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It's Time to Reduce the Anarchy of Alcohol Drinking in Cambodia

Written by: Chea Sameang, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia. Photo Credit:  Reece Ferguson The consumption of alcohol seems prevalent in Cambodian society due to the wave of globalization and integration and the lack of state regulations. Even though people understand that alcoholism causes physical and emotional health problems, alcohol use becomes a normal practice for people to relax, enjoy, and relieve their stress or unhappiness. According to the Straits Times, “Cambodia's drinking habits are on the upswing. On average, Cambodians drank 6.1 liters of alcohol a year”. The rising consumption of alcohol in Cambodia has brought about many problems.  For example, the death toll linked to alcohol consumption has increased in recent years. Research by the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health showed that the increasing alcohol consumption use is associated with numerous public health issues, including the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases. In the first half of 2015 alone, there were 2,500 alcohol-related traffic accidents. However, based on my observation, alcohol use does not only affect our health and cause traffic accidents. Oftentimes, when people become alcoholics, they tend to use violence at home and commit other crimes such as rapes. The lack of legal regulations limiting who and at what age people can purchase and consume alcohol is an unresolved issue. Based on a report by the Asia Foundation, in Cambodia, “there is little regulation of the alcohol industry including the advertising of alcohol products and very few” even though there are increasing complaints from civil society groups. Even though some provincial governors have called to pull out alcohol advertising on billboards, it seems just a temporary action to get people’s attention. There is no master plan or long-term plan to address this issue. In fact, government regulations that limit alcohol sales or advertising are largely absent. Thus, if all these issues remain unresolved, and Cambodian youth are drowned in alcohol overuse, how can they help develop their nation? As they are young bamboos that represent the hope of Cambodia, it is important to find ways to address the anarchy of alcohol drinking among young people. The  Causes and Impacts of Alcohol Excessive Use  Alcohol has been found to cause many forms of cancer, ischaemic heart diseases, and strokes. It is also one of the main causes of rapes and domestic violence. However, the draft law is still on the table, not yet passed, and the ideas of banning alcohol use for people under a certain age seem far from achievable anytime soon. I believe there are at least three factors that contribute to the prevalent consumption of alcohol in Cambodia.  First, it is a cultural factor. Elders and youth still think that drinking alcohol is just normal and it is a culture when they want to relax from trauma or stress from work, beers or wines are the first sign they want to taste in order to reduce stress and anxiety they face even they deeply know it would also affect their health and waste their money and times when they over drink. As reported in VOA, one Cambodian man said, “I feel anxious without alcohol”, and “It has become a normal part of my life already”. Even though he knew the impact of alcohol use and had a crash once, he continued to drink and drive.  Second, the lack of law enforcement is another factor contributing to the prevalent use of alcohol. In 2015 a draft law that controls alcohol use and bans youth under 21 to purchase and drink alcohol was sent to the Ministry of the Interior by the Ministry of Health, but it has been ignored since. Thus, when there is no law or rule that would allow people to obey, then they will have much freedom to enjoy what they are already habituated to doing without fear or worry. In 2018, KhmerTimes reported that “around 2,500 traffic incidents are caused by excessive alcohol consumption” each year. Third, it is a social factor. Everywhere alcohol is advertised, and people can drink alcohol anywhere and whenever they want. There are no restrictions to how alcohol can be advertised as well as when and where it should be advertised. Some people are proud to show on Facebook about their parties at KTV, restaurants with many bottles of beer or wine on the table. In 2015, the World Health Organisation reported that “more than one-tenth of Cambodians aged between 8-17 admitted to having consumed alcohol, while 82 percent of Cambodians aged between 18-32 said that they consume alcoholic beverages on a regular basis”.  Moreover, parents enjoy drinking in front of their children and sometimes push them to taste it without explaining to their children that alcohol consumption may lead to significant effects on their health and finances as they will spend a lot of money on alcohol when they become addicted to it.  