved, and Cambodian youth are drowned in alcohol overuse, how can they help develop their nation? As they are young bamboos that represent the hope of Cambodia, it is important to find ways to address the anarchy of alcohol drinking among young people. The  Causes and Impacts of Alcohol Excessive Use  Alcohol has been found to cause many forms of cancer, ischaemic heart diseases, and strokes. It is also one of the main causes of rapes and domestic violence. However, the draft law is still on the table, not yet passed, and the ideas of banning alcohol use for people under a certain age seem far from achievable anytime soon. I believe there are at least three factors that contribute to the prevalent consumption of alcohol in Cambodia.  First, it is a cultural factor. Elders and youth still think that drinking alcohol is just normal and it is a culture when they want to relax from trauma or stress from work, beers or wines are the first sign they want to taste in order to reduce stress and anxiety they face even they deeply know it would also affect their health and waste their money and times when they over drink. As reported in VOA, one Cambodian man said, “I feel anxious without alcohol”, and “It has become a normal part of my life already”. Even though he knew the impact of alcohol use and had a crash once, he continued to drink and drive.  Second, the lack of law enforcement is another factor contributing to the prevalent use of alcohol. In 2015 a draft law that controls alcohol use and bans youth under 21 to purchase and drink alcohol was sent to the Ministry of the Interior by the Ministry of Health, but it has been ignored since. Thus, when there is no law or rule that would allow people to obey, then they will have much freedom to enjoy what they are already habituated to doing without fear or worry. In 2018, KhmerTimes reported that “around 2,500 traffic incidents are caused by excessive alcohol consumption” each year. Third, it is a social factor. Everywhere alcohol is advertised, and people can drink alcohol anywhere and whenever they want. There are no restrictions to how alcohol can be advertised as well as when and where it should be advertised. Some people are proud to show on Facebook about their parties at KTV, restaurants with many bottles of beer or wine on the table. In 2015, the World Health Organisation reported that “more than one-tenth of Cambodians aged between 8-17 admitted to having consumed alcohol, while 82 percent of Cambodians aged between 18-32 said that they consume alcoholic beverages on a regular basis”.  Moreover, parents enjoy drinking in front of their children and sometimes push them to taste it without explaining to their children that alcohol consumption may lead to significant effects on their health and finances as they will spend a lot of money on alcohol when they become addicted to it.  In many cases, husbands hit their wives after drinking alcohol in front of their kids. A report by the Asia Foundation showed that “Alcohol abuse increases women’s vulnerability to violence which one in five ever-partnered women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”  What Can We Do? It is unrealistic to ban alcohol use, so I do believe that if Cambodia introduces a law that manages alcohol advertisement and regulates who can or cannot drink or purchase alcohol, things will get better. However, the prevention of alcohol-related problems requires a comprehensive approach, combining information and awareness programs and treatment services with preventive policies adopted at local and national levels.  Even though the government has no plan to adopt the draft law yet, I do hope the law will be adopted soon. It is important to increase the tax on alcohol and introduce legislation that regulates alcohol use so that alcohol-related problems including domestic violence, deaths, and health problems can be reduced. Nevertheless, transforming or changing people’s behavior regarding alcohol use cannot be done overnight. Therefore, we need legislation, vision, and commitment to achieve this aim. Although some provincial governors have recently tried to take action to ban all alcohol advertising on public billboards it was not the long-term proactive solution. To make it legal, the government should take more serious action to ban all billboards of alcohol advertisements across all the 25 provinces, and reduce all alcohol advertising through social media, radio, TV, and movies, including music videos, by calling all media to stop promoting gifts from alcohol purchases.  Moreover, other stakeholders have a vital role to play. Parents must take strong action to reduce their drinking and educate their children by promoting more ideas about the impact of alcohol on their studies, health, finance, and future. Social influencers, schools principals, and teachers must collaborate with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international NGOs to conduct more awareness-raising campaigns about the impact of alcohol on the study, work, and life. They also need to promote more #SocietyWithoutAlcohol campaigns to spread the message widely. As for those who are already addicted to alcohol, each of them can also practice the ideas of reducing alcohol use in their daily life. They can seek support from organizations that work to help people reduce or stop alcoholism.  Without strong precedents to pass and implement the law on alcohol, Cambodia will enter into a state of misery caused by rampant alcoholism. The nation by definition would descend into anarchy. Mass looting, criminality, and violence would consume communities. Therefore, we all must take action to stop the excessive use of alcohol and to restore the dignity and beauty of the nation by practicing the minimal consumption of alcohol for special occasions and or health benefits.  "A society without rampant alcohol use is a society with a bright future."

Why Cambodia's Affordable Housing Policy Needs Adjustments

Written by: Yen Sreyleap, a Training Officer at a Non-governmental Organization  Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: WorldBridge Homes Facebook Page )   The 2013 consensus shows that the Cambodian population reached 14.5 million, and the number of families increased by around 3.2 million. And many people have migrated to look for job opportunities in construction, tourism, and industries in Phnom Penh and big cities along the borders, leading to a rapid increase in new settlements. However, the 2014 Socio-Economic Survey indicates that with the median household income, people in Phnom Penh need to spend between 33 to 53 years to get a house with a size between 36 to 48 square meters. And more importantly, the market has largely focused on providing high-end housing supplies, especially in Phnom Penh and other big cities. It means the access to affordable housing has become limited.   Theoretically, the royal government of Cambodia has a principal role in guaranteeing the right to an adequate living standard, including proper housing. However, the government alone won't make this happen, and it requires the alternative, which is to offer a platform and legal framework to assist private companies in constructing more affordable houses for low- and medium-income people. Consequently, the National Policy on Incentive and Establishment of the National Program for Development of Affordable Housing was established in 2017.  This article will explain what this policy aims to achieve, the beneficiaries, the benefits of project developers, and the progress of the policy implementation.    What Is Affordable Housing Policy?  The Affordable Housing policy was adopted jointly by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to improve the lives of low- and middle-income earners whose salary ranges between $200 to $400 per month.  The policy introduces a pilot project to address the housing problem facing people in Phnom Penh, cities, and major urban areas by encouraging developers to focus on low-cost housing development.  According to this policy, incentives provided to project developers include tax breaks and the facilitation of bureaucratic procedures, such as obtaining construction permits, business licenses, and other necessary documents. In addition, the project developers must align with some specific requirements to get their projects approved. Each project must contain more than 100 low-cost housing units with a price per unit between $15,000 to $30,000 or lower and with a location within 20 km of the capital or cities. Too, the project must comply with the minimum standard of affordable housing with buyers qualified to get a loan with low interest. Meanwhile, it also consists of community buildings and green spaces.   Is the Policy Good Enough? The policy highlights the anticipated outcomes and impacts with clear categories of the target group and specific phases of policy implementation. However, by scrutinizing it, it appears that the policy is broad and vague with some loopholes. Although it showcases the ambition of the government to promote rights to adequate housing, it doesn't outline a specific time frame of project implementation, and the number of houses, making it more arduous to evaluate whether there is a success or not.  Regarding the progress of the policy implementation, the number of projects remains minimal despite it being adopted for four years already. As of the end of 2020, there were only five affordable housing development projects containing a total of 8,331 units, according to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction. This unsatisfactory result is likely due to these conditions: a shortage of policy dissemination to private companies; the offered incentives didn't meet the demands of the private sector, and the procedure of project approval is intricate.    What Should Be Improved?  By pointing out some loopholes in the previous part, I think there are four main points that the policymakers need to consider improving the policy. First, there should be a clear timeframe to achieve policy objectives. With the timeline in place, it would be more apparent to monitor and evaluate the success rate of the policy while attracting more private companies to take part. Introducing a clear timeframe means it can signal private companies, which seek to submit their proposal to the government, that the policy span has a deadline, and it also can create a more competitive environment for private companies.  Secondly, the government needs to work on enticing further participation from the project developers. The policymakers should consider conducting a small study to figure out possible obstacles for project developers and whether they should be given additional benefits. Third, the government should narrow down the scope of policy implementation as it is a pilot policy. By mentioning this, instead of applying it to the entire country, the policymakers should consider choosing some provinces or cities with large populations that require affordable housing for the policy.  Finally, policymakers should mull on giving a role to the technical group at the Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction at the provincial level to follow up and monitor the project implementation, including construction, sales, and leasing to guarantee that the beneficiaries are the target group. Moreover, it can be easier for project developers to report their challenges and progress and save resources on the national level. In addition, it can prove the transparency and accountability of the government to promote the rights to adequate housing within the policy. All in all, the affordable housing policy is put in practice at the right time to promote affordable housing when the number of populations in urban areas keeps rising even though there are some gaps, which need modification. If adjusted and implemented effectively, it can ensure that the housing markets will be more dynamic and diverse because it connects customers with the market supplies, which offer different prices and more choices.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors. 

