RISDA To Open Two Plantations In Cambodia

July 17th, 2013 , Bernama

The Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (RISDA) is opening two plantations in Cambodia, its director-general Datuk Wan Mohamad Zuki Mohamad said Wednesday.

He said discussions had been held with the companies that would be tasked with managing the plantations last week. …

“We are now awaiting approval from the Cambodian government,” he told the media after the breaking of fast hosted by the agency in the capital. …

Bernama News Staff

Congressional Hearing in US Pushes Cut to Cambodian Aid

July 11th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

At a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday that scathingly rebuked Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling CPP, a U.S. lawmaker called for legislation to cut American aid to Cambodia following the national election on July 28.

Representative Steve Chabot, who chaired the House Subcom­mittee on Asia and the Pacific hearing on Cambodia’s looming election, said his bill would complement a Senate resolution last month that called for a cut in aid if the vote was deemed “not credible and competitive” and for other donors to follow suit. …

Of the roughly $70 million in annual U.S. aid to Cambodia, about $6 million went toward military assistance in 2011. Amid a U.S. military “pivot” to Asia to counter China’s growing influence in the region, the U.S. State Department is asking for even more military aid in 2014. …

Amid all the criticism, some rare praise for Mr. Hun Sen came from Daniel Mitchell, the CEO of Phnom Penh-based emerging markets investment firm SRP International Group.

With 1 in 3 new loans from leading local bank Acleda now being backed with private land titles, he said, “tangible progress has been made.”

He added that all the talk of human rights was also ignoring the country’s real challenge: jobs for a growing but undereducated workforce.

“The issue of youth skills and employability is of increasing significance and has greater long-term social crisis potential than the current human rights issues capturing the headlines,” Mr. Mitchell said.

With 300,000 people entering the workforce every year, he said the country needed to maintain a gross domestic product growth rate of 7 to 8 percent per year if it hoped to keep living standards on the rise.

“That growth requires significant capital investment,” he said, and rather than pulling back, he said the U.S. should be stepping up—responsibly. …

Chinese loans and grants to Cambodia came to $2.7 billion over the past two decades compared to the U.S.’ $1.2 billion, and Mr. Hun Sen has proven fond of praising Beijing for “speaking little” and making no conditions on its aid. …

He [U.S. Representative Eni Faleomavaega] said the U.S.’ pivot to Asia should be both military and economic, and called for canceling Cambodia’s war-era debt to the U.S., now at $460 million with interest, a longstanding request of Mr. Hun Sen’s. …

If the U.S. was serious about improving the country’s rights record, he said, it should be promoting the investment of “responsible capital.”

“That is the way forward,” Mr. Faleomavaega said. …

Human Rights Watch’s Mr. [John] Sifton said that cutting military ties was just the start. …

“The money is not so much the issue…but symbolically it’s quite potent. The real hurt comes from infrastructure lending from financial institutions like the World Bank, the Asian Develop­ment Bank, the [International Monetary Fund] and others,” Mr. Sifton said.

“The U.S. can use its voice on the World Bank, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank to vote against large infrastructure lending.”

He rejected the idea that the U.S. and China were locked in some sort of zero-sum game over Cambodia—that less U.S. investment would mechanically mean more investment from China. He said China would keep investing in Cambodia whatever the U.S. did. …

In Phnom Penh, Cambodian officials were quick to dismiss the hearing.

Only hours after the hearing had wrapped up in Washington, Cambodian Foreign Min­ister Hor Namhong was signing off on a new $200 million loan from South Korea for a host of infrastructure projects. …

Zsombor Peter

In Mondolkiri, Political Candidates Address Ethnic Minority Concerns

June 20th, 2013 , VOA Khmer

Human rights workers and other civil society groups on Wednesday urged the competing political parties for July’s election to address the ongoing land crises and illegal deforestation that are hurting indigenous populations.

About 100 people from various ethnic minority groups from five provinces attended a forum in Mondolkiri province, describing problems with deforestation, mining and land concessions to a group of political representatives. …

Cambodia has about 20 different ethnic minorities, most of whom live in the forested northeast of the country, but comprise about 1 percent of the population. …

Theara Khoun

A Troubled Start for Cambodia’s Carbon Credits

June 19th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

Since 2007, the NGO Pact has been working with the government to turn 68,000 hectares of forest in Oddar Meanchey province into a moneymaking venture for the state just by keeping trees in the area standing.