In many cases, husbands hit their wives after drinking alcohol in front of their kids. A report by the Asia Foundation showed that “Alcohol abuse increases women’s vulnerability to violence which one in five ever-partnered women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”  What Can We Do? It is unrealistic to ban alcohol use, so I do believe that if Cambodia introduces a law that manages alcohol advertisement and regulates who can or cannot drink or purchase alcohol, things will get better. However, the prevention of alcohol-related problems requires a comprehensive approach, combining information and awareness programs and treatment services with preventive policies adopted at local and national levels.  Even though the government has no plan to adopt the draft law yet, I do hope the law will be adopted soon. It is important to increase the tax on alcohol and introduce legislation that regulates alcohol use so that alcohol-related problems including domestic violence, deaths, and health problems can be reduced. Nevertheless, transforming or changing people’s behavior regarding alcohol use cannot be done overnight. Therefore, we need legislation, vision, and commitment to achieve this aim. Although some provincial governors have recently tried to take action to ban all alcohol advertising on public billboards it was not the long-term proactive solution. To make it legal, the government should take more serious action to ban all billboards of alcohol advertisements across all the 25 provinces, and reduce all alcohol advertising through social media, radio, TV, and movies, including music videos, by calling all media to stop promoting gifts from alcohol purchases.  Moreover, other stakeholders have a vital role to play. Parents must take strong action to reduce their drinking and educate their children by promoting more ideas about the impact of alcohol on their studies, health, finance, and future. Social influencers, schools principals, and teachers must collaborate with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international NGOs to conduct more awareness-raising campaigns about the impact of alcohol on the study, work, and life. They also need to promote more #SocietyWithoutAlcohol campaigns to spread the message widely. As for those who are already addicted to alcohol, each of them can also practice the ideas of reducing alcohol use in their daily life. They can seek support from organizations that work to help people reduce or stop alcoholism.  Without strong precedents to pass and implement the law on alcohol, Cambodia will enter into a state of misery caused by rampant alcoholism. The nation by definition would descend into anarchy. Mass looting, criminality, and violence would consume communities. Therefore, we all must take action to stop the excessive use of alcohol and to restore the dignity and beauty of the nation by practicing the minimal consumption of alcohol for special occasions and or health benefits.  "A society without rampant alcohol use is a society with a bright future."

Politik

What should be the proper ways for Cambodian monks to participate in politics?

Written by: Han Noy, a 2rd-year student majoring in International Relations at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia. Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia. Monks at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province, Cambodia. (Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press) Introduction Buddhism came to Cambodia in the early 5th century when Hindu trading merchants brought it from India to the Mon kingdoms (present-day Myanmar and Thailand). Since then, Buddhism has played a significant role in Cambodian society. As the nation embraces it as the state religion, Cambodian Budhhist monks have been very active in taking part in their country’s social, economical, and political affairs. During the period of the French colonization (1863-1953), Khmer people were living under control, oppression, and sorrow. The liberty and rights were snatched away, and heavy taxes were required, making it virtually unendurable for Cambodian people. Within this context, Buddhist monks played a critical role in Cambodian society. They contributed to the cultivation and promotion of Khmer values and Khmer nationalism. They tried to preserve Khmer culture and bring the country out of danger of cultural extinction.  In 1942, after the arrest of Achar Hem Chieu, one of the prominent monks who was leading people against the French colonization, there were between 1000 to 3000 monks, lay people, and the laity who participated in a demonstration, led by monks from all pagodas in Phnom Penh. At the time, about 500 monks carried umbrellas, an event known as an “ Umbrella War”.     Our history suggests that Cambodian politics and Buddhist monks have been intertwined with each other for centuries. There are, however, still some critiques and praises from people regarding the involvement of monks in political activities, particularly as regards demonstrations and other forms of public gatherings. Today monks’ political activism has been labeled as improper, resulting in monks being arrested, defrocked and/or accused of violating monks’ code of conduct by the Cambodian authorities. Essentially, these have demotivated many monks from participating in their country’s public affairs, and the role of monks in Cambodian society seems to have faltered. So is it wrong that monks participate in politics or exercise their political activism? What should be the proper ways for monks to participate in politics? Is it wrong for monks to participate in politics?   