Crossing Cambodia

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Politics of progress

It is perceived that Cambodia is one of the lesser developed countries in the world. Though it is in an excellent position to catch up with it's neighbours such as Vietnam (10 (?) years ahead) and Thailand (20+ years ahead), both of whom are increasingly lowering levels of poverty and creating substantial amounts of wealth.

These factors contribute to Cambodia having an industry, otherwise known as the 'development' scene, which pumps in large amounts of money in return for zillions of unread reports.

Successful development organisations are noted for their ability to create turnover while simultaneously producing reports which are timely (of utmost importance!) though mostly illegible. And, oh yes, successful organisations are those which can produce bills, preferably with date, amount and a description of what the amount was used for, corresponding to the correct year ('please hand in bills, no later than November 1, other expenses can be accounted in the following project year, though no earlier than March 1').

These terrific amount of monies are all forwarded by a number of tax payers back home, who are more than willing to dispense of these, as they know that the amounts spent will ultimately end up in the right hands. The organisations working in this development industry can be roughly placed into two groups:
  1. those few, really trying to assist in helping the dis-enfranchised/poor and
  2. the majority, intent on creating turnover and hot air.
In between these two groups are organisations promoting ends which have, over time, became more than evident in developed countries. Examples of these ends are for instance environmental awareness, environmental protection, etc., etc. Missing the vocal support that they have back home, they are trying somehow to find ways to get their message over,while simultaneously meeting their goals. Some face difficulties; for instance organisations against deforestation: with the lack of local support in Cambodia, they have to cooperate with Cambodian authorities whom are those who profit the most from this deforestation!

So where does this fit in with travel / transport in Cambodia? Well, most of the posts on this blog concern traffic safety issues, the lack of safety and the lack of government willingness to address this. This was never the intention, but it seems that these issues are a returning factor, which determines the way traffic takes place in Cambodia

Arguably if traffic safety is the spearhead of your organisation you are in a difficult situation. Can you pressurize the authorities from the outside, especially in light of the lack of support you'll get from the Cambodian society? Or do you support currently non-existent local safety concerned organisations? Or do you suck up to the authorities, give them what they want (preferably cash), while at the same time hope the same authorities will assist you in achieving your objective?

Well, in the more organised societies (can Crossing Cambodia say this?) traffic safety issues have often been brought about, by well-intended citizens banding together and pressurizing their elected governments to ensure their safety. For governments this a win-win situation: accidents and deaths clearly disturb (/end!) valuable lives, while creating an atmosphere of 'listening to the general public' creates (an image of) goodwill, which most politicians (for whom the governments rely on) hope the favour will be returned at the next elections.

This logic however is not visible in Cambodia. Partially due to the lack of overall organisation within society, partially to blatant ignorance towards any Cambodian citizens rights, to be treated as equal. Wealth is apparently growing, that's very evident, but even an outdated organisation, such as the World Bank, signifies that the gap in wealth is increasing: those connected to authorities are amassing huge amounts of wealth, while simultaneously grandstanding ignorance of other citizens as the number one society attribute in Cambodia.

Handicap International Belgium (HIB) is the only organisation involved in road safety in Cambodia and what have they to show for their couple of years experience?
  • one of the best web-sites in Southeast Asia for recording traffic accidents
  • a traffic law which would put many countries elsewhere on the globe to shame
  • media savvy events which are eagerly attended by dignitaries and reported by otherwise news starved local reporters
  • traffic lessons conducted nationwide at many schools.
In other words HIB has become synonymous with traffic safety in Cambodia.

However, at the same time they fail to address the issue: recording accidents only makes them visible, they certainly don't become less. The (new) traffic law is a farce, as the sophistication required is lost on traffic policemen who have no clue what a red light stands for, nor how to enforce even the simplest traffic rules (don't drive on the left side!). The grand, popular meetings are mostly meant to pamper to the authorities, gain some turnover and keep everybody smiling. Unfortunately Crossing Cambodia has its doubts on the worthfulness of the traffic lessons, but know insufficient details, so let's say the jury is till out on this.

Mirror (vol.12, no. 562) of 30 May 2008 headlines an article from Rasmei Kampuchea on HIB's continuing efforts:
HIB provided 215 GPS receivers to the Commissioner General of the National Police
“Phnom Penh: On the morning of 29 May 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by H.E Ouk Kim Lek and Mr. Bruno Leclercq, the Country Director of Handicap International Belgium for Cambodia, according to which 215 GPS receivers [satellite supported Global Positioning Systems] and other emergency equipment for road traffic safety were provided by Handicap International Belgium to the National Police at the Ministry of Interior.
“The Deputy Director of the National Police, H.E. Ouk Kim Lek, said that the aid now provided by Handicap International Belgium to the National Police is most important, because it is urgently needed by Cambodian people to reduce traffic accidents which are continually increasing.
“His Excellency continued, ‘Cambodia is developing, and at the same time, also traffic accidents increase. The aid provided today will contribute a lot to reduce traffic accidents in the future. Now, we are improving the traffic police to be much better than before to help reduce traffic accidents.’
“Mr. Bruno Leclercq stated that the equipment delivered will contribute to reduce traffic accidents. It is observed that traffic accidents increase in Cambodia, and he hopes that the number will decline after the new traffic law have been implemented.
“The manager of the Cambodia Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System of Handicap International Belgium, Mr. Sem Panhavuth, said that the Memorandum of Understanding covers approximately US$100,000 for a period of two years from 2008 to 2009, which includes the 215 emergency GPS receivers, the training for traffic police countrywide on how to use the GPS receivers, and the training courses in emergency life saving skills for traffic police so that they can help traffic accident victims before they are referred to hospitals.
“Mr. Sem Panhavuth went on to say that these GPS receivers are used for road traffic safety work to find and to identify the locations where traffic accidents occur very often on some important roads. The locations which are noted as places that often have traffic accidents will be changed to avoid hazards and will be marked with warning signs to lessen traffic accidents.
“It should be known that during the period of the first four months of 2008, there were 2,249 accidents which caused 560 deaths, injured seriously 1,792 people, and injured 2,088 people lightly. The accidents which had happened involved 217 heavy trucks, 755 cars, and 186 other vehicles, 217 pedestrians, and 2,262 motorbikes. As for 2007, there were 9,449 accidents in which 1,545 people died, 7,150 people were badly injured, and 17,655 people were lightly injured.”
Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4602, 30.5.2008.
'Remarkable', is what Crossing Cambodia has to say on this. How on earth can they believe that GPS receivers can in any way contribute to achieving anything in the field of road safety? A pure waste of money! If you want to handover cash why not make it conditionable: 'you enforce the law for x months, then and only then will we reward you'. Surely they have some levearage over the authorities, afterall they are basically doing their dirty work!
' ....HIB hopes that the new traffic law will be implemented.'
Cambosix are currently taking on bets, with 2050 the most likely ...
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