A Suggestion for National Unity and Development

By Chan Sophal

A Khmer version of this article was published in the Phnom Penh Post on July 19, 2013

I’m really pleased by what I consider a win-win solution taken by the opposition and ruling leaders of Cambodia. It reflects the spirit of national reconciliation once again and demonstrates wisdom of both sides.

I believe as a small and poor country having limited capacity left from the killing fields, Cambodia would be best united in her endeavour to accelerate development. Instead of being fragmented and deeply divided, the scarce Cambodian talents should be united and work together to tackle the difficult reforms for faster and sustainable development for everyone.

I’m sure that CPP will win the election on 28 July 2013 and can easily form a government on its own and carry on with “business as usual”. However, there will be immense challenges for CPP alone to meet in the future. Unless it changes the current way of governance, for various reasons I think CPP will likely see a declining trend of its parliament seats. I’m sure there is another way for CPP to retain or even gain more popularity other than the current approach of doing politics.

Basically, Cambodian voters at this stage are generally to be satisfied with security and availability of roads, canals, clean water, electricity, schools, health services, etc. Ensuring delivery of these should be the role of government, not so much of party officials. Government needs more funding and well-paid civil servants to deliver such infrastructure and public services. Therefore, key is to ensure sound revenue collection and budget management.

Moving forwards, the top priority should be the transformation of informal payments to formal ones. For this critical transformation to succeed, businesses, especially the big ones, have to stop paying informal taxes. Should CPP find it too difficult to carry out this huge reform for some reason, it can use the assistance of CNRP to help. Thus, a coalition government would probably be not a bad idea.

However, both sides would have to agree on a reform agenda first in order not to be co-opted and corrupted. Such an agenda should include building independent and competent courts and military, and allowing independent media, academia and research institutions in order to have an effective system of check and balance, which is the backbone for sustainable development.

If these tremendous reforms are carried out by all the committed patriots, there will be great optimism for Cambodia to become a real dragon in the region, which many leaders in the past attempted but failed. A priceless by-product of pursing what is best for national interest would be genuine national unity, healing and solidarity in the nation. Now Cambodia has enough popular and powerful personalities and sooner than later they should start becoming heroic statesmen, building and strengthening institutions for a long journey to achieve a developed country status by 2050.

After many centuries of declining trend and decades of man-made sufferings, Cambodia and Cambodians now deserve such a new era. The choice is in the hands of the current leaders, which I believe are very capable. May we embrace a fantastic dream and realise it.

Chan Sophal
Former President of the Cambodian Economic Association
Disclaimer: The views do not represent any other than his own.

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