Before knowing whether it is right or wrong when a monk participates in politics, we need to define the term “politics'' first. In a general view, politics is the art of competing for power to lead a state based on our own political vision. It is the goal and ambition of politicians to compete in politics and to govern a country. As Hans Morgenthau, an influential realist, once said, politics is “the struggle for power.” In this regard, it is not a duty of Buddhist monks to engage in politics to gain power to control the state just like what politicians do. In the Cambodian context, when people think of monks in politics, they generally picture monks joining public gatherings or assemblies only; they do not see anything beyond this. Nobody ever stops and thinks whether it is against monks’ discipline or not that Buddhist monks join demonstrations. The answer to this can be yes or no. It is a yes, if monks adhere to good and quiet manners by respecting the value as a monk, while it is a no when monks scream, yell, raise hands, and use any other inappropriate gestures which are considered illicit in monks’ code of conduct. Thus, even though it may not be right for monks to participate in politics, they still can do so as long as they can comply with the monks’ codes of conduct. In fact, monks can take part in politics to show their care about their country's public affairs in a similar way as lay people and other citizens do. In a democractic society, everyone has equal rights to participate in politics. Monks can therefore do so as long as they do not violate monks’ codes of conduct.  In fact, the goal of Buddhist monks is enormous; being monkhood is not for gambling, entertaining, avoiding housework, saving wealth, and seeking for ranks, but it is about digging out the truth of life to alleviate all suffering and to ultimately save and free the world from misery. In addition, they have the very significant responsibilities to help their people from any sorrow through preaching Dhamma, and participating in politics when people and country face danger, injustice, and/or instability. If we look at the Dhamma, there is no statement from Buddha which prevents monks from associating with political, social,and economical affairs but only advises them to assist and extricate people out of crisis and hardship. In addition, as stated in Article 31 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, “ Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, color, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status.” Likewise, Article 35 states that “Khmer citizens of either sex shall have the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation.” Based on the Cambodian Constitution, Cambodian citizens have the right to participate in politics for the sake of national development. Thus, in accordance with our country’s Constitution and the Buddhist principles of the middle path, it seems that monks are not prohibited from participating in politics to contribute to the development of their nation.  Furthermore, Article 15 of the 1997 Cambodian law on political parties states that “Religious priests, members of judiciary, members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (R.C.A.F) and National Police Forces may join as members of political parties, but they must not conduct any activity for supporting or opposing any political party. A political party must not organize its organizational structure inside the religious bodies, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and in the National Police Forces.” This means that the law does not exclude anyone, particularly Buddhist monks from society; everyone has an equal opportunity to be members of any political parties, although the law does not allow religious priests to conduct or organize any activities to oppose any sides or parties. In this sense, monks are authorized to be in any political group, but they cannot explicitly proclaim which parties they are in and criticize another side. Buddha once said, “living in a suitable place is the blessing.” Monks will be living in happiness, tranquility, and peace when their country is prosperous, peaceful, stable, and just, but all of these will be taken away, including a chance to chant Dhamma and do meditation, when there is no peace, prosperity, stability, and justice in their country. As we can see, during the Khmer Rouge regime, when the country was in darkness and crisis and people experienced starvation, torture and death, monks suffered and were targeted for execution as well. Achar Hem Chieu used to say that “The monks’ rice pot remains with the people, if the people are miserable, have nothing to eat, so do the monks.” This indicates that when people live under slavery, oppresion, and starvation, monks will also suffer. Hence, they need to find a way to help, guide, and encourage their people​​ to fight for freedom, independence, and total peace. They cannot just eat, stay, and chant Dhamma in pagodas seeing their country going to collapse and people living in misery. They