Kingdom’s Families Drowning in Debt, Facebook Bows to Strongman, Riel Plunges to 10-Year Low
Good morning, Cambodia. It's Friday, September 1, and this is your Weekly Dispatch.
BODY MEN: The incoming Interior Minister has warned tycoons and okhnas against hiring police officers for private security work. The entrenched practice of using personal gangs to settle disputes could soon be over.
HELP WANTED: Public school teachers are in such demand that all new private schools have been banned. In 2020-2021, there were 93,956 teachers for 3,223,475 students in public schools, or roughly 1 to 34.
DEEP CYCLE: A study in Kampong Speu province found that nearly 30% of families used at least 70% of their monthly income to pay off loans. More than one-third of respondents used new loans to pay off old ones.
Overseas dissidents have urged the West to make Cambodia an “international pariah” and are planning to contest Cambodia’s seat at the U.N. They are calling for protests at U.N. headquarters in New York, where Hun Manet will address the assembly for the first time on Sept. 22.
Borrowers are eating less and putting their children to work in order to pay off oppressive bank loans, according to a new study in Kampong Speu province that documented systematic rights abuses in the microfinance industry.
Around 27% of families spent 70% or more of their monthly income on debt payments, in violation of industry standards. More than a third used new loans to pay off old ones, a high-risk strategy known as “debt cycling.”
Authors of the study demanded immediate industry reform, including debt relief for at-risk families, compensation for abused debtors and stringent consumer-protection laws.
Hun Manet took office with a crafty touch of populism. First, he proposed schools and daycare services for factory workers. Next, he promised to raise the minimum wage, appearing to side with labor organizations in their annual negotiations over fair employment terms.
Trade unions are demanding a raise from $200 per month to between $212 and $220. The incoming prime minister, much like his father, remained non-committal about the size and timing of the increase.
Analysts say it’s too soon to determine whether Hun Manet represents a genuine change in how unions and workers are treated by the government, which has a long history of ignoring rights abuses and jailing labor leaders.
The Strongman returned to Facebook after two months of self-imposed exile. Hun Sen deactivated his account in June after the tech giant’s Oversight Board said one of his videos incited violence and recommended a six-month suspension. Meta has now rejected the ruling, paving the way for the former prime minister’s return. Critics have long accused Hun Sen of using the platform to menace his political opponents, and they expect more trouble to follow.
The National Bank will intervene to shore up the riel, which was trading Friday at 4,171 to the dollar — the lowest point in more than a decade. The bank pointed to harvest season and a sputtering tourism industry for lackluster demand for the currency, which has dropped more than 4% since hitting highs in March.
Hun Sen isn’t the only CPP heavyweight handing power to a son. Sar Kheng, who led the Interior Ministry from 1992 until last week, named his oldest son, Sar Sokha, as his successor. His youngest son, Sar Ratha, was promoted to Deputy National Police Chief. The government has denied accusations of nepotism.
The Ministry of Education suspended approval of new private schools, citing the need to retain qualified teachers for the state education system. Years of private-school growth has led to an exodus of teachers and students, said the ministry, which is initiating reforms and aggressively recruiting instructors.
The government blasted a U.N. report estimating that 100,000 victims were trapped in brutal cyber scam compounds, which thrive under the protection of powerful tycoons with government ties. Cambodia’s entrenched patronage system and endemic corruption, experts say, make it fertile ground for crime syndicates.
Air pollution is responsible for nearly one in five deaths among Cambodian children under 5, according to UNICEF and the Health Ministry. The joint assessment highlights environmental risks faced by children, and recommends strengthening regulations, raising public awareness and improving healthcare.
Minister of Interior Sar Sokha threatened legal action against “powerful people” who hired police officers for personal benefit. The move, if enforced, would upend the long-standing practice of using private bodyguards to settle personal disputes.
BACKPAGES: From The Cambodia Daily Vault
August 30, 2003
From renowned architect Vann Molyvann’s book “Modern Khmer Cities” comes an urgency that, for anyone who has seen the construction and development of the last four years in Cambodia’s cities, makes it clear that time for decisions is running out.
August 28, 2003
Unless knockoff chains like the Holiday International Hotel, Pizza Hot and the new Goo Chi restaurant are counted in the tally, Cambodia ranks among Southeast Asia’s most isolated countries when it comes to the proliferation of Western franchises.
August 28, 2003
Laboratory tests on malaria drugs sold in four western provinces showed that one out of four customers at retail outlets receive a medicine different from what is paid for.
August 25, 2003
The Ministry of Interior arrested five men Wednesday for their alleged involvement in smuggling more than 24 kg of heroin from Cambodia to Australia, officials said on Sunday.
Gangs in Cambodia have compelled thousands of captives to defraud unsuspecting victims. Because of political connections, no one is stopping them.
Photos: Hun Manet and Hun Sen, via Facebook.
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