Understanding the National Program for Development of Affordable Housing

Written by: Sork Sochetra, a 4th year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: WorldBridge Homes Facebook Page )   The population growth and rapid urbanization have driven a higher demand for affordable housing among low and middle-income people across Cambodia. In response to the needs, the government, specifically the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, decided to adopt the National Program for Development of Affordable Housing" in 2017.  This piece aims to examine the policy implementation and also to explore its strengths and flaws. Regarding the strengths, its policy framework sets out a full detail of the objectives, which assert how this policy would improve the welfare of people and ensure that low and middle-income people can have access to affordable houses. In addition, it also includes the implementation schemes, and the institutional arrangement responsible for the project. Moreover, the inclusion of green space also demonstrates the vitality of the project in promoting sustainability and improving the living condition of the buyers.  On the project implementation, the policy also requires developers to conduct a specific set of procedures. Noticeably, any project has to incorporate at most invisible 100 units -- each of which will cost between $15,000 to $30,000.  Besides, the policy requires housing project developers to connect with financial institutions which offer low-interest loans to purchasers.  Too, this policy, to a certain extent, can partially contribute to reducing the gap between rich and poor as it enables both groups to live alongside. Significantly, it also complies with economic and social development standards, which necessitate active cooperation from various stakeholders, especially between the private sector and the inter-ministerial committees to handle the project implementation.  However, there are some weaknesses in this affordable housing policy, which need to be reviewed and developed. Despite being adopted in 2017, this policy doesn't provide a specific timeline of the project implementation, and there has been no public announcement concerning the timeframe.  Therefore, I believe the government should add the timeline as it will also allow policymakers to understand the effectiveness of the policy. As stated above, the project underpins the green and sustainability concept. Nevertheless, there should be more guidance and information as this part remains unsettled. For instance, the policy only illustrates that the project has to use a maximum of 70% of total land to build houses, community buildings, and green space without providing concept guidance or model. In addition, the government should warrant that the inter-ministerial committees can obtain a skillset in coordinating the project, making sure that this will be effective.  As seen, the ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction has already granted the inter-ministerial committees duties and responsibilities regarding the project implementation. Doing this demands more competent officials to take charge of providing consultation, reviewing proposals, examining financial feasibility, and other tasks. Arguably, this is one of the chief factors in improving the effectiveness of project implementation and evaluation procedures. Asides from this, if we look at the outcomes of the policy implementation, it remains lower than expected due to the lack of participation and cooperation from other stakeholders. As of now, only five projects have been delivered by private companies with 15,587 units in total.    In my opinion, to improve the effectiveness of policy implementation, the government has to actively support and engage with other stakeholders, especially housing project developers. Commonly, developers, agencies as well as private companies seek any projects that can guarantee more benefits. However, this is a challenge for policymakers. Most housing developers would want to invest in fancy housing projects with a price range of more than $30,000.  With this being the case, apart from tax exemption, the policymakers shall include other advantages, which private sectors or developers can receive after completing the projects.   To foster these active engagements, the government should organize open forums at least once a year. The relevant parties and stakeholders can take the opportunity to discuss the overall progress of the policy implementation, accomplishments, and challenges during the dialogues.  Other than that, the government should also introduce specific schedules of the forums since it can improve the feasibility and efficiency of the policy. Also, it will allow the general public to comprehend the importance of the policy.  Overall, the policy maps out a particular set of goals and frameworks to tackle the contemporary housing challenges facing middle and low-income populations. Despite higher anticipated results, the impact of the policy remains inadequate to the point that there is a lack of participation from the private sector and insufficient understanding and support from the general public. While the policy has feasible endowments to reduce the challenges, there are several ways that the government could dwindle the weaknesses by closely monitoring, actively engaging, and regularly updating the information concerning policy implementation.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors. 

Cambodia’s Electric Shortage: Its Impacts on Economy and Small Businesses

Written by: Kong Sreynou, a 3rd-year student majoring in International Studies at Institute of Foreign Languages, RUPP. Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia. Photo Credit: Asia Times Cambodia has experienced steady economic growth over the last few decades, along with the boom of construction and investment. Within this context, the consumption of energy such as electricity has significantly increased. Although Cambodia has undergone rapid economic development, the infrastructure required for the energy sector is still limited to match the pace of development. With the increasing population and the expansion of key industries such as garment and tourism sectors, Cambodia’s electricity consumption increases. It was forecast that electricity consumption would grow at a rate of  9.4% annually. Meanwhile, Cambodia also encountered a shortage of electricity due to the drought in the dry season as well as the growing number of demands in electric usage. The shortage of electricity is harmful to public places, industries, or households. In 2019, the government had to reduce or cut off the electricity during the day in order to meet the demands at night. Electric scarcity has impacts on the economy and small businesses in many ways.  First, electric inefficiency can cripple the small businesses in the country as small business owners are believed to endure  the most from the electric shortage. Large parts of Cambodia have to suffer hours of electric outages, as the country’s supply of electricity could not meet the increasing demand. According to VOA Cambodia, Phnom Penh has been crippled by power outages up to 6 hours per day in some areas, and it is struggling to meet the high demand of the small business owners. Some small businesses such as Salons require ongoing electricity to run their business. For example,  Sokunthea, a salon owner in Phnom Penh, has experienced an ongoing electricity shortage, saying that, without electricity, she can’t blow-dry the hair of her guests after washing it. She further added that her customers would not be able to enter her shop since the weather is scorching hot. Without fans, her customers will get sweaty, and the make-up will slide off.  The electric outage undeniably offers difficulties for small business owners to pursue their small business since their income will be dropped. Plus, the price of Cambodia’s electricity is also regarded as among the most expensive in the region, according to the Open Development Cambodia (ODC). Thus, while  they cannot run their business smoothly to generate income, they have to pay their electricity fees at a high price. There are also growing numbers of new constructions, such as new apartment buildings, stores, and hotels, which do need electricity, adding burden to the already struggling sector. No doubt, without proper electric generation, small businesses will suffer, and many new buildings will be slowly constructed.  Second, the economic impact of regular power cuts could be huge. Big investments or private companies in or around the Phnom Penh city, especially within the industry and manufacturing sector such as garment factories, play vital roles in helping the Cambodian economy, yet they depend heavily on electricity to run their businesses. Since there is a shortage of supply of electricity, the firms from private companies and big investments will lose their interest in investing in our country. This is because they will have to buy expensive generators, which adds to their expenses. As stated by Cheat Khemera, Senior Officer at Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), most garment factories are connected with state-run electricity supply, and therefore there would be great impacts if there is not enough electricity.  With the growing demands for the nation's electrification priorities, Cambodia has invested heavily in hydropower development with 60 possible sites, and an estimated supply of 10,000 MW, of which 50% is on the mainstream Mekong, 40% on its tributaries, and 10% in the southwest outside the Mekong basin. In addition, coal electric generation is also an attractive complement that can offset hydropower seasonality. According to the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) annual report in 2020, there are two coal-fired power plants in Cambodia. One of which is located in Tamar Sor commune, Botum Sakor district, Koh Kong province, and another one is situated in Trapaing Prasat district, Oddar Meanchey province. These two power sources, hydropower dam, and coal have promised massive gains in electricity generation capacity. Additionally, solar power has emerged as an energy source with considerable potential for Cambodia. To date,  Cambodia’s existing operational solar power stations include a 10-megawatt (MW) and a 5 MW solar farms in Bavet city, Svay Rieng province, an 80 MW solar station in Kampong Speu province, a 60 MW solar station in Kampong Chhnang province, and a 60 MW solar station in Battambang province’s Thmar Kol district. So far, the Royal Government of Cambodia has done its best by introducing policies and initiatives to address the inadequate electricity supply. It has laid out a few key policies on energy development. First, the Power Sector Strategy 1999-2016 was introduced to ensure  an adequate, reliable and secure electricity supply throughout the country at reasonable and affordable prices to facilitate investment in Cambodia and to drive economic development. This strategy has encouraged the exploration of environmentally friendly ways and socially acceptable energy resources to minimize environmental effects resulting from energy supply and use. Second, the Renewable Electricity Action Plan (REAP) 2002-2012 was implemented to offer cost-effective and reliable electricity through renewable energy technologies in rural areas. Third, the government introduced the Renewable Energy Development Program which aims to promote the production of power supply from various resources such as hydropower, wind and solar energy, biomass, biogas, biofuel, solid wastes and geothermal energy.  In short, the electricity shortage can threaten Cambodia’s economic growth. Small businesses will suffer the most from the outage of electricity which serves as a major barrier for them to run their business. Thinking of Cambodia's economy, key investors and private companies will lose their interest in investing in the country due to the scarcity of the power supply and the high price of electricity. Therefore, to address these issues, the government should consider using more solar energy to generate electricity. Solar energy could be used to provide additional energy capacity during the dry season rather than constructing dams that can create long-lasting environmental consequences affecting the health of the Mekong river and lives depending on it. The investment in solar energy to produce electricity should therefore be considered by the government because it offers a more sustainable and affordable source of energy.     