need to do whatever they can to bring their country and people out of despondency and suffering. The proper ways for monks to participate in politics. Buddhist monks have played important roles contributing to national evolution. There are still, however, some bad views regarding monks' engagement in politics. Thus, I wish to offer three possible means for them to take part in politics. First, preaching Dhamma. It is an effective way to spread knowledge, philosophy and Buddhist concepts that are helpful for our people since monks are oftentimes invited to give sermons when Cambodian Buddhists conduct any ceremonies inside and outside of pagodas. Hence, it is a great chance for them to talk about the real Dhamma left by Buddha comprising a lot of good advice which can be applied to build a prosperous country and promote good governance in our country as well.​ Additionally, they can extend their talk beyond Buddha's theory and speak about Khmer identity, culture, democratic principles, and Cambodian laws because these are very important knowledge that must be cultivated and shared to Cambodian people, especially youth. Buddha spent 45 years after enlightenment to focus on teaching, explaining, and addressing Dhamma to people. His teaching is extremely impactful, not just for ordinary people but also for kings or country leaders. Second, writing and publishing articles and/or books. Writing is an art to disseminate our vision, perspective, and Buddha’s philosophy to the public. It is helpful and influential, especially when our ideas are written down, it is very critical and lasts a long time; it can be passed from one generation to another. For instance, we can take a pattern from monks during the French colonization, the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, and the Khmer Republic; they have done a very good job related to this, and their concepts and opinions continue to exist and have influence on our recent time and in the future. Unfortunately, as not many Cambodian Buddhist monks spend time to write academic papers or books, their perspective, and Buddha's concept have not been promulgated widely to people even though Cambodia people are 95% Buddhist.This is the real problem that must be fixed and keep improving in the field of academic writing. Likewise, according to Yos Hut Khemacaro, head of the Khmer Buddhist Foundation in France, in order for monk’s contribution to be constructive “they require greater education on the teachings of Buddhism as well as a more sophisticated awareness of the world outside the monastery. Only then can they effectively instruct and provide guidance to the people'' and contribute to social progress .This can be a good way for them to indirectly play a role in politics without violating monks’ code of conduct.  Third, participating in politics by adhering to non-violence and the middle path. As Cambodian monks participate in political activities to challenge injustice, human rights violations, and rampant corruption are mostly seen as partisans by the authorities, it is crucial that monks be strategic and follow the middle path. Perhaps non-partisan activism is the way forward. Monks need to ensure that their activism does not appear to be linked to any party or political ideology. Importantly, monks need to help promote peace and the principles of the middle path. For example, there was a Dhammaryietra peace march in 1992  guided by Venerable Maha Ghosananda to bring the message of hope and motivation to all Cambodian people after decades of civil war. This massive peace demonstration was well received by the public and even the government officials. This event proves to us that through the power of universal values of compassion, non-violence, and solidarity, monks can play a crucial role in promoting peace and harmony in society.   Conclusion  Cambodian monks do distribute significantly to Cambodia's social, political, cultural, and economic development. Therefore, monks’ roles in society and in politics should be supported, not undermined. Moreover, the government and concerned stakeholders need to empower, support, and cooperate with monks; All stakeholders must ensure that there is no excuse to prevent monks from participating in politics since sometimes it is not about monks violating their code of conduct but rather about fear of monks mobilizing political dissent. Allowing Buddhist monks to enjoy civil rights and decide on matters of general concern would be greatly essential for the country's development. Limiting their rights and roles to only religious affairs and preventing them from public affairs are not a smart choice since monks’ roles go beyond what happens in pagodas. They can also contribute to ensuring that the government implements its policies effectively. However, Buddhist monks themselves must be aware of who they really are. Their participation and contribution need to be balanced between religious virtue and the country's laws. Monks can be part of the solution, not the problem! When everyone can play their part in contributing to national development, our country would be more prosperous, democratic, and civilized.

Politik

Should Cambodia Consider Term Limits for Its Prime Ministers?

