Friday, January 20, 2006

Chiang Rai, Thailand

Just got my visa to China and I am waiting to sod off to the mountains for some final jungle faffing before going to the Middle Kingdom. Nothing to report as I have already written about Chiang Mai from which I come from and I am not doing much more than drinking too much and talking bollocks to other backpackers. As I have time to kill I will post some thoughts on the 2 comments made on my previous "what's the score with Cambodia" post.

I will do this in English for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the linguo of Moliere and briefly explain the posts for the same crowd. Nicholas, who has been to Cambodia, has added to my despair at the amount of taxpayer's money that has been siphoned off by Cambodia's ruling elite. He has mentioned that the theory of containment of communism could be one of the reasons the West has fucked up so much in this blighted kingdom. He has also mentioned the racket that goes on at the temples of Angkor and this needs a brief explanation.

To visit the temples you need a buy a pass. The price varies from $20 to $60 dollars depending on how many days you want. Cambodians enter for free. At first this seems fair enough as Cambodians could never afford the entry fee and should be able to see their heritage. You could also presume that the money goes towards the restoration of the temples. That's when it gets iffy. The tickets are issued by a hotel group, not a government authority, that is proud to claim it is owned locally but by whom is less clear. Most of the renovation work at Angkor is funded by donations or by the UN. Who gets the cash? Fuck knows.

Nicholas was wondering what it would take for people to be able to invest in Cambodia safely. From what I saw in Cambodia some international groups do. I suspect they factor in the kickbacks and the risks and then gauge the profitability. I guess it must make for some seriously creative accounting in the headquarters of these groups. I'm afraid that I have little confidence that the presence of large corporations in Cambodia will make things any better. Indonesia is awash with investors and they tend to make things worse and glancing at the situation of the world I reckon they can be more than detrimental. For example, I believe that companies such as Total or Petronas are a one of the main stumbling blocks to dealing seriously with the bastards that are now fucking up Burma. I could also mention that there are shedloads of multinationals doing business in the DRC and we all know what a paradise the Congo is for its inhabitants.

As for the domestic investment that Jacob mentioned, at the moment it comes from bent money and is often a way for the powerful to capitalise on their ill-gotten gains. At a lower level there is shedloads of entrepreneurship in Cambodia but they are stifled and leeched upon and/or they are smart enough to keep their business small enough so it doesn't get noticed. Jacob's comment stated that he was going to help train Cambodian lawyers in the hope that one day Cambodians might be able to get redress from the legal system and therefore feel safe to invest their own money and prosper.

Good luck to Jacob and I hope you will succeed but I fear that it will take more that your work to do so. Cambodians trust the legal system like I trust Tuk Tuk driver to give me a fair price on the first quote. They quite reasonably beleive that the law is something that the rich can use but is of little import to them. They avoid officials like the plague if they can and I can see why. Jacob might be able to help Cambodians have a legal system that is not an auction but it will take some dramatic and well hyped victories of poor people over rich people for the guy in the rice paddy to belive that going to see a lawyer might be of use.

Jacob is also going have to fight the Cambodian government's brilliant new idea of using the law to silence critics. I'll admit it's a step up from unfortunate suicides of activists by 7 bullets in the back of the neck but there still is some work to do before the rulers of Cambodia accept that are subject to criticism both fair and foul. At the moment it appears as is the legal system is just one of the many tools the Cambodian government uses to fuck someone they believe threatens their right to rule. On that note there is an interesting development on one the things I mentioned in my last post that is worth bringing up.

The government has just released the activists it had put in the slammer mainly due to pressure from the United States who fund the centre that these guys work in. All good news you might think but there is a worrying side to this. These guys were released on bail and are not off the hook. There is also the frightening statement from Hun Sen that they were released as a gift to Christopher Hill, the yank diplomat who went over there to have a chat with Cambodia's premier. It says something about the guy that he sees detention and release as presents and tokens of friendship.

I feel sorry that Jacob is not going to join the expense crowd account in Cambodia as part of his work but maybe it's for the better. Come as a tourist; it's really worth it plus you will feel no guilt if you get drunk at noon on a Tuesday.

Thanks for the comments guys. It's been a good way to kill some time.



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