It’s Time to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Plastic to Save the World

Written by: Tea Sovanmony, a 3rd year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng KimKong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia   (Photo Credit: "Collection of #1 PET plastic, accepted effective June 2012" by Department of Environmental Protection Recycling a is licensed under CC BY 2.0)   In the contemporary world, plastic has become one of the most essential contributions to human society. However, the use of plastic has also had a significant negative impact on human health and well-being as well as those of animals. Across the entire globe, there are increasing concerns about the increasing use of plastic, which has led to pollution and caused great harm to human life, wildlife, ocean creatures, and nature. Importantly, it has caused disruptions to the entire ecosystem. Thus, it is crucial that the world commits to applying the 3Rs principles of reduce, reuse and recycle to curb the excessive use of plastic to save our planet.  Whether you believe it or not, there is a connection between plastic used by people and the environmental world. According to nature, there is no waste material that does not decompose. However, in the case of plastic, it takes more than a hundred years for it to totally decompose. While plastic waste is dumped or flows into the ocean, it breaks up into small microbeads that are extremely harmful to all living things, including humans and animals, in the long term.  Human beings invented plastic to make life easier. However, this creation is and will always be considered unnatural to the ecosystem. In fact, plastic is less expensive, more affordable and more durable than paper bags, leading to its mass and endless production. Plastic has played an integral part in the production of water bottles, plastic wraps, plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic utensils, plastic cups and more. As people become comfortable using plastic and begin to use it indefinitely, it results in the uncontrollable use of single-use plastic. Consequently, the usage of plastic has become a major global problem. As 40% of all plastic that has been used is used just once, the National Geographic started to question whether it is Planet or Plastic? This campaign is then urged to raise international awareness of the consequences of single-use plastic.  The danger of plastic pollution  When tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean, it does not dissolve and remains in the water. This affects the ocean water and causes aquatic species to misunderstand plastic as their food. The effects of plastic on sea life are immense. For example, plastic waste causes the death of a million seabirds a year as seabirds would ingest plastic which  takes up room in their stomach, which sometimes causes starvation. For example, many seabirds have been found dead with their stomachs filled with plastic waste.  According to the United Nations, marine debris affects at least 800 species globally, with plastic accounting for up to 80% of the waste. Furthermore, plastic also polluted water when it was dumped into it, causing many problems to the environment in addition to making sea or ocean water look and smell bad. Therefore, plastic pollutes water and affects species in the ocean leading to their numerous deaths.  Plastic also hurts humans. Based on a research study by BreastCancer.org (2020), the leaching of plastic chemicals, including bisphenol A (BPA) from heating can cause human cancer. There are several more negative health impacts such as cardiovascular diseases, lung problems, cancer, and the weakened immune system. This is due to the toxicity of chemical elements including mercury, lead, and cadmium which are found in plastic. The cycle starts from the plastic garbage that humans throw away in front of their eyes into the street, which ends up in the ocean and breaks down into small tiny plastic beads. Those small particles are eaten by fish which will then be consumed by humans. Thus, humans are now eating plastic that they have dumped!  Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (3Rs) are the solution  According to Wendell Berry, an American environmental activist and novelist, “The Earth is what we all have in common”. Thus, individual contribution to the environment through the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle is a must. It takes no or little effort and cost in starting the actions for sustainability and a better planet  because planet Earth is a home to all human beings and other living things.  First, due to the high cost of recycling, it is good  to reduce the numbers of individual plastic consumption rather than totally relying on recycling, although recycling is another alternative. We can start with the reduction of plastic consumption by minimizing daily consumption like plastic straws, plastic utensils, plastic bags, and plastic cups. Since food delivery is popular in modern society, individuals should have their own portable utensils and metal straws that are easy to carry around. Therefore, in the case of Cambodia, in any order from delivery apps such as Nham24 and FoodPanda, we can request the restaurant to not include plastic utensils for us. This may be a bit uncomfortable for some people, it is one effective way to contribute to minimizing the numbers of daily plastic consumption. Each one of us should now consider using a metal bottle instead of a plastic cup to reduce the use of plastic. In addition to that, companies, schools, and other institutions are key actors that can help individuals to reduce plastic bottles by setting a water purifier refill in the office or school to let individuals fill up their fresh water in their metal bottles. The use of cotton or cloth bags for shopping products is also another good way to replace the use of single-use plastic bags. Moreover, for essential goods such as dishwasher soap, scrub, bodywash and shampoo, there are alternatives from several refill stores around Toul Tompong areas in Phnom Peng city that offer goods and services for customers to go and refill them. It is essential to save our planet and each of us has an important role to play.  Second, we need to adhere to the concept of reuse. The idea of reuse is extremely important to avoid the single use of plastic that tends to be dumped into the ocean or other water resources after use. We can apply this concept by reusing plastic that we have in our home multiple times and try to reuse it for other purposes before throwing it away. For example, the water bottle can be used to store new water or other liquid, or it can be used for gardening purposes. The bubble wrap that is received from delivery can be used to protect furniture and other glass products.  Thirdly, it is the concept of recycling which involves industrial or machinery processes. Every single-use plastic such as the cutlery, straws, and bags can be recycled in most advanced economic countries in Europe and America. Unfortunately, there may not be recycling companies in some middle income and low income countries. Cambodia is a case in point. To the best of my knowledge, single-use plastic is mainly used daily but there is no recycling process available  in the country. Regarding this issue, reasons for the unavailability of recycling processes are due to the high cost of investment and the requirements for highly skilled labor in the field. In spite of this, not all plastic can be recycled. According to SL Recycling, the types of plastic that are commonly recycled include  Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and Polypropylene (PP). Thus, reducing the amount of plastic is still one of the most essential alternatives among the 3Rs of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.    The way forward Moving forward, human beings must come to realize that in some cases the use of plastic is not necessary, but we are just consumed by the idea of convenience without thinking of the consequences of excessive plastic use. Since the single use of plastic can have serious consequences for humanity and the environment, it should be minimized by individuals and inspired by society itself as well. Up until now, there has been very limited action toward sustainability, especially in countries that have a low literacy rate. Many people tend to think that environmental issues are not as important as political or social issues.  Thus, to achieve sustainability, it requires all of us to take action without procrastinating. It can start from youth who can introduce their parents and relatives to the concept of 3Rs. Youth themselves also have to practice the concept of 3Rs, and contribute to voluntary work related to environmental issues so that plastic  awareness can spread widely, and at the same time, they can learn  more about many important social issues through their working experience as volunteers. This type of knowledge is not available in school. Nevertheless, the Cambodian government needs to introduce and implement laws to curb the excessive use of plastic. It needs to find effective ways to educate the citizens and control their plastic consumption in an effective way. It is also important to attract foreign investment to develop Cambodia’ capacity to recycle plastic. The non-governmental organizations and international organizations also play a crucial role in making the world a better place for all. They must raise the public awareness of the impact of single-use plastic, offer financial support to low economic development countries to tackle their plastic crisis, and produce more informative videos to educate the masses about the risks of plastic pollution.  Together we can work toward a sustainable future in which we control the use of plastic by reducing, reusing and recycling it. We should not be complacent and let plastic control us and destroy our world.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Why Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations Theory Cannot Explain the Realities of Global Politics in Contemporary World?