Written by: Soth Chhayheng, a 2nd year student at Thammasat University, Bachelor of Political Science Program in Politics and International Relations Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia Photo Credit: AFP/CAMBODIA NATIONAL ASSEMBLY Cambodia’s constitution adopts the principles of liberal multi-party democracy. Since 1993, every five year Cambodian people go to cast their vote in the general election to elect their leaders. Over the past few decades, the Kingdom has changed significantly. However, if there is one thing that has not changed ever since, it is its prime minister. Prime Minister Hun Sen has enjoyed ongoing support from the supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party. While at the same time receiving harsh criticisms from the opposition over his long tenure in holding Cambodia’s highest political office. Presently, he is one of the 15 world’s longest-serving leaders. According to its constitution, Cambodia does not have a restricted term limit for the prime minister. This loophole has allowed Prime Minister Hun Sen to continue running as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the Cambodian People’s Party in every general election since 1993. “I will rule until a point that I feel I no longer want to rule,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen during a recent press conference at Calmette Hospital after getting vaccinated for COVID-19. The rationale behind the executive term limits can be traced back to ancient history. Aristotle highlighted that “no office should ever be held twice by the same person” as a key characteristic of democracy. In most democratic states and even many communist regimes, there is a clear restriction on how many years or terms one person can be the leader of the executive branch. Cambodia’s neighbors such as Thailand have set two term limits for prime ministers who shall not hold office for more than eight consecutive years. Against this backdrop, should Cambodia consider setting term limits for the Prime Ministerial position? This article aims to advance the arguments in favor of term limits, although there are other arguments that can be used to counter the arguments presented in this article. Yet, readers shall define an answer to this question on their own. This  article only offers one perspective, which may constitute a basis for informed discussion and debate on this issue.  Yes, Cambodia should set term limits for prime ministers  History has taught us that one of the major reasons that contributed to Cambodia’s decline was the unclear and turbulent transition of power from one leader or ruler to another; that is, the change of rulers often resulted in civil war and destruction of the country. During the Oudong period (1618-1863), we saw the internal struggle between several kings that fought to claim the throne, allowing the two neighboring countries to interfere. Later the country experienced  endless suffering and the loss of sovereignty, territory, and independence. After receiving independence from France in 1953, Cambodian people held high hope that peace would last under the rules of King Father Norodom Sihanouk. However, it turned out to be  another tragedy, after General Lun Nol and Prince Sisowath Siri Matak staged a coup to overthrow Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970. Five years after the coup, the darkest cloud flew across Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979). Immediately following the collapse of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia experienced the internal struggle of power for another decade between four political factions.  Now Cambodia is finally at peace and stability – at least by the traditional definition of peace which is the absence of war. One of the most concerning questions for the Cambodian people right now is “What is next after Hun Sen?”. The Prime Minister himself had asked the same question. This question arises due to the long tenure of Hun Sen as the Cambodian Prime Minister.  Setting term limits for prime ministers is a political agenda that can determine a proper political norm for Cambodia’s future. Considerably, politicians can look at the following points. First, if five years per each term is reasonable, we shall keep it as it is. Second, as for the matter of how many terms should be set for this particular position, a two-term limit is reasonable, which should be considered.  This means that one person can have a chance to be a Cambodian prime minister for a maximum of 10 years. With this timeframe, it is more than practical for the leader to carry out efficient and effective policies to leave the office with legacy and dignity. Reasons for setting term limits for prime ministers  There are several credible reasons as to why Cambodia should set term limits for its prime ministers. First, it is a crucial step of political modernization to create a fundamental political norm that can  ensure more transparent and effective governance, increase strong accountability, decrease corruption, and strengthen the rule of law. Above all it is to ensure a predictable, stable, and peaceful transition of power. Leaders would be more likely to focus on the matter of running the country in the most efficient way to leave the position with credible legacy rather than spending much of their time thinking of ways to eliminate their potential competitors and on how to extend their time in office. Setting a clear line of tenure for prime ministership would prevent any leader from attempting to build up his/her own dynasty in the Kingdom. It would also contribute immensely to strengthening state institutions. The absence of term limits allows one person to rule for too long, which is not the best course of action for Cambodia’s prosperous and sustainable future.  