Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Challenge Ahead of Cambodia—How Cambodia escape the four traps


Mr. Tang Sihout is the youngest candidate among 10 successful contestants in the Essay Competition organized by the International Oxfam. He wrote an excellent paper about Cambodia and Donation! 

He uses Professor Paul Collier's theory about the four traps that caught the country into falling apart, these four traps include: conflict trap, natural resources, being landlocked with bad neighborhood, and bad governance. this is likely happening in Cambodia nowadays. 

Challenge Ahead of Cambodia—How Cambodia escapes the four traps
A reading reflection of the book “The Bottom Billion”

According to Professor Paul Collier’s book, “The Bottom Billion”, there are four risk factors that contribute to the failing of states. Professors Paul Collier define these four risk factors as trap which include Conflict, natural resources, being landlocked in a bad neighborhood, and lastly having bad governance.
The Bottom Billion takes the conflict that occurs at a country as one of the traps that caught it into falling apart. The book also raise the two forms of conflict, that is civil war and the coup d’état. Low income, slow growth and primary commodity dependence make a country prone to civil war, whereas low income and slow growth—two risk factors that exactly the same as civil war, make a country prone to coups.
            The second trap that caught a country into falling of state is the natural resources. Professor Paul Collier raise in the book that, discovering of valuable natural resources in context of poverty might also become a trap that drag a nation into falling apart. He talked about Dutch Disease in the book and said that the revenue generated from exporting natural resources might crowd out the necessary of export other traditional products which include labor-intensive manufacturing products and services, and hence slowing growth. The Book also take an example of Niger where it had experience the phenomenon of Dutch Disease, a term of concept which the apparent relationship between the increase in exploitation of natural resources and decline in manufacturing sectors. During the 1980s Niger enjoyed an oil boom which comes along with heavily borrowing and massively spending on wasteful project saturate with corruption. However, the country’s development turn to collapse after the world oil price dropped down. Professor Paul Collier came to conclude that because of the country’s natural resources that closing off its chance of diversifying into manufacturing and service export which will potentially lift it out of poverty,  slow growth that contribute to falling apart.
            Beside the trap of conflict and discovering of abundance natural resources in context of poverty, the third trap is being landlocked in a bad neighborhood. Professor Paul Collier argued that geography also matter to a development of a country. A poor country locate in geographically landlocked region with poor neighbor surrounding it increase the difficulty of that country in the development path and is more likely to fall apart. He raised the aspect that being a landlocked country make it heavily depend on (or were even hostage by) its neighbors to transport its export manufacturing products which is the most suitable development pattern at present time. Export will incurred more cost for landlocked country in order to transport its manufacturing products to its destination. Moreover, if its costal neighbors have poor transportation infrastructure, the cost incurred might be higher and that is something beyond the landlocked country’s control, that’s why Professor Paul Collier said that the landlocked country are hostage to their neighbor and is a trap that caught them into falling apart.
            The last trap that drags the country to be a falling state is having bad governance. In the Book “The Bottom Billion”, Professor Paul Collier said that the terrible governance and bad policy can destroy an economy with alarming speed, citing the example of Zimbabwe where president Robert Mugabe ruled for more than three decades, the economy are deteriorated and inflation rate culminate to startling 1,000 percent. However, Professor Paul Collier also emphasized  some successful corrupted poor governance countries like Bangladesh where its economy continue to grow despite being one of the most corrupted country on the earth. Lastly, he came to a conclusion that, the minimum governance criterion for poor country is the government merely has to avoid doing harm if it does not provide effective governance with clean investment environment.
            Among the four risks factors which include conflict trap, discovering of abundance natural resources in context of poverty, being landlocked with bad neighborhood, and bad governance, I think the biggest risk factor that Cambodia faces is bad governance and discovering of natural resources. As Professor Paul Collier argued in his book that a country may suffer from having fallen into one or more of these four traps, Cambodia also inevitably incapable to escape it at all. After three decades of civil war and internal conflict, Cambodia regain its uneasy peace at 1993’s general election after mediation of international community However, this uneasy peace did not really exist until the completely dissolve of Khmer Rouge residual arm force at 1999. Six years from 1993 to 1999, post conflict Cambodia tottered on its development path. Even this country experienced a brief internal fighting in 1997 and a continual social security’s problem, it luckily successfully prevent itself to relapse into conflict again which is one of the risk factors that will trap a country to fall apart.
            I strongly agree with Professor Paul Collier’s propose solution for bottom billion to escape from conflict trap, especially with the idea that international aid need to be sustained during the first decade of post conflict, providing technical aid rather than fund to post conflict nation in first one to three years, and give aid with string attach which aim for reform. Citing the experience of Cambodia after general election in 1993, aid started to flood into Cambodia for reconstruction of the country in various form not limit in fund, but also in technical support. The evidence to support this perception is the founding of hundreds and thousands of NGO that actively operate their activities in various sectors, like health care, education, food human rights, gender equality, etc.…. These NGO effectively help the country especially the remote rural area to escape poverty and contribute to the development of local community. Without the technical support, especially from NGO, Cambodia would not go as far as today it is today. Entering 21 century, thank to the stability of political situation, Cambodia undergo rapid economy growth after flood in foreign investment and international aid, and hence growth in average income and improve in living standard. From the aspect of present development and political situation, I do not think there will have any possibility that this country will relapse into conflict again, therefore, it is no longer a challenge for Cambodia’s development.