Written by: Rada ROFEK, a 3rd year student in International Relations and Political Science at Paragon International University. Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia. Photo Credit: Chinese Dragons — Symbolism, Types, Culture, Legends, Art from China's Highlights  When the world entered the post-cold war era after 1989, many scholars put in their intellectual efforts to explain the future patterns of international relations and global politics. Unlike Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History and The Last Man” which emphasize political ideologies as the main unit of analysis, Samuel Huntington in his renowned book “The Clash of Civilizations” gives an explanation on the future shape of world politics based on the notion of civilization. In brief, the book states that people’s religious and cultural identities will be the primary source of conflicts among different groups in the world after the cold war. This is due to his belief that different languages, traditions, cultures, histories, and religions tear people apart. Specifically, Huntington argued that "Western" culture and “Islamic” culture are the two most encompassing civilizations. He stressed that clash of civilizations is unavoidable since these two worlds could cause global conflicts. As the Muslim world is unified for a greater Islamic civilization, Huntington accused Islamic extremists of posing the biggest threat to global peace and predicted that the Muslim world will have a conflict with the West as they are trying to challenge Western dominance and oppose universal Western ideals. Correspondingly, Huntington’s idea seems to be accurate due to some historical events, especially the 9/11 and the start of the Middle East conflict at the beginning of the 21st century. As a result, more and more people started to debate the possibilities of the clash between the Western and Islamic world. However, a more critical review is needed to understand the reality of contemporary global politics.  In practice, Huntington’s theory seems to be very controversial, prompting many scholars to debate and critique his theory. First and foremost, the Clash of Civilizations theory is believed to go against one of the dominant schools of thought in international relations theory, that is, realism—the belief that global politics is always a field of conflict among states seeking to pursue their national interests. However, Huntington dissented from the realist approach by basing his analysis on alliances rather than national interests. Secondly, another weak point is that Huntington’s theory is overgeneralizing because using civilizations as units of analysis to analyze global politics is too enormous. On this note, the term “Civilization” is also not clearly identified. To give an instance, would the rise of Muslims in Western countries be considered as Islamic or Western Civilization? In addition to this, followers of  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheists who aggregately see themselves as the descendants of Prophet Abraham. They are birthed on the same geographic area in the Middle East and have co-existed for thousands of years, but the point is what makes Huntington to contemplate them as no longer one single civilization. While repeatedly citing Islamic Civilization as the main source of future conflicts, he disregarded historical designs, principles, and laws that the West promulgated in the last century, especially after World War II. Thirdly, Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory which values cultural interests appears to not be coherent with the reality of today's contemporary world politics. In the first place, to analyze this extensive issue, the realist approach is still realistic as generally seen in today’s time. States do not really pursue cultural but mostly national interest, and nation-states are still the most vital actors in global affairs. Thus, it is more practical to predict that a clash of interests can be identified as the main source of conflict rather than the clash of civilizations stated by Huntington. On a more important note, in this post-cold war period, there is no doubt that economy is the dominant factor in shaping international relations. In fact, strong states are trying their best to maintain their status quos and hegemonic power, while weak states are striving to develop their economies to play a more important role in world politics. Therefore, Huntington’s theory appears to partially accord with the reality of the present world. Last but not least, stating that cultural and religious identities are a primary source of future conflicts shows a sign of overgeneralization and incomplete analysis which is not entirely applicable for the multifaceted nature of global politics in today's contemporary world. Conflicts could arise due to various factors such as competing national interest, territorial disputes, ethnic clashes, conflicting values and ideologies, and racial and religious contradictions. By defining a single factor or a combination of these factors to be the dominant source of conflict is not sufficient to explain the current global politics. Furthermore, future conflicts can also be possible as a result of states fighting one another for the interest of their own people for example, to ensure access to renewable sources such as water. To conclude, Huntington’s theory of Clash of Civilizations is not only limited but potentially dangerous as it creates a sense of otherness and opens the door for prejudice and a new enemy existing in our minds. Therefore, as the world is at the peak of the globalization era, more interactions are expected.  Thus, instead of being frightened by Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory, people everywhere — regardless of their differences in culture and religion — need to learn how to live and work together with tolerance and peaceful co-existence in this complex and multicivilizational world.

Understanding the Path towards E-Governance in Cambodia 

Written by: Virak Kanhapich, a 3rd year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: Ministry of Post and Telecommunications website)   Many governments across the globe have been committed to building e-governance, and Cambodia is one of them. After Cambodia obtained an official membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1999, it has made tremendous efforts to use information technology and embarked on enormous administrative reform to ensure that it could make the goals reality. Although the government has made tremendous efforts, little is known to the public on how effective and efficient it can be in delivering public services since the term is still relatively new.  Before moving on to the substance, I would like to draw attention to the definition of e-governance and its background in Cambodia. As defined by Business Jargons, e-governance refers to the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into all governmental processes to simplify and enhance the efficiency of public services in response to the needs of the people.  In the Cambodian context, the government also acknowledges the advantages of e-government, and the adoption of this concept began in early 2000 with the introduction of the National ICT Development Authority (NiDA) and the Government Administration Information System (GAIS) project, which includes the unveiling of applications such as the Electronic Approval System (EAS), real estate registration system, resident and vehicle registration. However, the programs seemed to fall short in meeting their full potential due to the lack of transparency and accountability.  According to an analysis by Dr. Leewood Phu, who is a tech adviser for the Cambodian government and NiDA Board Member, the administrative system was an obstacle because there are many complicated administrative processes in all sectors, be they the government offices, departments, and ministry level. Other factors such as missing documents or unreasonably withheld or delayed documents contributed to inefficient adoption of the concept. However, with the government keeping e-governance a top priority, the future looks more promising. Currently, more and more public services in Cambodia are getting in line with the digital transformation. Some ministries have been able to make use of digital technology to serve people. The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, in particular, has been able to effectively provide educational information and support its education policy implementation while receiving feedback from the public using social media platforms. On the other hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has offered the ‘eVisa’ service, online information for visitors, consular services and information on doing business, making it more convenient for visitors and investors.  The Commerce Ministry also provides access to trade-related aspects online, including services, general information, trade, and investment information. Most importantly, as human interaction has been restrained during the COVID-19 pandemic, e-governance becomes even more critical in preventing the virus spread. As can be seen, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has unveiled the “Stop Covid” QR Code system, which records the locations of people who have been affected or potentially exposed to the virus. The application assists the authorities in carrying out contact tracing, enabling quarantine and treatment to be done effectively and instantly. Unquestionably, the adoption of e-governance is essential, but the complex nature of digital conversion can intimidate the aim to embrace technological integration into the governing system. But achieving it will bring much more notable benefits.   And with the introduction of e-governance, there can be more improvement in administrative efficiency and effectiveness because the system becomes more functional, sustainable and responsive, according to Mr Oum Chan Mono, a Senior Researcher at Cambodia Development Center.  It is worth taking Bangladesh as an example. Bangladeshi ministries have adopted the foundational work of the government flagship program known as a2i, which focuses on simplifying public services given to the people. With the scheme, the Digital Service Accelerator was introduced to assist the country’s version of the integrated ‘stack’ of digital identification, services and payment platform. That allows the South Asian country to save more than $8 billion over the last 10 years through an incredible reduction of the time, cost and number of visits required to access public services. It is noteworthy that electronic services could save up to 70 percent of transaction costs in traditional government settings, according to the Institution for Electronic Government.  Another success story that we should take into account is Estonia who achieved the successful implementation of e-government. In 2000, the same year when Cambodia began to manifest interest in e-governance, very few Estonians understood the benefits of the concept, and only a small number of one-third Estonians were using the internet or had digital literacy. But the country could manage to put in place the e-governance system to date. A study by Mr. Sun Kim, a lecturer for the faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations, indicates that owing to the Estonian government’s objective of digitalization, the country relied on well-educated academics in computer technology and assured strong cooperation between the private and public sectors. Two decades later, digital public services have become considerably present, with 99 percent of the services available online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This greatly benefits the people. While other countries have suffered from failures in delivering public services to people during the pandemic, Estonia has managed to avoid public setbacks with its well-organized and easily accessible online governing system.  With the above mentioned examples, without considering the accessibility and digital skills, the use of digital technology in governing systems offers immense benefits. In contrast, those without proper digital skills or access to such technology can also be left out or marginalized. Cambodia, whose significant number of people lack proper digital skills, is not exempt from that challenge. Both at the national and local level, the use and the delivery of public services is a struggle as it requires sufficient knowledge of digital literacy, infrastructure and competent manpower for the services to converge.  And as more than 70 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas, access to online services becomes a leading challenge. Therefore, the public institutions need to simplify the policy agendas and implementation strategies to effectively and efficiently communicate with all levels, according to a public policy analyst, Mr. Chheang Vannarith. He added it is crucial to understand that e-governance is not simply an installation of computers nor a collection of information; thus, there are several barriers to a high level of e-government in Cambodia.  So, where are we now? In this age of digital transformation, private sectors and the youth have played a crucial role as they are the main driving force of changes and most adaptive to digital usage. But in Cambodia, the overall digital adoption among established private firms is still limited.  Moreover, the country still has insufficient human resources in digital technology, and there are also lacking areas in terms of accessibility to electricity or the usage of digital devices. Therefore, the implementation of the digital transformation in the governing system will definitely be bumpy and arduous.  And the public sector has just begun embarking on the push of digital transformation. But the ongoing pandemic has also boosted the process. As can be seen, the government has taken a further step to accelerate the digitalization of governance to maintain public safety through a switch from traditional paper systems to new digital ones.  And if scrutinized closely, the country also has really made some progress in both e-government development and e-participation. In terms of e-government development, Cambodia graduated from the middle E-Government Development Index (EGDI) group to the high EGDI group in 2020, according to the United Nations E-Government Knowledgebase for 2020. In the E- Participation Index (EPI), given that its score is still below global and regional averages, Cambodia could move up 42 positions. One of the prominent examples to prove this improvement is the widespread use of Facebook by numerous government institutions and agencies in delivering information to the people.  Moreover, I also notice that the rise of digital literacy among young people is on its way. And through additional support, it can quickly gain more momentum and become promising for the digital switch in the country in years to come.  So what should be done more to accelerate the process?  So far, it is quite encouraging that the government recognizes the importance of this transformation. Minister of Economy and Finance HE Aun Pornmoniroth has already acknowledged that the successful construction of digital governance in Cambodia will allow the government to be more robust, pliable and accountable. But I still believe that more tangible actions need to make this goal a reality. First and foremost, it requires the government to build up a greater political commitment, take a leading role in promoting active involvement and engagement among different stakeholders and undertake concrete actions in facilitating e-government innovation and planning.  Furthermore, to mitigate the challenges and meet the needs of the people when it comes to the present digital gap, existing policies should be evaluated and adjusted, and it entails a change to the education system to foster digital skills for youngsters. Not only young people, the government should also pay more attention to supporting senior citizens to help them acquire and improve digital knowledge through different programs or initiatives at local levels. If Cambodia could ensure a sustainable push for raising digital literacy among people and policy reforms, the path towards e-governance can be smooth.   Because the outcome generated from embracing digital governance will be greatly beneficial and rewarding for Cambodians in the long run, it is still worth the drive even though the roads are rocky for now.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