Second, the term limits of the highest political position can potentially guarantee a healthier political culture in Cambodia. Setting term limits for prime ministers is an effective approach for Cambodia to achieve broader democratic reforms by widening political space for active and constructive political engagement from all levels and improving political representation. The fact that many politicians and activists have been arrested and forced to live in exile indicates the deterioration of the human rights situation which is caused by the unhealthy political culture that Cambodia has. This is not to mention that many Cambodians are afraid of talking and playing their civic duties in political engagement. All of these reflect the current development of Cambodia's political context. There have been calls for discussion and collective action to improve our political culture and political environment. As concerned citizens, we all have a part in this. But how would a clear set of term limits for prime ministers help improve our political culture? The change in the highest political office would lead to a better political environment of competition between politicians. Mutual understanding and compromise would be promoted in the political sphere. The change of political leadership would potentially encourage Cambodian people, particularly the younger generation to rise and engage in politics more actively and constructively. These groups of people will bring with them new ideas, policies, and strategies that can shape the development of the Kingdom. Thus, a healthier political culture is very much needed for Cambodian people, and setting term limits for prime ministers is a positive step toward that end. Peace and stability should be guaranteed by a democratic system, not by a person, or else it won’t last.  Third, having clear term limits for the prime ministers is a viable means to prevent Cambodia from descending into authoritarianism and to decrease structural social injustice. Countries with leaders who stayed in power longer than two decades are almost universally authoritarian. However, perhaps Cambodia has not reached that point yet, even though scholars have suggested that Cambodia is leading Southeast Asia's authoritarian ways. Authoritarianism denoted any political system in which power is concentrated in the hands of a leader or a small group of elites. Structural social injustice is very much likely to occur in an authoritarian state. The abuse of power, improper check and balance between different branches of the government, the absolute or nearly absolute power of a particular leader and group that violate the rights of the people, systematic corruption, and the drives to eliminate potential political competitor either within or outside the party are all the signs of an  authoritarian state and structural injustice in  society. These issues lead to endless deadly political rivalry among politicians and resentment toward the ruling elite from the people who suffered from the system. In the end, it will result in  a more divided society.  Last but not least, setting term limits for prime ministers would be helpful for the future of Cambodian politics. The advantages of having clear term limits for Cambodia’s highest political leader are much more than the disadvantages. For the best interest of the people and the country, politicians should seriously put their personal and group interests aside and choose what is best for the country. For far too long, the argument that there is only one capable person that can play this leadership  is not true. In fact, there are many potential capable leaders both from within and outside of the ruling party. For instance, Prime Minister Hun Sen has mentioned the current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth as his potential successor. There are also other potential candidates for prime ministership such as Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Lieutenant General Hun Manet.  So should Cambodia set term limits for its prime ministers? I hope you have an answer for this question. For me, it is a resounding yes!   

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Koffee

Why Cambodia's Affordable Housing Policy Needs Adjustments

Written by: Yen Sreyleap, a Training Officer at a Non-governmental Organization  Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: WorldBridge Homes Facebook Page )   The 2013 consensus shows that the Cambodian population reached 14.5 million, and the number of families increased by around 3.2 million. And many people have migrated to look for job opportunities in construction, tourism, and industries in Phnom Penh and big cities along the borders, leading to a rapid increase in new settlements. However, the 2014 Socio-Economic Survey indicates that with the median household income, people in Phnom Penh need to spend between 33 to 53 years to get a house with a size between 36 to 48 square meters. And more importantly, the market has largely focused on providing high-end housing supplies, especially in Phnom Penh and other big cities. It means the access to affordable housing has become limited.   Theoretically, the royal government of Cambodia has a principal role in guaranteeing the right to an adequate living standard, including proper housing. However, the government alone won't make this happen, and it requires the alternative, which is to offer a platform and legal framework to assist private companies in constructing more affordable houses for low- and medium-income people. Consequently, the National Policy on Incentive and Establishment of the National Program for Development of Affordable Housing was established in 2017.  