            Skipping the possibility of falling into conflict trap, we have trap of discovering natural resources. As Cambodia have discovered abundance natural resources in recent years, the issue of how to manage these resources properly and transform it to benefit its ordinary people have become an urgent agenda. Indeed, we need to address this issue properly and carefully in order to get rid of the natural resources curse that used to happen in many countries, especially countries of Bottom Billion.
            Discovering natural resources are either an opportunity or a risk. As professor Paul Collier discussed in the book. Norway became one of the richest countries in term of average income after discovering of its natural resources. Contrary, Niger’s natural resources closed off its opportunity in developing its manufacturing and services export during 1970s. Cambodia’s discovering of its oil reserve under sea as well as mineral underground can be a turning point for our country. If we handle and manage these resources properly with efficiency we will be able to turn these black gold to benefit our people as well as developing economy. Nevertheless, if we relapsed into the way which other Bottom Billion countries have used to passed, it will become sources of corruption, huge revenue generated from this would benefit only ruling elite and their ally and might potentially widen the gap between rich and poor, or even trigger social unrest. In order to prevent the discovering of natural resources which should be a good thing for Cambodian turn to another traps that fallen our county into a falling state, we must adapt transparency and accountability in this industry. First of all, the government must be transparent and open for public in the process of awarding private company the rights of exploitation. This can be done through conducting public bidding with appropriate legal procedures. Secondly, the government should take into consideration over the impact of exploitation to the environment and local community. Development should not come under the cost of environmental devastation and pollution. Moreover, the impact to the local community is also crucially important as local population shall be the biggest beneficiary but not the victim of natural resources exploitation. Any impact incurred should be carefully restrict and respect the rights of these people. Furthermore, the eviction should not become an option as possible, even in case it is inevitable, it shall be done after carefully study with participation of local community.
            The third trap that was discussed in the Books of “The Bottom Billion” is being landlocked with bad neighbor. Fortunately, Cambodia is not a landlocked country with a 443 km of coastal line, so our country will not face the problem as argue in the Professor Paul Collier’s Book. Nevertheless, even Cambodia is not a landlocked country, but our coastal line is relatively short compare to our neighbors. Most part of our country still surrounded by three other neighboring countries. The short and limit coastal line are just like a small window open to the world while the rest vast region remain landlocked. Furthermore, Cambodia’s economic center as well as the majority of labor-intensive manufacturing factories is locating at Phnom Penh and its surrounding region where it has about 300 km away from its only sea port. Transportation cost might be high if compare to other countries where most of their manufacturing industry located at coastal region like Vietnam and China. Cambodia economic, especially export driven manufacturing industry will develop more rapidly if we have good transportation infrastructure that lower the cost or if we shift this industry to coastal region.
            The last trap that’s being raised in Professor Paul Collier’s book, and also the risk that I think are the greatest challenge to Cambodia is the bad governance. As a post conflict country, Cambodia inevitably faces the challenge of poor and corrupt governance. The bad governance not only reduces the efficiency and effectiveness of public services, but also undermines aid that is originally intent to help our people.
            According to World Bank, it defines the term governance as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development. One of the internationally comparable measures of governance and an example external assessment is the World Governance Indicator. The indicator include some assessment criteria include indicator of voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, control of corruption. Based on these indicator, Cambodia perform poorly having score only about 0.10 to 0.30 (the higher the percentage, the better it is). This is a reflection of bad governance of this country, and this might really matter for the development of Cambodia.
            As governance involve in every corner of development in a society, the quality of governance directly determine the quality of development of that society. In Cambodia, examples of bad governance may go beyond counting. At public school, students have to spend extra money and taking extra time for special class in order to get pass in an exam. At public hospital, patients have to pay extra money in order to get better medical care, while the poor have to line up which usually take several hours waiting for their turn to meet a doctor and receive only perfunctory treatment with impolite manner. At government institution, processing any legal documents like apply a citizen ID card, criminal record would take longer than a month, etc… the public services in Cambodia truly reflect and tell you how the governance is here.
            If the minimum requirement for good governance is to do no harm to business as raised in the book by Professor Paul Collier, then governance here may hardly qualify for this criterion. According to the World Bank, it takes an average of 22 days to export goods in Cambodia while regional average is 19 days, and at Asia average, it takes only 16 days. Set up a new business in Cambodia need to complete 9 procedures which take about 75 days’ time, while the Asia Pacific has an average procedure of 7 and need to take a much shorter times of only 37 days.
            Poor governance is always the hotbed of corruption as there are no a complete mechanism and system in monitoring and poor law enforcement. As the result of corruption, the wealth of the country are on the hand of a few powerful ruling elite and their ally, and the victim are the bottom people who have no access to their basic welfare and social securities net protection that they deserve to have. Hence, gap between rich and poor become widen which is the potential cause of social unrest.