The Psychology of Climate Change: Why It Is Difficult to Act Collectively

Written by: Seak Por, 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Ermo" by Noel Feans is licensed under CC BY 2.0)   The Psychology of Climate Change: Why it is difficult to act collectively  The ‘boiling frog’ syndrome is possibly a good metaphor for how we have been dealing with climate change. When a threat is imminent, and destruction is right at the front of the door, resources and attention are pouring in from all directions. That is similar to the current battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not to regard this as a bad phenomenon, but a reminder that we should also not overlook or ignore the current ‘slowing boiling’ climate change issue that is silently tormenting human races.  Climate change refers to the changes in the climate patterns of the earth, particularly those that occur more rapidly than the natural process. Climate changes from time to time over the century. However, the change we refer to is the rapid changes from the mid to late 20th century onwards, which contributed to the increasing temperature, making it a crisis that requires an urgent solution.  What science tells us about climate change   Scientists have long reached a consensus on the reality of climate change: 1) the earth is getting warmer; in fact, the earth surface temperature has already risen about 1.18 degrees Celsius on average; 2) the most extensive​ proportion is due to human activities with the releasing of the greenhouse emission by individuals and industries, the deforestation and other activities. While 1 or 2 degrees Celsius might seem minimal to you, this is the average number, and some regions are experiencing worse than others. The impact of climate change is far beyond just being ‘warmer’. It negatively impacts the whole ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, the resource and more. The evidence of the impacts of climate change has also already been noticeable, including the warming ocean, the shrinking ice sheets, the retreating glacier, the rising of sea level, declining arctic sea ice and other extreme phenomena. The scientists have warned of the irreversible impacts and the threshold for a dangerous average global increase in temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius.  What has the world been doing?  In response to climate change, governments across the globe have adopted two main approaches: “mitigation” or reducing the flow of greenhouse emissions and “adaptation” or learning and adapting to live with climate change.  We all know that climate change is a global issue and requires a global effort. One of the most prominent global efforts is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992, and currently, it has 197 parties. Another one, a legally binding international convention within the UNFCCC, is the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in Paris in 2015 with 191 parties. The ultimate objective of UNFCCC is "to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous interference with the climate system."  On the other hand, the Paris Agreement aims to limit the collective greenhouse emission to well below 2 degrees Celsius and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Under the agreement, member states agree to cut down the emission based on their respective national plan known as the nationally determined contributions (NDC). The parties agreed to increase the level of their climate agreement by 2020, and the ambition will continue to be raised through a five-yearly cycle known as "global stocktake”, which works as a check-up mechanism for the agreement. The process will be starting in 2023. The state of net-zero emissions, which means the amount of greenhouse produced is equal to the amount withdrawn from the atmosphere, is expected to start between 2050 and 2100. What is the problem now? Even though global governments have made efforts to tackle climate change, the ultimate problem is we are running short of time while our current actions are not enough to reverse the trend.  The evidence is crystal clear. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- the intergovernmental body of the UN -- published a Special Report on 1.5°C, which asserted the hazardous impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. According to the World Economic Forum, research of the modeling of the projection of planet temperature has found that under the current rate, the earth would likely cross the threshold for dangerous warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2027 and 2042.  But, regardless of the scientific warning, the attention and actions taken by the individual and government to deal with climate change appear to be inadequate.   So why is it so difficult for everyone to act? There can be various aspects and discussions of why it is so hard for everyone, including individuals and governments, to act fast and hard enough to deal with this crisis. But psychological explanations can provide another layer of explanation from the individual perception and attitude aspects.  Firstly, at the individual level, the bystander effect comes into play in people's perception towards taking action. The bystander effect explains the influence of the presence of others on the willingness of each person to act. People are less likely to help a person if other people are surrounding them than when he or she is alone. It is because individuals tend to believe the others are inclined to offer help. Similarly, in the case of climate change, even though most people do believe in climate change, people are less likely to act hard enough because of the tendency to let others do it. Additionally, people might have a sense of fulfillment and contribution for small acts they have done, such as purchasing a few eco-labeled products and stop short to do more because of the tendency to let others do the "big" works. Secondly, for many people, climate change and its effects seem much distant for most people. The construal level theory of psychological distance proposed that people consider events and places that are psychologically distant from them as more abstract than the things that are psychologically close to them. Generally, given that climate change impacts have been here, there are few major and direct disruptions that many can associate with. Therefore, this psychological distance of the climate crisis demotivates people from acting hard enough.  Thirdly, acting for climate change requires behavioral change that is in contrast to human psychology. Status quo bias explains people prefer things to remain as it is as change can be scary. When associated with the psychological distance mentioned above, without huge motivation, behavioral changes are less likely in the face of status quo bias. From mitigation to adaptation approaches to climate change and from individual levels to firms, acting hard to tackle this problem requires both the changing in behavior and resources contributed to the change.  Additionally, acting to address climate change offers a long-term benefit, but it compromises the short-term benefits. For example, to act more responsibly, people need to sacrifice comfort in their present-day activities, including the use of fossil fuel. The temporal discounting concept explains the individual tendency to discount the rewards or benefits in the future and overvalue the current rewards or benefits.  This can be seen more often in governance and policy implementation. Given the short time in office under a democratic system, many governments have less incentive to act on climate change as the interventions can only yield results in the long run. It is far different from focusing on economic development or other works as these can provide more visible results quickly.  Lastly, at the international level, the well-known collective action problem can shed light on the lack of a strong willingness to tackle climate change. This crisis is a collective action problem in which all actors would be better off cooperating, but there has been the tendency to free-ride due as well as the conflicts of interests among states. Some regions are hit harder than others, and developing countries are the most vulnerable. Developed countries, while being least affected, have incentives to take further actions. In contrast, the developing countries with fewer resources are compelled to act more, compromising their economic interests. Like any collective action problem, climate change needs strong central actors to regulate.  So, what next?  All reasons I raised earlier provide some insights on one of the aspects to consider when planning or addressing climate change. Psychological aspects shape the behavior of every individual ranging from the leader of a country to the general public.  As we are working together to address climate change, it entails a behavioral change. One of the initiatives is promoting psychological understanding -- the human reward system and nature -- to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint.  To ensure effective climate communication, the deployment of both methods: the top-down approach (scientists to the public) and the button-up approach (public to the government) is the most effective way to alter the public perception. We need to recognize that addressing climate change is not just the responsibility of the government but also every individual. By understanding these aspects, each of us will be capable of reevaluating our perceptions and responses to act more responsibly. Youths, meanwhile, continue to play a vital role in highlighting the impact and altering the perception of the decision makers.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Why Cambodia Should Promote More Sustainable Business Practices?

