Archive for February 2011


Who Do You Think You Are & What Are You Doing Here?

February 25th, 2011 — 2:56am
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We want to know.

The expat community here in the Penh is comparatively small, with estimations varying between six and eight thousand. It is also fairly fluid, with lots of people coming and going.

It is not always easy to establish a social context or to make the contacts. In fact, finding out what is going on and who is doing what here can be a nightmare.

Penh Pal is hoping to address this deficiency by inviting anyone living or working here in the Penh to send us their profile so we can post it on the site. Free!

If your running an NGO and want people to know what you’re doing, or feel that your skill set or small business is not getting the recognition it deserves, please let us know.

Let’s get connected!

Email Tom@penhpal.com

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New System of Payments Should Aid Transparency

February 25th, 2011 — 2:55am
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The Phnom Penh Post reports that the Ministry of Economy and Finance has recently completed a draft prakas (decrees) designed to standardise receipts for payments such as licensing fees and fines. The ostensive aim is to increase transparency and government revenues.

This revamped receipt system would replace one that had been in place since 1984, and hopefully will ensure that these payments end up in the national treasury.

The receipt system will specifically be issued for customers making non-taxation revenues, such as licensing and processing fees, fines, and other payments to any government ministry.

Since the GFC, the government has become much more concerned about ensuring that the system of fee paying is no longer readily bypassed, as revenue shortfalls have become more pressing with external support for day-to-day government activities being prgressively curtailed.

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Vietnamese Authorities Emphasizes Stability Over Growth

February 25th, 2011 — 2:53am
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In a move lauded by the World Bank today as a “clear shift in policy stance from over-emphasis on growth towards stabilising the economy”, Vietnam will move to restrain lending to help narrow the budget deficit and curb soaring inflation rates as locals worried over electricity- and fuel-price increases that are sending energy costs as much as 24% higher.

According to the Wall Street Journal, among the measures approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung were a limit on credit growth this year to less than 20%, compared with more than 28% in 2010, and a cut in the budget-deficit target to less than 5% of gross domestic product from the previous 5.3%. The government also ordered state-owned companies to sell their foreign-currency holdings to the country’s banks to ease downward pressure on the country’s currency, the dong.

Dung has initiated this to try and curb growing inflation as well as revive investor confidence after the country devalued its currency four times in 15 months. He also asked the central bank to slow the growth of lending in non-productive sectors, especially property and stock trading, while the central bank “gradually” restricted and abolished the commodity trading of gold, which many people have increasingly used as a hedge against currency depreciation.

Dung told ministries to narrow the budget deficit to less than 5% of GDP this year and ordered a “cautious and tight” monetary policy. Ministries and provinces will be ordered to reduce public spending by 10 percent for the next nine months.

State-owned companies will be required to focus their capital on their core businesses, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade will consider reducing or exempting import tax on raw materials for industries, including the garment, seafood and medical sectors.

The move comes after Vietnam’s benchmark stock index slid 6.7 percent in the past year while inflation accelerated to a two-year high of 12.31 percent this month, adding to signs of an overheating economy.

The Phnom Penh Post reports that the links between Cambodia’s and Vietnam’s economic policies have been evident this year, after a gap between Vietnam’s official and black-market exchange rates spurred an arbitrage scheme at Cambodian ATMs.

Vietnamese citizens crossed the border to withdraw dollars from their home accounts at the official dollar-to-dong exchange rate, before changing them back to dong at the black market rate for a healthy profit. Vietnamese cardholders withdrew more than US$30 million in cash from ATMs in the space of just a few weeks before the Vietnamese central bank devalued the dong on February 11 to narrow the gap.

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What Game is Abhisit Playing?

February 24th, 2011 — 2:40am
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The Bangkok Post reports that Thai PM Abhisit insisted yesterday that Thailand had the right to attack  Cambodia if Cambodia attacked first – and he has the staunch backing of the Thai army.

The claim that Cambodia might attack Thailand appears somewhat disingenuous given that Cambodia has been the main proponent of bringing ASEAN observers to the site of the conflict to help defuse tensions, and has nothing to gain from further fighting.

Thai Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha backed Abhisit, saying there would be no withdrawal of troops and that Thai forces remained in position around the 4.6-square-kilometre border zone disputed by Thailand.

The answer may lie in upcoming elections in Thailand.

The release on bail by Thailand’s Criminal Court of seven detained leaders of the Red Shirts several days ago is regarded by many as a harbinger – a move to ease tensions in advance of elections scheduled for sometime before the end of this year. April and June have been touted as possible months for an early poll, although April looks less likely now following ongoing tensions with Cambodia and the tightening lead-in time to an April vote.