            Professor Paul Collier’s propose of conditionality aid—aid with string attached that aim for reform, can work to help Cambodia to improve its governance quality. Good governance reform has been taken to agenda thank to the donors push. However, the most powerful impetus of reform toward good governance comes within the society itself. Everyone in the society bears the responsibility of pushing their society toward reform, and indeed, it really works. Remember that every one of us has one vote on hand, without the support of constituency, the politicians will not have the courageous and commitment to reform, good governance will never come true.
            In the “Bottom Billion”, Professor Paul Collier proposed several solutions to the problem that face ahead of them which include aid, military intervention, establishment of international chapter or law, and lastly pro-poor country trading policy.  As I already mentioned above, aid really play an important role to help the country of bottom billion like Cambodia. No matter in any form, aid greatly assists the people living there. It helps them survive from starvation, illness, and conflict, help their community to development. The aid with string attached also force the ruler to adapt reform, even it does not really work but at least, it is taken on the agenda and people start to talk about it, and Cambodia is the real example that aid help in reform of good governance. In return for aid, Cambodia government has to promise to achieve some specific target set by donors. In every 18 months, the donor will meet the Royal Government of Cambodia in Cambodia Development Coorporation forum, where donor review their aid program and progress of reform, then set the next development target for government in exchange of additional aid. Throughout this forum, the donors will be able to take this opportunity to encourage government for more reforms which could include land tittling, human rights, corruption, juridical system, etc…  It is true that not all reforms are because of donor’s pressure, but at least it has encouraged and funding the necessary reform that is critically important for Cambodia.
            Military intervention as a solution should not be a choice of helping the country of bottom billion, unless there are legitimate and conceivable reason that, if the international community do not intervene, then there will be a serious humanitarian crisis in that country. However, military intervention should not allow to become an excuse of world power using it to intervene the internal affair and violate of sovereignty of other country. The United Nation’s General Assembly (not the Securities Council that controlled by its five permanent member) should be the only authority that have the power to make decision of whether or not to intervene a particular country. Doing so is just to avoid the catastrophe that happen over Iraq by US groundless invasion.
            I agree with Professor Paul Collier’s propose creating an international law or norm as a standard to follow internationally. However, this international chapter should not created by the European Union as raised in the book, it has better to be created by the globally institution which have the participation of all country around the world, and United Nation is the only possible choice. However, in order to do like this, the United Nation should amend its chapter which gives the absolute power to its Securities Council’s five permanent members; otherwise it will become an instrument of power struggle between these world powers. It must give more authority to its General Assembly which represent its entire member and where the smaller country can have their voice heard internationally.
            Similar to the establishment of international of chapter, changing trade policy also should lay on United Nation rather than the World Trade Organization (WTO). World trade policies which ran against the Bottom Billion countries can settle only through political dialogue but not trade negotiation, this is a political issue rather than trading issue.
            What can youth do to help? Youth bear the responsibility of helping their country escape from developing traps and poverty. As the future leader of Cambodia, youth can make their own contribution through their action. First of all, they should empower themselves with knowledge and professional skill. Only knowledge and professional skill can help the country. Without these human resources, implementation of reform and development is impossible. Cambodia cannot depend on external technical assistant forever. More importantly, where the human resources in Southeast Asia will be able to move around the region freely without restriction, Cambodia will face strong competition from our neighboring and other ASEAN’s members. Knowledge and professional skill will become critically important.
            Secondly, youth should actively participate in social activities, making their own contribution as much as possible. The activities they participate can be charity work, volunteer job, and other community activities, etc… The power of our individual is not enough, only when youth join together, forming a force, then they can have influence to change their community or even their country.
            Third, join a political party. Politic really matter a lot, so the only way to matter the public that eventually matter your own country is joining a political party. Political party youth group always an important force of a society, entering it enables you to change your country once you became their leader in the future. And even you are not going to become a politician, joining political campaign can also become a precious experience in your life.
            Lastly, go to vote. This is the best and most effective way to change your own country and have your voice heard. Do not look down upon your vote, you have to exercise the rights which is still an impossible thing for many people in some countries. Go to vote to choose a leader you think able to lead you country toward prosperity.
            Professor Paul Collier’s “The Bottom Billion” point out the traps that caught the bottom billion country into falling state, and he finds out solution that help these country escapees from falling apart. Cambodia as a post conflict nation has a lot of thing that can be learnt from this book. Some causes that rose in the book echo Cambodia truly experience, some traps can be lesson for Cambodia for not relapse into it again, and some solution can directly apply to our country. Finally, as the youth who might potentially become future leaders of the country, we should actively do everything, taking action and make our own contribution to our community, our society and our country as much as possible.

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