Written by: Yin Verak, a 3rd year student majoring in Business Administration at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Researchers in a rice field in Cambodia" by IFPRI is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   The world has begun to recognize the need to keep business profitable while minimizing the negative environmental impacts. Therefore, the concept of sustainable business becomes more and more significant for many countries across the world, including developing countries. Cambodia, in particular, has some businesses that try to embrace the sustainability concept. The actions include management of waste as well as promotion of clean and green initiatives and eco-friendly businesses.    These can be a part of innovative solutions to help and reduce environmental problems in Cambodia, enabling us to repair the environmental damages resulting from our poor environmental performance. According to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in 2020, Cambodia was ranked 139 out of 180 countries, with a score of 33.6.      Global warming has been growing as one of the most scorching topics for global leaders to discuss and seek practical solutions as many countries have already been struggling to deal with the adverse effects of this disastrous problem. The level of global temperature has been increasing noticeably, resulting in the rapid melting of glaciers. Meanwhile, the weather has also become more extreme and less predictable than it used to be many decades ago. We have to recognize that our planet earth has suffered severe damages, and our environment has undergone harmful pollution. These can produce more natural disasters, the collapse of ecosystems, gradual environmental degradation, undermining the welfare of current and younger generations.  But all of these concerns have been predominantly driven by human activities -- one of which is business. Generally, the business sector has been one of the largest sources of pollution. Many industries and companies overuse hazardous chemicals and mismanage these savage elements, leading to the release of millions of tons of toxic gas and liquid into the atmosphere and oceans.  Plastic pollution, needless to say, is also produced by business activities because plastics are more affordable, versatile, and durable. However, plastic becomes a global problem because the excessive amount of plastic waste ends up in waterways and oceans. On the other hand, several business owners only focus on their profits and how much money they can make rather than pay attention to the virulent damages they pose to the environment, the public and the world. In the meantime, not many of them are held accountable for their environmental and social destruction. That’s why it becomes increasingly critical that more businesses can manage to embrace the sustainability concept to help solve global environmental problems. In business, sustainability refers to doing business without negatively impacting the environment, society and community. Clean and renewable energy, for instance, is one of the most sustainable practices in the energy sector, which could lead to lower carbon emissions and reduce the impact on the environment. Likewise, eco-businesses such as fiber-based packaging, recyclable products, eco-friendly products, organic catering, green industry and so on can be superseding single-use plastics, eventually. Hence, as a developing country, Cambodia should take further steps to promote these sustainable and innovative solutions.  Why is sustainable business beneficial for Cambodia?  Fostering sustainable business practices will significantly contribute to the inclusive development of society in many ways. Here I raise three vital benefits Cambodia can gain if it can manage to put forward this concept on a broader scale.   Firstly, sustainable business is beneficial for the environment. Cambodia is one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and climate change, and it has seen rising plastic pollution due to its rapid development. In Phnom Penh alone, around 10 million plastic bags are used daily, and people are more comfortable using them with no guilt. Hence, introducing sustainable solutions is necessary to address environmental concerns. Furthermore, sustainable business is the best choice to reduce reliance on natural resources, minimize avoidable waste and its terrible impacts on the environment. I believe it will help us restore our natural ecosystem, making our country clean and eco-friendly for all of us to live.  Secondly, sustainable business can enhance social welfare and foster a cohesive society. The top priority of sustainable business is to create positive impacts on society and the environment. Besides, it involves seeking solutions that aim to promote more green spaces and reduce pollution--all of which are efforts to safeguard public health. Sweden can be the best example as sustainable business practices have been widespread in the country. By doing so, Sweden manages to achieve many things such as environmental sustainability, gender equality, anti-corruption, and sustainable social innovation. Plus, Sweden has been ranked 1st out of 150 countries as a sustainable country based on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators. Last but not least, this innovation can pave the way for more sustainable employment, more sustainable resource consumption and robust economic growth. Besides, pursuing sustainability can also contribute to the further improvement of environmental and technological innovation and boosting business productivity and competitiveness.   All in all, sustainable business ideas are one of the key drivers of environmental recovery, sustainable economic development and advancement of social welfare of people across the world. However, as a developing country, Cambodia still faces many challenges when it comes to cherishing these concepts. Those challenges include financial constraints, lack of public awareness and limited participation of the public and relevant stakeholders. Although there are many difficulties, it doesn’t mean Cambodia can’t effectuate the concepts and accomplish them. To realize the goals, as a business undergraduate student, I think that it requires that we take more actions and work collectively. Even though the private sectors are the leading force in championing sustainability concepts, the government and civil society groups also have a responsibility to offer more support and cooperate. It is because the nexus of these three is how they will accomplish much greater success for constructing our sustainable society altogether. Moreover, business owners and consumers also need to keep the environment in mind, and they have to inspire the habit of sustainability among the public while seeking to minimize the harmfulness derived from their business operation because all human beings live interdependently.    “Making a difference by starting with sustainable innovative ideas.”    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Together We Can Protect Our Freedom of Assembly 