The Democrats need an election success to counter the perceived “democracy deficit” from their rise to power following a “judicial coup” against the last freely-elected but Red Shirt-aligned government.

Abhisit appear confident that he and his party will retain power but there are many others that are no convinced. Coup rumours persist.

According to Thailand-based academic and commentator, Chris Baker, the current Yellow Shirt protests against the government in Bangkok are not only putting pressure on Abhisit to appear tough on “national security” and “sovereignty” issues, but serves the interests of elements within Thai politics who perhaps do not want an election this year, or anytime soon.

According to Baker, the prospect of Thaksin’s eventual return to Thailand stirs “a sort of panic” among supporters of the current government and among Yellow Shirts, who feel that an election could result in a win for the Thaksin-linked Peua Thai party, now the main party in Thailand’s opposition, and in turn bring about, for them, a dystopian scenario.

If the Democrats do lose the election, another coup – which would severely test Western support for the Thai elite – is more than possible. In the context of what is happening in the Middle East, this could prove a much more dangerous outcome.

What better way to galvanise the nation behind the government than a nice little distracting war with the neighbours?

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Golden Land or Golden Empire?

February 23rd, 2011 — 1:51am
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In an apparent breakthrough of the impasse over Thailand’s insistence that its border dispute had to be settled bilaterally, the Thai government has finally relented and agreed to allow unarmed Indonesian observers to monitor the area around the Preah Vihear temple.

The agreement is a victory for ASEAN and its current head the Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa who took on a high profile role in mediating the dispute. After hosting a meeting between the Cambodian foreign minister and his Thai counterpart in Jakarta, Natalegawa announced that a unique arrangement had been reached to end the violent clashes between the two countries.

The foreign ministers, he says, have agreed to what he called an unofficial ceasefire, to allow in unarmed Indonesian military and civilian observers to enforce the ceasefire, and to hold further bilateral talks with Indonesian participation in the near future.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun a Thai academic at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies outlined 10 reasons why Thailand should sign up to mediation of this border dispute with Cambodia (http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3004&Itemid=185):

  1. First, Thailand’s acceptance of ASEAN’s mediating role would be a symbol of the country’s respect and confidence in the organization, especially its dispute settlement mechanism.
  2. Would demonstrate that Thailand firmly complies with ASEAN’s rules and regulations in finding a peaceful solution to an interstate conflict.
  3. Act to preserve the good image of and add a great sense of credibility to ASEAN.
  4. Show a willingness to minimize the scope of this conflict, thus preventing it from affecting the region’s peace and security.
  5. Demonstrate Thailand’s commitment to ASEAN’s goal of achieving a regional community by 2015.
  6. Help separate this bilateral conflict from the internal crisis within Thailand.
  7. Confer on ASEAN a central significance in the peace process.
  8. A dialogue with Cambodia would also assist in rebuilding mutual trust and understanding between the two countries.
  9. An agreement with a ceasefire would most importantly reduce casualties in both sides.
  10. If successful, ASEAN’s mediation would set a new precedent in the region’s peaceful settlement of bilateral conflict.

All this sounds good except one has to ask, if Thailand is unable to accept the adjudication of the International Court of Justice in 1962, how can it be expected to accept any mediation now – unless it gets its way?

In repudiating the ICJ ruling (which it had previously accepted), Thailand demonstrated its willingness not only to disregard any international process than it cannot dominate, but that at least some powerful groups in Thailand have ambitions to extend the borders of their country – to create “Suwarnabhumi” the dream of the Golden Land of Greater Thailand – that stretches across most of south east Asia.

One of the great, underrated achievement of the modern world has been a general willingness to accept the idea of border demarcation – greatly reducing traditional tensions in such areas. There are only a few examples of such remaining ‘hot spots’ left in the region, such as Russia’s occupation of Japan’s Kuril Islands (opportunistically seized in the dying moments of WWII) or China’s claim to ownership of the South China Sea.

The problem with Thailand’s claim to Preah Vihear and it’s surrounding territory is that it is based on the historical fact that once Thailand did control this world heritage site.

However, at one time or another Thailand also controlled vast swathes of Cambodian territory, last seized while Thailand was a Japanese ally during WWII, and commemorated by the Victory Monument in central Bangkok.

Similarly Cambodia could reasonably lay claim most of Thailand’s Korat Plateau – which was once part of the Angkorian Empire. Most of the ruins there, such as at Pimai outside of Nakhon Ratchasima, are of Khmer providence. However, Cambodia is not claiming these.

Though it might sound outrageous, if Thailand is able to bully its way into forcing its neighbour into somehow relinquishing part of its sovereign title to Preah Vihear, what is to stop Thailand from subsequently claiming Battambang and Siam Reap?

However, the latest development is positive.

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