Sopheap Chak

Riding the wave of change in Cambodia

Category: Development & Education (page 2 of 4)

The Rise of Digital Democracy in Cambodia

The Rise of Digital Democracy in Cambodia – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

The Rise of Digital Democracy in Cambodia

Globalization and the development of technology has brought better access to information and  increased civic participation to most countries and Cambodia is no exception. While non-governmental organizations have traditionally been the key advocacy players, technological advances have now heralded in the rise of citizen journalism networks. The trend, however, is still minimal due to an overall climate of restricted governance.

Though population penetration of social media sites is reportedly low, Facebook has a population penetration of 3.18% which is growing fast. In the last six months Facebook subscriptions in Cambodia increased by 26% to a total of 469,660. Grass-root advocates have also engaged strongly with technology to amplify their appeal for the respect of human rights in terms of freedom from eviction and protection of forests. Examples of this are the  “Prey Lang-It’s Your Forest Too,” blog that gives public updates on some of their activities like prayer ceremonies and distribution of leaflets to save the endangered forest and the “Save Boeung Kak Campaign

Despite the emergence of a notion of digital democracy, participation by young bloggers in demanding their rights is still far from the norm. On-going government restrictive measures via legal and judicial channels and the police that usually target politicians,  journalists, and activists critical of the government has hindered greater youth participation. This means that the governance advocacy movement is still mostly driven by civil society organizations like Sithi, a Cambodian human rights portal that aims to crowd-source and document reports of human rights abuse, or Saatsam, a virtual library of information on corruption that aims to encourage public participation in combating corruption and promoting transparency.

Compared to  ‘old media’ in Cambodia, ‘new media’ such as online news, social networks and personal blogs currently enjoy more freedom and independence from government censorship and restrictions. This may be  largely because, with such low internet penetration,  the Royal Government of  Cambodia has yet to recognize the internet as a significant threat. However, there have been several recent reports of blogs and websites being blocked.

Despite the claims by the Cambodian government that it supports freedom of expression and access to the internet, there have been various attempts in the past to control the internet, attempts which mainly targeted artists. There have been crackdowns on websites critical of the government or publishing information on the business associations of the Prime Minister and members of his family. Websites and blogs showing pornography or sexually explicit images were also closed down including which was only accessible to internet users outside of Cambodia. The latest crackdown is the block on blogspot sites reportedly following an order from the Ministry of Interior to all Cambodia’s internet service providers.  This crackdown is apparently a government reaction to the KI media post in December 2010 which described key government officials as ‘traitors.’ KI Media is a prominent online media blog critical of the Government.

In early 2010 the Cambodian Government planned to introduce a state-run exchange to control all local internet service providers with the declared aim of strengthening internet security against pornography, theft and cyber crime. This plan however has been postponed so far due to popular opposition even from inside the government.

In spite of the blurred boundaries between freedom of expression and restriction, the web has become a place where those Cambodians who do have internet access can communicate, debate and organize. A number of websites and blogs are disseminating news, entertaining the public and serving as a platform for political, economic and social discussions. New media has the potential to be a huge facilitator for change in Cambodia. However it is absolutely crucial that it remains the free and open forum for discussion that it is today. Major changes in political will and current legislation are also needed to reduce the climate of fear that hinders broader participation.

The Youth Labor Market in Cambodia

The Youth Labor Market in Cambodia – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

The Youth Labor Market in Cambodia

The baby boom during the 1980s and 1990s in Cambodia (after the nation successfully put a decade long civil war behind it and regained peace) has now resulted in the creation of a large labor pool for the Cambodian economy. Such a large stock of potentially dynamic workers could be an invaluable asset — especially while other developed countries are carrying the burden of increasing numbers of elderly people — but Cambodia needs to manage this opportunity carefully otherwise it might turn into a serious liability. To see how well the country has managed this opportunity so far, we have to look at both sides of the Cambodian labor market – demand and supply – and assess the current situation and its prospects.

From a demand side perspective, the Cambodian employment market is highly concentrated in two main economic sections: 1) wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (trading activities and vehicle repairing services), and 2) manufacturing (mainly light manufacturing including manufacture of grain-milled products and clothing).

The preliminary result of the nationwide 2011 Cambodian economic census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) shows that there were roughly 534,000 economic establishments in Cambodia — basically comprising of an enterprise and its fixed or movable branches and including street businesses. Trading activities and vehicle repair services have the highest prevalence of 56 percent (almost 300,000 establishments), followed by manufacturing with 18.7 percent (around 100, 000 establishments). These two economic sections each roughly account for 33 percent of the total number of persons engaged in economic activity in Cambodia.

High concentration on these two main economic sections suggests that current demand on the Cambodian labor market is for low-skilled rather than high-skilled workers. Most of the businesses in these two main economic sections are in the informal economy. In other words, they are operated without proper registration with the relevant authorities or without any proper records of financial transactions in line with the national standard. So work – both in trading, vehicle repair and light manufacturing – may not require quite such high skills as those provided by universities.

The 3rd Cambodian Career Forum in 2007 involving leading companies and NGOs targeted fresh graduates. It was a platform where candidates could meet with their potential employers and vice versa. (Photo with permission from a Cambodian blogger at

This situation poses a great challenge to fresh university graduates and somehow reflects a mismatch between what is supplied by universities and what is in demand on the labor market. Since the two main economic sections require a low-skilled labor force, any intake of higher skilled workers in these sectors would be limited, which to some extent sets barriers for the industrialization of the Cambodian economy.