As part of the plan, Pact brought on board a U.S. brokerage, Terra Global Capital, to help sell the forest’s carbon credits to environmentally conscious firms in the West. Together, after years of preparatory work, the pair were finally closing in on approval of the project and a few months ago had even lined up two private buyers ready to spend nearly $1 million on the first batch of carbon credits from Oddar Meanchey.

But when the deciding moment came last month to put pen to paper, there was a glitch.

According to Pact, when the May 20 deadline they had set for the government to sign off on the carbon credit deal came and went without a signature, the two buyers Terra Global and Pact had spent so long nurturing simply walked away.

The loss of the carbon credit deal means more for Cambodia than simply missing out on the $1 million.

Pact country director Sarah Sitts said the failure to sell the carbon credits could hurt the country’s chances of attracting other buyers to a project that hopes to ultimately generate tens of millions of dollars over the next 30 years by protecting what is left of the country’s forests. …

Ms. Sitts said the two firms involved in the aborted deal had been waiting for at least a month and a half for the forestry administration to accept their offer to pay a combined $911,000 for the credits, but pulled out when the May 20 deadline they had set passed without a commitment from the government. …

The carbon credits up for sale would have come from a network of 13 government-recognized community forests in Oddar Meanchey province covering a combined 68,000 hectares.

As part of a U.N.-backed and funded initiative called REDD, for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, the project aims to convince private international companies wanting to offset their carbon emissions to pay Cambodia for every ton of carbon those forests keep locked up in their trees. …

The government handing out land to agri-business firms in the area poses other risks. While there are no economic land concessions yet in Oddar Meanchey’s 13 community forests, Mr. [Sa] Thlai [who heads the 13 community forest groups that patrol the project area] said he is concerned about a sugar cane plantation owned by Angkor Sugar that currently skirts the project area’s borders. He said the firm has cleared most of the trees on its concession since moving in five years ago but planted little sugarcane in their place.

Angkor Sugar is also one of three subsidiaries of the Thai firm Mitr Pohl operating plantations in the province. …

A 2010 study in Koh Kong province by the U.S.-based Center for Clean Air Policy calculated that carbon credits would have to sell for more than $15 per ton to compete with the likely revenue from growing sugarcane on the land instead, even more if it were used to harvest rubber.

The going price for carbon credits these days, at roughly $7 per ton, does not come close to the profit made possible from felling the forest.

Zsombor Peter and Kuch Naren

Task of Obtaining Passport Is Adding To Illegal Migration Problem

June 12th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

Thousands of Cambodians cross the border via illegal checkpoints into Thailand every year. Some end up working in slave-like conditions on illegal fishing trawlers. Others work in factories while getting paid under the table.

It is often a last resort fraught with danger and uncertainty and yet for many migrants, it is a more realistic option than traveling to Phnom Penh to navigate the long-winded and expensive process of acquiring a passport.

Although the Ministry of Interior said earlier this month that a new passport office would open in Battambang in order to make it easier for people living in western Cambodia to obtain a passport, for the moment the country’s only passport office is situated in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district.

“We do not want to risk our lives crossing the border illegally… but the price for paying for a passport should be reduced to a minimum,” said Mean Sam Aun, a villager from Banteay Meanchey province’s Preah Netr Preah district.

He said that many villagers in his area had chosen to go to work in Thailand after being evicted from their land by a private agro-industry business. …

In December, Prime Minister Hun Sen lambasted the Cambodian News Channel for interviewing a “stupid” NGO representative who argued that the large number of illegal migrants was due to the prohibitive cost of Cambodian passports.

But while the government says just more than 100,000 Cambodians legally go to work in Thailand, labor experts say an estimated 600,000 illegal migrants are crossing Thailand from Cambodia each year. …

Kuch Naren and Kaing Menghun

Sugar Firm Staff Protest Over Unpaid Wages

June 10th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

About 250 laborers working at a newly opened $90-million sugar factory complex in Kratie province-hailed by the government as a boon to Cambodia’s economy-staged a protest last Saturday morning demanding to be reimbursed for two weeks worth of unpaid wages. …

District governor Heng Soha acted as a mediator during the protest and confirmed that the factory owners blamed a manager named Mr. Dang for stealing the money before fleeing, but said they solved the issue and the workers had been paid and returned to work. …

However, a rights worker yesterday said they were rumors the company had run into financial difficulties.

