Weekly news round-up / Week 42

Political (Cambodia-Specific)

A Cambodia Daily piece speculates on the possibility of a merger between the two major opposition parties the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and FUNCINPEC.
Whilst CNRP opposition leader Sam Rainsy has described talks of a merger as a “useless consideration”, Prince Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC has stated that he is open to an alliance with CNRP if he were to be invited.
Kem Sokha, CNRP Vice-President, commented that the CNRP sought to be as inclusive as possible though he also suggested doubts over whether Prince Ranariddh worked ‘in the interests of democracy’. A CNRP spokesman later stated that the CNRP have an official policy of uniting democrats and royalists, though circumstances would need to be right for a merger.
Prince Ranariddh sided with Sam Rainsy’s opposition party in both the 1998 and 2003 elections only to eventually reach a coalition agreement with the ruling CPP in exchange for seats in government.

Infrastructure, Development and Core Industries 

On Friday 9th October the Council of Ministers approved a draft telecommunications law which will now be sent to the National Assembly.
A statement by the Council provided the following information on the draft, which has not been publically released:
“The main purpose of the law is to ensure the quality and effective use of infrastructure, networks and telecommunications services, encourage telecommunications investment, protect consumers and earn national revenue,”.
“The aim of this draft law is to determine the authority, management, regulation, monitoring, tracking operations of the telecommunications sector, and governance procedures.”
The scope of the law, it added, would be “all telecommunications operators in the Kingdom of Cambodia, except the security and national defense sectors.”
A leaked draft copy in 2014 included provisions to provide the Telecommunications Regulator of Cambodia (TRC) additional and broad investigation authority. One article would have allowed it to order any operator to transfer control of its system to the ministry to “maintain national interest, security, stability, or public order.”. The leaked draft was criticized by rights groups as an attempt by government to extend control over internet communications, with one labeling the proposed draft “the de facto nationalization of Cambodia’s telecoms industry.”
It remains unknown whether any changes were made to the draft approved by the Council of Ministers.

Khmer Times commentary on the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s efforts to encourage young people to enroll in vocational training programs. Despite an ongoing marketing campaign, both students and their parents see the programs and not prestigious enough.
Mar Sophea from the Asian Development Bank comments on Cambodia’s “missing middle” – increasing levels of university enrollment in courses such as business administration, but lower and upper secondary school enrollment remain low (40% and 20%).
Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) allow students who have completed the ninth grade to get hands-on training in fields like electrical engineering, mechanization, welding, air conditioning repair and construction. Can then enter the workforce or pursue a bachelor’s diploma. They also represent a good option for students who fail the grade 12 exams.
There are now 39 public vocational training institutes and more than twice as many NGO- and privately-run centers. Despite this, just 1,600 students graduated from certificate level programs last year, with another 2,000 finishing post-secondary diploma programs. However, enrollment levels are increasing and TVET has been prioritized in the Royal Government’s recently published Industrial Development Policy. The Ministry hopes to have a significant increase in budget for TVET approved for next year which would be used to invest in equipment and provide scholarship programs to poorer students.

Following a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the chief of the China National Tourism Administration, the Cambodian government is considering opening more consulates within China to make travelling easier for Chinese visitors and attract greater numbers of tourists to Cambodia.
In 2013, the Tourism Ministry released a draft five-year plan to attract 1.3 million Chinese tourist arrivals by 2018. The plan called for Chinese-  language road signs, strengthened marketing efforts, more direct flights between the two countries, more Chinese-speaking tour guides and designated “China Towns” in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap City and Sihanoukville. A post of the PM’s facebook page stated his hope that the total number of Chinese tourists to the country would reach 700,000 this year, up from 560,000 in 2014—a 25 percent increase.
In 2014, tourist arrivals from China increased by 21.7 percent compared to the year before, accounting for the second-largest share of visitors to Cambodia, after those from Vietnam.

Profile of a new crop insurance product introduced into Battambang province by Forte Insurance. The project, introduced in July, is designed to help rice farmers to offset the financial impact of climate change, which is expected to take a heavy toll on Cambodian farmers due in part to the lack of sufficient irrigations systems here. Insurance was priced at $17 per hectare, though for the pilot project families could only insure one hectare each. Forte had already introduced insurance offers for other agricultural products such as rubber, corn and cassava.
The pilot project in Battambang was intended to insure up to 1,000 families, however interest from farmers was low due to the novelty of the product. Of those who did take out policies, droughts in the region have seen several families collecting claims. Nationwide, about 234,695 hectares of rice fields in 16 provinces have been affected by drought as of the first week of October.
One farmer commented: “I think this service is very good for all farmers,” he said. “If our rice fields get a shortage of water, low level of rain or flooding, we will get back the money from the company,”
Some economists suggest a need for government intervention to support farmers, pointing out that the agricultural sector of developed countries is often heavily subsidized. According to a World Bank report, growth in the agricultural industry slowed to less than 2 percent in 2013-2014.

Members of the Young Entrepreneur Association of Cambodia have embraced calls by the National Bank to encourage greater use of the Cambodian riel in their transactions in order provide the Royal Government over fiscal policy.
Chy Sila, president of Sabay Digital Corporation, commented on the company’s efforts to encourage payments in riel – they are considering offering 5 to 10% discounts in their restaurants to encourage payment in riel. Whilst prices are displayed in riel, at present most customers still prefer to pay in dollars, though riel transactions are increasing and now represent around 30% of payments in the restaurants.
The US dollar currently accounts for around 83% of transactions in Cambodia. The government intends to encourage more people to use riel through a public education and marketing campaign to raise awareness about the importance of the national currency and encourage Cambodians to trust it and see the national currency as a source of national pride. An electronic transaction system is being introduced to encourage riel transactions within the banking sector.

A new law on the collection and dissemination of statistical data is set to be put to a vote at the National Assembly later this year after being approved by a parliamentary commission on Wednesday 14th. The law, designed to assist researchers and policy planners in setting and evaluating policy strategy, would replace a 2005 law on statistics that did not make sufficient provisions for the government funding of statistical data collection.
David Van of Bower Group Asia commented that, until now, there had been a lack of cohesion in statistical collection amongst different ministries, in terms of both methodology and accuracy. For example, he said, Finance Ministry customs data on exports often diverges from Commerce Ministry figures because the two bodies define exports differently.”.

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