From the supply side perspective, on the other hand, there is quite an abundance of dynamic young workers in Cambodia. As of 2012, the number of baby boomers—aged between 22 and 32 — topped the three million mark or around 20 percent of the Cambodian population.

However, the Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 highlighted a worrying trend: country-wide labor productivity is lower in Cambodia than in neighbouring countries and in terms of productivity Cambodia comes in at number 97 in a list of 142 countries. Productivity in Cambodia is far lower than in Thailand (ranked at 39), and while it was comparable to productivity in Vietnam back in 1993, the gap between the two countries has since widened and Vietnam is now ranked at number 65.

Cambodia has a particular need to catch up in the areas of education, financial market sophistication, technological readiness and infrastructure. A new push is required to make all these areas responsive to a changing economy. The education sector—one of the most challenging and cross-cutting issues — needs to be rationalized to eliminate the mismatch between demand and supply  on the labor market. In this sense, the bonds between the private sector and education providers need to be strengthened through information-sharing systems in the areas of business and research and development (R&D).

“Development” does not justify land grabs in Cambodia

“Development” does not justify land grabs in Cambodia

Saturday, 17 December 2011 / Chak Sopheap Tags: , , , ,

The problem of forced evictions and land grabs is growing worse in Cambodia, leading to violence fuelled by deep dissatisfaction over existing resettlement schemes. Estimates by both local and international organizations including Amnesty International identified approximately 10 percent of the population of Phnom Penh as having faced eviction in the last decade.

Amnesty International reported that several urban communities had been evicted from their homes and relocated to areas lacking in the most basic infrastructure. Other communities facing eviction orders are crying out for legal and humanitarian support from the government and civil society groups.

This phenomenon is not unique to Cambodia; it occurs in both developed and developing countries where poor communities or informal settlements and slums are the frequent targets. People are evicted from their homes to make way for development and infrastructure projects, large international events like the Olympic games and urban redevelopment and beautification initiatives. Sometimes political conflict, ethnic cleansing and war are the driving factors. However, “development” is the most frequent reason put forward in all countries, including Cambodia.

Surprisingly, almost all regions of the globe have experienced forced evictions including Africa, Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region. According to a global survey by the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions which covered 80 countries from 1998 to 2008, more than 18 million people have been victims of forced evictions. Of this number, 47 percent occurred in Asia and the Pacific, followed by 44 percent in Africa, 8 percent in the Americas and 1 percent in Europe. The data showed that nearly 2 million people face eviction annually. Even worse,  UN-Habitat reported that large scale development during the 1980s and 1990s had resulted in the displacement of 10 million people each year. During the following decade this number peaked at an estimated 15 million people per year.

Cambodia ranks first among Asian countries in terms of its number of evictions which are due to five key factors: 1) illegal construction and land occupation; 2) city development and beautification; 3) property market forces, gentrification and private development; 4) economic land concessions; and 5) social land concessions.

There are different figures reported for the number of families affected by forced eviction and land grabs. For example, the Cambodian civil rights group Adhoc reportedly says that in the last year [2010] alone, 12,389 families were victims of forced evictions. According to a survey in 13 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces by another local human rights organization Licadho, during the first half of 2010 more than 3,500 families – approximately 17,000 people – were affected by land grabbing. Another figure from land mapping launched on the first human rights portal,, hosted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, points out that 47,342 families were or could be affected by the 223 land disputes reported in the public domain during the 4 years since 2007.

Although there are no agreed on common figures about the number of families affected by land grabs and forced eviction, and Cambodia still does not have a central database for collecting such data, these ever higher figures indicate a critical concern that a revolution among the farmers may be in the offing if measures are not taken soon to give them redress.

While the government justifies evictions for the sake of beautifying and developing the cities, there are many eviction cases involving violence and legal abuses where little or no actual development has taken place. Strikingly enough, most of the areas that have been cleared to make way for development projects have been turned over to private companies owned or chaired by high-ranking officials and powerful affiliated businessmen.

Yet there have also been a few model resettlement cases like that of Veng Sreng where people were given enough time and allowed to choose their place of relocation. In this case there was close collaboration between the authorities, the community and local and international organizations in planning and coordinating a resettlement scheme. This positive approach meets the needs of the people and the government, while also addressing the government poverty reduction program and advancing the millennium development goals.

This model should be applied to cases where the government urgently needs an area for development or investment projects so that human security risks are avoided. The government’s current pursuit of development has often involved legal abuses and violations of peoples’ rights and produced little or no actual development. Thus it is important that the government reevaluate its development criteria.

Different people may have different definitions of development. In traditional economic terms, the notion is strictly based on the capacity of a national economy valued in terms of the gross domestic product. However, development as put forward by Michael. Todaro and Stepen C. Smith must “represent the whole gamut of change by which an entire social system, tuned to the diverse basic needs and desires of individuals and social groups within that system, moves away from a condition of life widely perceived as unsatisfactory toward a situation or condition of life regarded as materially and spiritually better.”

This concept includes three basic components: 1) Sustenance, or meeting basic needs including food, shelter, health and security; 2) Self-esteem, or a sense of worth and self-respect; and 3) Freedom from servitude, including access to choices with minimal external constraints.

Based on these criteria, development must bring about certain goals. It must increase sustenance or the availability of life-sustaining goods including food, shelter, health and protection. It must raise living standards including the provision of more jobs, better education and greater attention to cultural and human values, and contribute to greater individual and national self-esteem. And it must expand the range of economic and social choices.

In this context, the Cambodian and other governments that justify forced evictions for the sake of “national development” need to reevaluate their development agenda in order to faithfully address the core values and objectives of development.

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