According to Adhoc’s Heng Pheark, the company originally paid 26,000 reil, or about $6.50 per day, but had recently dropped the wage to 15,000 reil, or about $3.70. …

Aun Pheap

Cambodian maids to earn at least RM1,020 a month

May 31st, 2013 , The Star Online

Salaries which start at S$420 (RM1,020.76), and no placement fees from employers. These proposals were part of a document the Cambodian government sent to selected maid agents, as Singapore moves ahead with a pilot scheme to see how well Cambodian maids adapt to life here.

The scheme, which runs until the end of 2015, will see its first batch of 400 maids arrive in July this year.

Cambodia has proposed employment terms for these maids in a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which was sent this week to the six maid agents picked by the Manpower Ministry to recruit the maids.

Workers with no experience will get a minimum of S$420 (RM1,020.76) a month. …

The Star Online Staff

Cambodian greens see red in upcoming dams

May 26th, 2013 , The Gulf Times

For Meach Mean, a veteran campaigner against hydropower dams in Cambodia’s northeast, this year has brought a double dose of bad news. First, he says, two Chinese hydropower companies have begun feasibility studies into a pair of dams planned for tributaries of the Mekong River in the remote northeastern province of Ratanakkiri.

Second, workers last month began clearing an area downstream of those proposed dams for another dam: the 400-megawatt Lower Se San 2, which scientists warn will be the most destructive of dozens planned in the region on tributaries of the Mekong.

Meach Mean, the co-ordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, a non-profit, has no doubt all three dams will be built, and fears the damage they will do to forests, fisheries and the lives of tens of thousands of minority people who will be forced to leave dozens of villages. …

Although the Se San and Sre Pok rivers are almost unknown outside the region, they are key tributaries of the Mekong. Together with another river — the Se Kong — they constitute the 3S Basin, which links Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. These rivers and the Mekong comprise the region’s four “fish highways” and help make the Mekong Basin the world’s richest freshwater fishery. …

Ame Trandem, the Southeast Asia programme director for campaigning group International Rivers, says the Lower Se San 2 Dam should be scrapped. Not only will it harm fish stocks and food security, she says, it will also reduce by up to 8% the flow of nutrients and sediment upon which tens of thousands of subsistence farmers in Cambodia and Vietnam rely to fertilise their fields. …

The Gulf Times Staff

Cambodia: A rising star with a falling reputation?

May 24th, 2013 , Just-Style

Cambodia’s reputation as a standard-bearer for apparel workers’ rights is wearing thin – and yet the country is a rising star when it comes to attracting foreign investment and increasing exports.

There are many reasons to deter brands and retailers from sourcing clothing in Cambodia.

The Kingdom has no local textile supply chain. Corporate social responsibility is more a question of paperwork than of really caring for workers’ well-being and for the environment. And general education and productivity of workers is low, with primary school drop-out rates of 45.5%.

Reports of illegal strikes and mass faintings of exhausted girls abound – more than 2,100 faintings in 29 factories in 2012, and over 500 in five factories in the first quarter of 2013. And in the last week alone there have been two partial collapses at factories that have resulted in at least two deaths. …

And yet…Cambodia is a rising star when it comes to garment exports.

In 2012, the country’s garment exports to the EU reached US$1.217bn (+32.4%), putting it in 9th position among the EU’s principal garment suppliers. With US$2.534bn in garment exports to the US in 2012, Cambodia is the US’s number 7 supplier.

Investors are rushing in. According to the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), 82 garment factories with a capital investment of US$499m were approved in 2012, as were two sock factories supported with US$25m, four textile manufacturers with US$9m and two glove factories with US$10m invested.

In comparison, in 2011, investments in 45 garment factories were worth US$205m. …

Jozef De Coster

Wildlife group busts illegal loggers in Cambodia

May 24th, 2013 , Australia Network News

An illegal logger in Cambodia has dropped an address book during a bust, leaving behind details of corrupt government officials and spying rangers.

The man fled after being intercepted by police over an illegal haul of rare rosewood in Koh Kong province earlier this month. ….

“We were able to confiscate the wood, and we stumbled upon this treasure trove of names and pay off amounts of all the people he had been dealing with, including some government officials,” she said. ….

Several rangers working with Wildlife Alliance have been identified as spies for the loggers and are currently under 24-hour surveillance after being questioned.