Written by: Chea Sameang, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: Cambodian Center for Human Rights)   Behind a country that always claims to adhere to democratic principles and respect human rights, violence is common and human rights restrictions seem to increase. Many activists have been attacked, assaulted, harassed, and banned by the authorities even though they gathered in peaceful assemblies​ to demand justice and the release of their spouses, family members, and other activists. Some of them have been accused of incitement and plotting against the government, resulting in their intimidation or arrest.    Although freedom of peaceful assembly is protected by the international human rights law and the Cambodian law, it seems to be ignored by the Cambodian authorities which claim that there are no “prisoners of conscience” in Cambodia.  Many international non-governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations have been trying to urge the government to release those activists, especially amid the outbreak of COVID-19; however, the broader crackdown on activists by the authorities appears to continue.  Crackdowns on activists Since 2017 when the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved as it was accused of plotting to topple the government, more than 130 people have been charged with plotting and incitement crimes, many of which were linked to the failed attempted return of exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy in 2019.  There have been many protests in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and other places to call out the authorities to release those activists who are considered to be prisoners of conscience.   The arrest of Rong Chhun, a trade unionist, and political activist, on July 31, 2020, was an interesting case. He was charged with incitement that could lead to social unrest after he talked about the border demarcation issue between Cambodia and Vietnam.  After his arrest, there has been a peaceful assembly in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and other locations led by family members of detained political activists and women activists, called Friday Women of Cambodia, to seek the release of Rong Chhun and other jailed activists.  As reported in local news outlets, many peaceful protestors were arrested due to their gathering and protest. For example, activist Chhoeun Daravy was arrested on August 13, 2020. She was beaten and dragged by her hair when she was taking part in a peaceful demonstration calling for Rong Chhun’s release. Other activists such as Khmer Thavrak and Eng Malai (also known as So Metta) were also arrested one day after attending a non-violent protest to demand justice for Rong Chhun. Crackdowns continue  Since 2017, the crackdown on the opposition and activists has increased. The use of force and violence appears to become prevalent as they are often applied as a tool by the authorities to restrict and threaten the protestors to stop them from gathering or protesting.  Based on a report by the U.S Department of States, called 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cambodia, only 40 percent of the respondents in a survey said they felt free to assemble peacefully, compared with 65 percent in 2016. This is due to the increasing restrictions by the government, making them feel less secure and afraid of being arrested if they participate in a protest.  Thus, it seems that the Cambodian government is targeting activists in order to threaten them or make them feel tired or scared of protesting rather than support and provide them with the opportunity and freedom to exercise their rights. Prum Chantha, the wife of jailed opposition activist told VOD English that she and other women protestors were disbanded by security guards and they were also pushed by the security into a flowerbed in front of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights during a gathering to seek intervention from the Human Rights Commissioner to release their husbands and families.  Ouk Chanthy, the wife of a CNRP member, told Radio Free Asia that during her protest to seek the release of her husband, she has suffered both mentally and physically after being violently dispersed by the authorities. These few cases show the difficulties and challenges these Cambodian women face as they try to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly to call for the release of their husbands and family members. The increasing restrictions by the authorities have made their lives even more difficult.  Together we can protect our freedom of assembly  Freedom of assembly is one of the most fundamental rights among the three fundamental human rights, such as freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.  According to the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, freedom of assembly is defined as “the intentional and temporary presence of a number of individuals in a public place for a common expressive purpose”. However, based on Article 4 of the Cambodian law on peaceful assembly, the term refers to “a gathering or a march conducted by a group of people to publicly demand, protest, or express their sentiments, opinions or will by using various forms or means peacefully”.  As declared in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 41 in the Cambodian Constitution, and Article 21 in International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and it shall be recognized.  No restriction may be placed on the exercise of this right.  Thus, as freedom of assembly is enshrined by the Cambodian Constitution and international laws, it should be protected and supported by all stakeholders such as government bodies, NGOs, INGOs, and development partners.  The following are three suggestions to remedy the situation in order to give more spaces for the activists and protestors to exercise their freedom to peaceful assembly. First, the government should not overuse the criminal code to accuse, arrest, or label protestors but it must re-examine its broad over-use of Article 495 of incitement charges and other criminal codes over those activists. In accordance with its international and domestic legal obligations, the Cambodian government must protect those protestors' rights to appeal and release them from jail to meet their families in suitable times and protect those protestors during their protest rather than apply the use of force or legal measures to silence them.  Second, INGOs and NGOs must take more proactive resolutions to discuss and negotiate with the government to seek fruitful resolutions rather than put more barriers to the government in the situation where the government is under increasing pressure from the international community. Moreover, INGOs and NGOs can work together to create more activities such as #Campaign to Stop Violence on Women Assemblies to support those activists who have been arrested to make them feel that civil society organizations are not leaving them behind.  Thirdly, everyone on social media plays a crucial role as well. They are one of the most important actors who can share ideas, recommendations, and suggestions through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to raise awareness in constructive and peaceful ways to support environmental activists and human rights defenders. Moreover, they can also write their op-ed articles and send them to some news outlets which can publish their ideas rather than keep silent and let politicians shut their mouths.  Conclusion  Nobody wants to protest if they are living in happiness and harmony. They stage a protest because they experience injustice. Thus, if the government genuinely wants to promote and improve the environment for the fundamental freedom of human rights in Cambodia, especially the freedom of peaceful assembly, it should not practice a rule by law approach, but instead apply the rule of law approach. To have an inclusive and just society where people can fully enjoy their fundamental human rights, the restrictions and arbitrary arrests of protestors and activists must end. Individual citizens also have a crucial role to play. Each of us has to make our voices heard if we consider freedom of assembly as an indispensable part of our fundamental rights that we cannot live without. Together we can push for positive change, and together we can protect our freedom of assembly and other fundamental rights.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Prisoners of Conscience in Cambodia: A Case Study Analysis