This article will explain what this policy aims to achieve, the beneficiaries, the benefits of project developers, and the progress of the policy implementation.    What Is Affordable Housing Policy?  The Affordable Housing policy was adopted jointly by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to improve the lives of low- and middle-income earners whose salary ranges between $200 to $400 per month.  The policy introduces a pilot project to address the housing problem facing people in Phnom Penh, cities, and major urban areas by encouraging developers to focus on low-cost housing development.  According to this policy, incentives provided to project developers include tax breaks and the facilitation of bureaucratic procedures, such as obtaining construction permits, business licenses, and other necessary documents. In addition, the project developers must align with some specific requirements to get their projects approved. Each project must contain more than 100 low-cost housing units with a price per unit between $15,000 to $30,000 or lower and with a location within 20 km of the capital or cities. Too, the project must comply with the minimum standard of affordable housing with buyers qualified to get a loan with low interest. Meanwhile, it also consists of community buildings and green spaces.   Is the Policy Good Enough? The policy highlights the anticipated outcomes and impacts with clear categories of the target group and specific phases of policy implementation. However, by scrutinizing it, it appears that the policy is broad and vague with some loopholes. Although it showcases the ambition of the government to promote rights to adequate housing, it doesn't outline a specific time frame of project implementation, and the number of houses, making it more arduous to evaluate whether there is a success or not.  Regarding the progress of the policy implementation, the number of projects remains minimal despite it being adopted for four years already. As of the end of 2020, there were only five affordable housing development projects containing a total of 8,331 units, according to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction. This unsatisfactory result is likely due to these conditions: a shortage of policy dissemination to private companies; the offered incentives didn't meet the demands of the private sector, and the procedure of project approval is intricate.    What Should Be Improved?  By pointing out some loopholes in the previous part, I think there are four main points that the policymakers need to consider improving the policy. First, there should be a clear timeframe to achieve policy objectives. With the timeline in place, it would be more apparent to monitor and evaluate the success rate of the policy while attracting more private companies to take part. Introducing a clear timeframe means it can signal private companies, which seek to submit their proposal to the government, that the policy span has a deadline, and it also can create a more competitive environment for private companies.  Secondly, the government needs to work on enticing further participation from the project developers. The policymakers should consider conducting a small study to figure out possible obstacles for project developers and whether they should be given additional benefits. Third, the government should narrow down the scope of policy implementation as it is a pilot policy. By mentioning this, instead of applying it to the entire country, the policymakers should consider choosing some provinces or cities with large populations that require affordable housing for the policy.  Finally, policymakers should mull on giving a role to the technical group at the Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction at the provincial level to follow up and monitor the project implementation, including construction, sales, and leasing to guarantee that the beneficiaries are the target group. Moreover, it can be easier for project developers to report their challenges and progress and save resources on the national level. In addition, it can prove the transparency and accountability of the government to promote the rights to adequate housing within the policy. All in all, the affordable housing policy is put in practice at the right time to promote affordable housing when the number of populations in urban areas keeps rising even though there are some gaps, which need modification. If adjusted and implemented effectively, it can ensure that the housing markets will be more dynamic and diverse because it connects customers with the market supplies, which offer different prices and more choices.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors. 

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Podcast

‘I used to talk about politics on Facebook, but now it’s scary’

By Adam Bemma, Alijazeera 23 Aug 2018 Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Samoeurth Seavmeng sits at a conference table wearing black horn-rimmed glasses. Meng – as she’s known online and to friends – glances at her smartphone and begins to speak to 10 other young Cambodians gathered at Politikoffee, a weekly forum held in a leafy diplomatic enclave of the capital Phnom Penh. “It’s very hard to talk about social media. Sometimes people post fake news on Facebook and sometimes people post true news, so it has advantages and disadvantages,” the 22-year-old activist said. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen often alleges “fake news” to discredit criticism of his ruling Cambodia People’s Party online. He has even threatened that authorities have the technology to track and arrest a Facebook user within six minutes of a post. This has sent a wave of fear and intimidation through Cambodia’s public sphere, where once critical voices have begun to self-censor. Politikoffee is an offline space where Cambodians feel free to debate and voice dissenting views without fear of arrest.  “Before, I used to share and talk a lot about political and social issues on Facebook, but now it’s a little bit scary to talk about these sensitive issues because I’m afraid I’m going to get in trouble,” Meng said. Internet censorship Cambodia’s government monitors social media. Last May, Cambodia’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Information, issued a regulation to monitor Facebook. The government stated that it wants to control information that is deemed to “threaten the defence and security of the nation, relations with other countries, the economy, public order, and discriminates against the country’s customs and traditions.” The Cambodia Center for Independent Media stated in its 2017 report that seven Facebook users were either arrested or sought by authorities for sharing information and opinions on the social media platform. In 2018, an election year, the number is unknown. “The directive was actually released after they were already identifying, monitoring, charging and imprisoning people,” said Naly Pilorge, director at LICADHO, a human rights monitoring group in Cambodia. During the election in July, 17 news websites – including RFA, VOA and Cambodia Daily (already closed down in 2017) – were ordered offline for 48 hours. Critics believe internet censorship is intended to stop outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters inside the country from sharing, liking or commenting on election boycott campaigns. “The directive came afterwards to legalise what they were doing in practice already. And it changed the habits of the average [social media] user,” Pilorge added. “The people online that we interact with, we see that there are differences. Definitely people are afraid, hesitant, paralysed. Ourselves included. We’re cautious.” In the lead-up to this year’s election, all independent media was shut down. The main opposition leader was jailed for alleged treason. Two former Radio Free Asia reporters and an Australian filmmaker were jailed for alleged espionage. Several human rights and political activists languish inside Cambodia’s prisons – guilty until proven innocent according to LICADHO. “What you’ve seen over the past year and a half is, for example, a minister or the prime minister decides a post is critical or is unacceptable and will immediately denounce a Facebook post,” Pilorge said. “Within 48 hours this individual is being arrested, charged, imprisoned in pre-trial detention and sometimes convicted.” Increasing regulation  Though the election is over, censorship online is prevalent. Prime Minister Hun Sen was re-elected last month in a vote criticised by the UN as fundamentally flawed. “If the situation for freedom of expression worsens, maybe we will have something that we can do together in order to inform [Cambodians] which tool or application they can use without getting into any trouble,” Meng said. Cambodian digital security trainer Moses Ngeth teaches journalists, activists and human rights campaigners how to secure accounts, and protect data online.  “I train them how to do very basic device security for smartphones, password protection. I tell them to be careful when posting something to social media and not to share any personal information,” he said.  Ngeth believes this new mandate will give the ruling CPP legitimacy to pass its much-anticipated draft cybercrime law. “People cannot talk on the radio, or on television. It leaves only Facebook. That’s why they increased regulation of social media,” Ngeth said. Cambodians can still be arrested, charged, jailed or fined for Facebook posts under criminal defamation, royal defamation laws, or incitement. “I think it’s natural to have fear, but when I see someone is arrested for saying something on social media I don’t feel comfortable. I think that people should feel free to express themselves,” said Kounila Keo, a Cambodian blogger and communications consultant. Prime Minister Hun Sen has amassed over 10 million followers on Facebook. Sam Rainsy, the exiled former CNRP leader who ran in the 2013 elections, claims that many are not even Cambodian and may be fake online profiles generated abroad – an accusation the prime minister refutes. “What [the prime minister] said … ‘When you post, I can know the location’ – it’s one of the funniest things I’ve heard from him,” Ngeth said. “Using Facebook to know the location, it’s not possible,” Ngeth said. Prime Minister Hun Sen and members of the CPP are using Facebook to bypass traditional news media such as newspapers, radio and television, viewed as hostile to the government, to reach Cambodians directly with their messages. “The prime minister and other public figures campaign on Facebook,” said Ngeth. We're not doing anything to harm society. We're doing it to make society a better place, especially for youth to be able to share ideas and contribute. SAMOEURTH SEAVMENG, KNOWN AS MENG, ACTIVIST Back at the Politikoffee debate, the upcoming cybercrime law is considered for discussion in a future forum. Meng wants members to be able to communicate online without being punished for spreading “fake news” for commenting on the draft law. “Now we’re thinking about [developing] a new tool, or a new kind of app, that we can be sure will be safe for us to talk about any issue because we mostly discuss politics,” Meng said. “We’re not doing anything to harm society. We’re doing it to make society a better place, especially [for] youth to be able to share ideas and contribute.” Original Link: https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2018/8/23/i-used-to-talk-about-politics-on-facebook-but-now-its-scary

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