Australia Network News

ILO to name unsafe Cambodia garment factories

May 23rd, 2013 , Radio Free Asia

The ILO is preparing to name Cambodian garment factories failing to comply with local safety requirements. …

The International Labour Organisation says Cambodian garment factories refusing to comply with safety requirements have one last chance before they are named and shamed.

Jill Tucker, chief technical advisor for the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia program, has told Radio Australia’s Asia Pacific some factories in the country have made no effort to comply with local labour laws. …

She says the ILO is urging the Cambodian government to engage in more enforcement activities with factories refusing to comply with labour laws.

“In terms of building safety, we’re strongly recommending that all factories undertake an independent assessment,” she said. …

Ms Tucker says there are other health and safety concerns for Cambodia’s garment industry, including the inability of factories to keep up with the rapid growth of the sector.

“It’s becoming too expensive to produce garments in China,” Ms Tucker said.

“I would say that the majority of the growth in Cambodia is due to the haemorrhaging of orders outside of China.”

Radio Free Asia Staff

EU Won’t Investigate Land Concessions—for Now

May 20th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

The trade commissioner and foreign affairs representative of the European Union (E.U.) have turned down a request from 13 members of the European Parlia­ment that they immediately investigate Cambodia’s much criticized economic land concessions, but said they were monitoring the issue closely.

In a March letter to Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and the E.U.’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, the lawmakers asked for an immediate investigation into the concessions, which they accuse of a raft of human rights abuses. They also asked that if the investigation corroborated their claims that the E.U. suspend the duty free access Cambodian exports currently enjoy to Europe under the Everything But Arms trade scheme—part of the E.U.’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

Their request followed a resolution to the same effect passed by the entire European Parliament in October. …

The commission currently requires that human rights violations be “serious and systematic” before it launches an investigation that could strip a country of GSP benefits. In a report on Cam­bodia’s land concessions last year, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights to the country, Surya Subedi, said that rights violations tied to the concessions were “serious and widespread.” …

While garments make up most of the trade, the E.U. has come under particular fire for giving duty free access to Cambodian sugar due to the rights abuses alleged at a pair of Koh Kong province plantations growing the commodity. Hundreds of local families accuse the plantations of stealing their farms, sometimes violently, and offering them little to no compensation. …

Zsombor Peter

Vietnam rubber tycoon rejects land grabbing accusations

May 14th, 2013 , Thanh Nien News

A Vietnamese rubber tycoon has rejected accusations by Global Witness, a group that campaigns on resource issues, that it was involved in a land grabbing crisis in Southeast Asia.

Doan Nguyen Duc, the chairman of Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) Group, told Vietnamese media the information provided by London-based Global Witness in its report was total fabrication. …

According to the report, the two firms have caused widespread evictions, illegal logging and food insecurity in the countries. …

It alleges the IFC invested US$14.95 million in a Vietnamese fund that holds 5 percent equity in HAGL, while Deutsche Bank owns some $4.5-million-worth of HAGL shares. Deutsche Bank is also said to have 1.2-million shares in a subsidiary company of VRG amounting to more than $3 million.

As news of the accusation spread in Vietnam, HAGL shares fall around 6 percent to VND21,400 on Tuesday.

Duc lost VND436.25 billion (US$20.83 million) on over 311 million shares, nearly half the company’s shares, he holds.

After the accusations were made public, HAGL released a statement confirming that the company’s subsidiaries invested in rubber plantations in each country but the firm “denies seizing land, illegally exploiting wood and other corruption behaviors in Laos and Cambodia.” …

Thanh Nien News Staff

Government Denies Reports on Mining Corruption and Hun Sen

March 29th, 2013 , VOA

The Cambodian government on Thursday dismissed media reports in Australia linking Prime Minister Hun Sen to a mining company under investigation there for corruption.

Earlier this week, The Age newspaper reported on Australian documents that described officials from BHP Billiton seeking a special meeting with Hun Sen prior to being given mineral exploration rights in 2006.

The government’s Quick Reaction Unit, which deals with media, said in a statement Thursday the report was “exaggerated” and meant to “dishonor” Hun Sen ahead of the July national elections. …

VOA Staff

Cambodia Ups Minimum Wages for Workers

March 22nd, 2013 , Radio Free Asia

The Cambodian government on Thursday announced a higher minimum wage of U.S. $80 per month for garment and footwear workers but they were not impressed, vowing to continue a strike until it is raised to U.S. $100.