Written by: Tol Chhourkimheng, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: Mother Nature Cambodia Facebook Page)   Introduction “I no longer believe in the court. I no longer believe in the law— I only believe in the law of Karma,” Batt Raksmey, Thon Ratha’s wife, told RFA’s Khmer Service. Thon Ratha is a member of Mother Nature Cambodia. He was arrested and accused of “incitement to cause social chaos” after denouncing the exploitation of Ta-Mouk lake.  Recently, many people, such as environmental activists and human rights defenders, have been arrested. While the authorities arrested them for charges of incitement to cause social chaos, insulting the King, and plotting against the government, some consider them as “prisoners of conscience”.  Prisoners of conscience refer to “persons imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their political, religious, or other conscientiously held beliefs, or for their identity, even though they have neither used nor advocated violence.” Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. […]” Article 3 stated that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Article 41 in the Cambodian Constitution stated that “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly. […]” These articles are proof that everyone is born with equal rights without any forms of discrimination and prejudice. Moreover, they have the right to exercise their freedom of expression.  The majority of prisoners of conscience in Cambodia were imprisoned because of the accusations and charges of incitement. Chin Malin, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said that “in Cambodia, peaceful expression is a right, not a crime. But on the contrary, an expression that affects the rights of others, national security, and public order…it is a crime.” This demonstrates that Cambodian citizens can exercise their freedom of expression as long as it does not affect or abuse the rights of others, national security, and public order.  As reported in a local media, civil society organizations (CSOs) issued a joint statement to request the Court and the Royal Government of Cambodia to release all prisoners of conscience. The statement emphasized that “in modern society, democratic countries that are guided by the rule of law recognize that the crimes of which prisoners of conscience are accused of or have been convicted for should not be considered crimes at all. Rather, these non-violent individuals are regarded as active citizens who contribute to the improvement of their societies”. “Article 51 of the Cambodian Constitution states that ‘Cambodian citizens are the masters of their own country.’ However, citizens cannot be so if they are unable to participate in society and share their thoughts on political, economic, and social affairs.”  This statement illustrates that Cambodia is a democratic country in which citizens can express ideas, exercise their freedom of expression, give constructive feedback to the government, and participate in social development. Those active citizens and youth highly contribute to the development of their country.  The Case Study Analysis On 3 September 2020, three environmental activists of Mother Nature Cambodia were arrested. Mr. Thun Ratha was accused of publishing the information without legal permission whilst Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phuon Keoraksmey were arrested because they were about to walk from Wat Phnom to request a meeting with the prime minister to share their concerns toward the numerous environmental effects, including the Ta-Mouk lake. They were accused and charged of “incitement to commit felony” based on Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. The authorities justified the arrest that the environmental activists caused social disorder and chaos, as they denounced the exploitation of Ta-Mouk lake and raised their social concerns and peaceful walk plan.  On 5 May 2021, Long Kunthea and Phuon Keoraksmey were sentenced to prison for 18 months for “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order” and fined 4 million riel each while Thun Ratha was sentenced to 20 months and fined 4 million riel under the same charge. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson and Chea Kunthin were sentenced in absentia under the same charge, with warrants issued for their arrest. Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson was sentenced to 20 months in prison whilst Chea Kunthin was sentenced to 18 months, and both of them were fined with 4 million riel each.  On June 16, 2021, another three environmental activists from Mother Nature Cambodia were arrested while documenting waste run-off into Tonle Sap river in front of the Royal Palace. According to municipal court spokesperson Y Rin, Sun Ratha and Yim Leanghy were charged with plotting against the government and insulting the King, whilst Ly Chandaravuth was charged with plotting against the government.  People might wonder: How did these environmental activists cause social disorder and chaos? How did their actions link to democracy? To analyze the case of prisoners of conscience, except for the few new cases of allegedly plotting against the government and insulting the King, I use the principles of democracy, international human rights law, and the Cambodian Constitution. First, Ta-Mouk lake is a state-public property covering 3,239.7 hectares according to sub-decree No.20. The lake belongs to the public, so everyone has the right to raise their concerns, voices, and opinions over the exploitation of the lake. Freedom of expression plays an essential role in a democratic country. Article 41 in the Constitution stated that “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publication and assembly. No one shall exercise this right to infringe upon the rights of others, to affect the good traditions of the society, to violate public law and order and national security. The regime of the media shall be determined by law.”  This statement means that Cambodians can exercise their freedom of expression with no restrictions unless it affects the rights of others and good traditions of the society, and opposes the public law, order, and security. The democratic country has to respect the diverse opinions and voices of its citizens resulting in sustainable development. Thus, the different ideas will lead to the various strategies and mechanisms which help to address the systemic issues rooting in the society. According to a book on Good Governance published by the Ministry of Interior in 2003, citizens’ participation in social decision-making and the process of decision-making is extremely vital since all the information about citizens’ demands and needs will be raised to the authorities before a decision is made.  Moreover, the peaceful walk caused neither trouble nor social disorder. The peaceful walk is under the rights to peaceful assembly and association which is one of the fundamental freedoms protected by the international human rights law. Article 4 in the Law on Peaceful Assembly declared that “The peaceful assembly refers to a gathering or a march conducted by a group of people to publicly demand, protest or express their sentiments, opinions or will by using various forms or means peacefully.” In addition, Cambodia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 in ICCPR demonstrated that “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” This indicates that a peaceful walk is protected under the Law on Peaceful Assembly and ICCPR, and citizens can exert this act as a way to indicate their freedom of expression or their concerns regarding any specific issues to the government.  Thus, I believe this is the case of freedom of expression from citizens since their act did not cause trouble or deaths to anyone. Meanwhile, no pieces of evidence have been proved that their action put anyone in danger, injury, or death. Youth should be encouraged to be involved in social development because they are the new generation to circumvent the issues on the ground and give weight to the government’s reform policies which are also stated in the National Policy on Youth Development prepared by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. It is worth noting that imprisoning youth and activists might pressure the large majority of other youth to hesitate and lose commitment to step up for positive social change. Witnessing the democracy of a country, Cambodia should put its citizens above all else and respect the differences of the citizens’ voices. The diverse voices mean that not everyone always goes along with the government. The open spaces for controversial ideas will urge the government to consider inputs from various sources for decision-making.  Conclusion Cambodia is a democratic country in which the citizens can exercise their freedom of expression, speak out their concerns, provide constructive feedback and participate in social development. Obviously, the Cambodian Constitution and international human rights law promote the legalization of freedom of expression. Youth are the main actors and active citizens to monitor, mobilize, and inform the government’s decisions and behaviors. Therefore, they should be motivated to constructively and meaningfully engage in their community. Positive developments should start from everyone and the state should value and appreciate its citizens’ efforts. We cannot expect the next generation to hold the responsibilities for this country whilst the elder ones ignore them.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Gender Inequality Should Not Be Overlooked Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written by: Sok Chhengleang, a 4th-year student majoring in International Relations at the University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland,  Australia Photo Credit: "Cambodia Women's Empowerment Project - Bamboo Crafting" by UN Women Asia & the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 It has already been several months since February 20 when the third outbreak of community transmission of COVID-19 occured in Cambodia. As I observed, the government and healthcare workers have been working persistently to combat COVID-19 by implementing measures and regulations such as curfews, lockdown and zoning systems to curb the community outbreak so that the country can hopefully reopen the economy as soon as possible. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected our daily lives, particularly by restricting our socio-economic activities, leading to panic stocking, food insecurity and other issues. While hundreds of new infected cases are confirmed every day, I believe the pandemic becomes a major obstacle to hinder the progress of narrowing the gender inequality gap. In particular, while all infected patients suffer from the virus, women tend to be the most affected victims of the pandemic.  How Does the Pandemic Increase the Challenges for Cambodian Women? During this hard time, the loss of jobs may befall people in general, but most remarkably, Cambodian women will become more financially vulnerable, which can exacerbate gender imbalance in the family and community. Simply looking into the garment industry, a key sector which accounts for 80 percent of Cambodia's export revenue, women made up 85 percent of the more than 650,000 workers. This sector has contributed substantially to Cambodia’s economic growth and the survival of many Cambodian families. However, due to the pandemic, many garment factories have been suspended and even closed down. It is estimated that 200 factories would  either discontinue operations temporarily or lower productivity. This has led to a loss of many jobs that serve as the only source of income for many workers. Many women working in this industry have faced challenges on a daily basis even before the COVID-19 crisis. With the advent of the pandemic, their lives face greater challenges from a dual crisis: health and economic crisis. Thus, the pandemic has increased challenges and difficulties for many Cambodian women. Their lives have become more dependent and vulnerable. While the loss of jobs has become a main concern for balancing gender roles between men and women, another issue has arisen, that  is, gender-based violence -- “harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender”. Staying home is now not easy for women who  lost their financial independence due to their job loss. Economic stress from financial insecurity and psychological stress, including anxiety and fear of infection, have already disheartened them. Beyond these, they become helpless and subject to sexual assault or violence that might be committed by their partners while being stuck at home. According to a recent report by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, one in five women in Cambodia have suffered violence from their partners, family members, colleagues, acquaintances or public officials, and  the rate of incidence has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the pandemic has constrained women’s ability to access sexual and reproductive healthcare services or even menstrual hygiene materials. Considering the case of maternity, there are increased risks for pregnant women who may have difficulty accessing proper healthcare during their quarantine or self-isolation. A growing number of women were reported to have canceled their appointments for fear of getting infected with the virus. The stress that pregnant women face and their lack of access to appropriate health services will drastically affect the health and well-being of the mother and the fetus; thus, maternal and infant mortality rates are likely to rise . While countries around the world embrace digital platforms to offer opportunities for students to continue their education, Cambodia is no exception because the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports (MoEYS), with support from relevant stakeholders, has introduced digital learning apps and broadcast educational programs through television and radio to provide Cambodian students with access to educational opportunities. However, 1.4 million Cambodian students were reportedly unable to access e-learning platforms during the pandemic. Hence, there is a probability that students whose access to the internet or digital infrastructure is limited would abandon their studies. If this happens, families may prefer daughters to sons to quit school if they have financial limitations during this difficult time because when daughters stay at home, they can help with the housework as they are more attached to household responsibilities then sons. Thus, the saying “women evolve only around the stove” that we all have been trying to break for a long time will be reinforced and unfortunately take over our society again. In sum, the longer the pandemic lasts , the worse gender inequality becomes. Conclusion and Suggestions I have always believed that everyone deserves to be equally appreciated regardless of their gender, race, and social status, but witnessing these kinds of incidents happening on women, it seems that gender inequality has deteriorated because women and girls are involuntarily positioned to become the most vulnerable victims of  the pandemic. In fact, women deserve to be protected, and to address the issue of gender inequality, a collective action is needed. Below are a few suggestions.  Firstly, the Royal Government of Cambodia and relevant stakeholders should consider strengthening the social protection system and continue to provide  short-term emergency relief to targeted vulnerable groups. Making information related to gender issues and ways of seeking help available in both rural and urban areas can be  part of the solution to gender inequality, This can be conducted through both community campaigns and online platforms including social media. Perpetrators of sexual assault and violence against women should be held accountable for their wrongdoings with fairness, transparency, and responsiveness from the authority. Health services should prepare appropriate rooms which can guarantee that pregnant women would feel safe mentally and physically when coming to hospitals for their health services or quarantine. The issue of mental health should no longer be stigmatized but discussed among the community, family members, and even peers. While trying to offer online learning opportunities, MoEYS should address the issue of how the pandemic affects the dropout rate of female students and seek immediate solutions. Secondly, women themselves should not hesitate to seek help if they feel they are subject to any violence or abuse. They should choose to either inform the authority directly or indirectly so that they can intervene on time. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has provided a hotline that allows people to report any case related to violence across the capital and provinces so women can make use of this service for their own well-being Thirdly, I believe actions taken by relevant ministries alone won’t be enough if all individuals don’t fully participate. As such, we can contribute to make the voice of women more powerful by spreading relevant information and raising public awareness of these pressing issues such as gender-based violence to make them become subjects of intolerance for all. Moreover, if we happen to witness such violence or injustice against women, be their helpers, report to the authorities, and protect them at all cost because no more women  deserve to suffer from any gender-based violence or discrimination.  In conclusion, despite the many difficulties that we encounter during the pandemic, gender inequality should not be overlooked because this issue has negatively impacted our society for such  a long time. While the goal to achieve equality for women has yet to be achieved,  the pandemic has worsened the situation, making it even more difficult for the government and relevant stakeholders to improve gender equality in the country. Thus, I believe joint efforts from everyone is the way forward. When we join hands together, we can take steps to create a safe, equal, and equitable society for all.