Weekly news round-up / Week 49
With CNRP lawmakers boycotting the National Assembly over recent political events, the 66 lawmakers of the CPP passed the government’s $4.3 billion budget for 2016 on Monday 30th November. The budget provides for a 12% year-on-year increase in spending. $961m will be borrowed from foreign countries to fund the budget projections. The largest increases will see education spending upped 28 per cent to $502 million, while the defense budget rose 17.3 per cent to $382 million. Spending on health, meanwhile, will increase 8 per cent to $275 million.
Two other laws, on statistics and telecommunications, were also passed.
A further legal case has been brought against CNRP leader Sam Rainsy in relation to comments made on Facebook on November 17 that allegedly defame National Assembly President Heng Samrin by alleging that the government led by Samrin in 1979 had staged a tribunal that accused the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk of being a traitor and sentenced him to death.
The CNRP leader remains in exile in France and has two other legal cases hanging over him – one requiring him to serve a two-year prison term for defaming Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008 and another summons, issued November 20, linking the CNRP president to the case of imprisoned opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour relating to border disputes with Vietnam.
Critics have decried the moves as part of a broader pattern of political persecution by the CPP against the opposition.
The Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), in conjunction with Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, held an event on Wednesday 2nd December to launch a new website detailing media ownership in Cambodia - http://www.who-owns-the-media-kh.com/.
The report found there to be four main companies speaking to 83.4% of the total audience. Of these, the Cambodian Broadcasting Service owned by tycoon Kith Meng and including popular television networks MyTV, CTN and CNC has the widest audience.
According to the research, Ing Chhay Nguong, the politically unaffiliated owner of Hang Meas TV, has the second-largest cross-media audience share, followed by the prime minister’s daughter Hun Mana, who controls Bayon TV and the Kampuchea Thmey newspaper, and SengBunveng, the controversial owner of ABC Radio.
Whilst the research did not analyze the content of these companies’ broadcasts, the leader researcher stated that this level of concentration creates opportunity for a few individuals to have significant influence over public opinion in Cambodia - “There is a very high trust in media from the Cambodian people. So what is read, what is seen and what is listened to is much, much believed … Skepticism is not really there from the audience, so when it comes to ownership and concentration, it really does matter in this context.”
Infrastructure, Development and Core Industries
A Phnom Penh Post profile of Aeon mall’s first year in Cambodia cites Knight Frank research describing at least 12 retailers who have pulled out as a result of low sales that did not support the mall’s high rental prices. However, the mall retains a 90% occupancy rate as the mall and its tenants look to reposition themselves to the realities of the Cambodian market with high-end brands making way for more affordable brands targeting middle-income countries. The report highlights the mall’s seasonal decorations, concerts and activities as a key factor in maintaining impressive foot traffic of 15 million visits in its first year.
The government has launched an official website that gathers all trade related data in one place so that importers and exporters throughout the region can access the regulatory and legal information they need to do business in Cambodia and the rest of ASEAN.
The National Trade Repository (NTR) can be accessed at (http://cambodiantr.gov.kh/). It provides public access to all necessary trade information, including registration for importers and exporters, lists of prohibited and restricted goods, customs permits and duties, as well as ASEAN-specific trade regulations.
The website is similar to those created by other governments in ASEAN and is designed to supply authoritative data on trade regulations as well as opportunities in Cambodia and the region. It will also help Cambodian producers strengthen product quality to meet competition in the region.
Lucky Air has become the first Chinese carrier to offer regular scheduled direct flights to Sihanoukville with a twice-weekly route between the coastal city and Kunming in Yunnan province.
Lucky Air becomes the third commercial carrier to operate international flights to and from Sihanoukville. Cambodia Angkor Air operates a weekly Sihanoukville-Tianjin flight, whilst Sky Angkor Air, a Korean-Cambodian airline, has twice-weekly flights to Hangzhou. The latter airline previously offered seasonal flights to Seoul-Incheon but these have been discontinued.
Cambodia is encouraging airlines to add service to Sihanoukville’s single-runway international airport, which is being upgraded to handle up to 500,000 passengers a year by 2020. The airport received 12,233 international passenger arrivals during the first 10 months of the year.
A Phnom Penh Post article describes the negative outlook for the natural rubber industry. World prices of natural rubber have plummeted over the last four years due to slower demand in China and a glut of supply. Processed natural rubber in Cambodia currently fetches about $1,300 per tonne, about a third of historic 2011 highs and with no rebound in sight. Lower oil prices mean that synthetic rubber can be produced at a cheaper price.
Cambodia has cultivated rubber trees on an area of about 330,000 hectares, though only about 60,000 hectares contain trees mature enough to yield latex.
Local producers exported 90,000 tonnes of dry rubber in the first nine months of 2015, about 20,000 tonnes more than it did during the same period last year, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Phnom Penh Post conducted a Q+A session with Aun Porn Moniroth, Minister of Economy and Finance, to discuss the recently-passed budget for 2016. Spending will increase 16.5% which will be funded in part by better tax revenues. Despite concerns by some over the Royal Government’s plans to borrow almost $1bn from overseas, the Minister points out that the deficit as a percentage of GDP, at 4%, is lower than the 2009-10 budget (7%).
The Minister refers to the budget being allocated to support the policies of the third stage of the Rectangular Strategy as well as areas prioritized by the Prime Minster - roads, water, electricity and people. This year ‘people’ have been deemed the first priority which in practice means allocating additional money to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, and the Ministry of Health.