A tripartite meeting between the government, unions and Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) agreed to raise the minimum wage of workers from U.S. $61 to U.S. $73, plus an additional U.S. $5 as a form of health benefit, Minister of Social Affairs Ith Samheng said in a statement. …

Cambodia’s 300,000 textile workers often work long shifts for little pay in the garment factories, trade unions complain. The garment industry is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner. …

Radio Free Asia Staff

ADB Smothers Report On Families Hit by Rail Project

March 19th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

The Asian Development Bank has refused to release a critical study on the impacts its $141.6 million railway project is having on thousands of Cambodian families because disclosure of the report could hurt its relationship with the government, an ADB spokeswoman said.

Raising concerns about the ADB’s decision to bury the report‘s findings, housing rights groups released a statement yesterday criticizing the banks lack of transparency and public accountability. …

After having its initial request for access to the report denied, Inclusive Development International (IDI) appealed to the ADB’s Public Disclosure Advisory Committee on February 16. The ADB committee informed IDI that its appeal has also been rejected on Friday.

“ADB has long recognized that transparency and accountability are essential to development effectiveness and ADB’s ability to achieve its vision of an Asia and Pacific free of poverty,” ADB spokeswoman Ann Quon said in the letter.

But releasing Dr. Cernea’s findings on the rail project, Ms. Quon said, would further delay a project that is already behind schedule and over budget, damage the ADB’s long term relationship with the government, and “compromise the integrity of the of ADB’s deliberative decision-making process.” …

Both the ADB and the Australian government’s foreign aid arm co-funding the project, AusAid, have sold the railway’s rebirth as a key of bringing down the cost of transport and doing business across the country.

They have also placed the responsibility for the roughly 1,200 families the project will ultimately see evicted on the government, while pledging extra money to help the families supplement their diminished incomes after eviction. …

Zsombor Peter and Phorn Bopha, P.1

Australia Courted for Further Railway Funding

February 5th, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

The government has asked Australia to provide more funding to help complete the rehabilitation of the dilapidated railway line between Phnom Penh and the Thai border, a spokesman said yesterday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong met with Lieutenant General John Sanderson, former chief of the Australian Army, at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s office building in Phnom Penh. …

An estimated $75 million to $125 million more is needed to fix the colonial-era tracks and many bridges damaged by years of war on the part of the line connecting Phnom Penh and Banteay Meanchey province. …

Eang Mengleng, P.18

Cambodia begins to construct 3-storey stock market building in capital center

January 28th, 2013 , Xinhuanet News

Cambodia’s Securities Exchange (CSX) on Monday broke ground for the construction of a 3-storey building in the heart of Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. …

“The construction of the building reflects the government’s firm stance in developing the stock market and the building will build more confidence among both local and foreign investors in the CSX,” Cambodian deputy Prime Minister and finance minister Keat Chhon said at the groundbreaking ceremony. …

The building will cost 4 million U.S. dollars and the construction will be completed in early 2014, he said.

It is located near the capital’s historical site Wat Phnom in Duan Penh district. …

The CSX was initiated by the Korean Exchange in 2007. It is a joint venture between the government of Cambodia holding 55 percent of the stakes and the Korean Exchange owning the remaining 45 percent. …

Xinhuanet Staff

Cambodian government focuses on fire safety

January 24th, 2013 , The Phnom Penh Post

The Cambodian government is beginning to focus on fire security and intervention systems in skyscrapers, which are on the increase in Phnom Penh.

Lieutenant Colonel Neth Vutha, chief of the Fire Station of the Phnom Penh Police Department, said the General Commissariat of the National Police was recruiting staff to be trained in putting out fires in tall buildings in Cambodia, as currently there was only one fire truck in the entire fire department that could spray water into an 11-storey building. …

Dith Channa, general director of the VMC real-estate company, said that if skyscrapers do not have security systems and techniques for putting out fires, “they will face high risks.” Owners of skyscrapers should pay attention to this issue if they have not done so yet, he said. …

Siv Meng

Government to invest $4.4B in Public Sector

January 21st, 2013 , The Cambodia Daily

The government has approved more than $4 billion of investment in the public sector over the next three years in a bid to stimulate economic growth, the council of ministers said in a statement obtained yesterday. …

“The rolling plan will focus om four main sectors” … 40 percent would go toward infrastructure, 37 percent would go directly into stimulating the economy, 16 percent would go toward social spending and 7 percent across all other sectors. …

Neou Vannarin, P.18