After spending a month working in Cambodia, I have fallen in love with its beauty. Unfortunately, I have also seen firsthand the sad reality of a country beset by corruption and developmental problems. In the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, this nation was ranked among the ten most corrupt countries, with this kind of fraudulent behaviour existing at all levels of the administration. Bribery can help one get away with just about any crime, from something as trivial as not wearing a helmet while riding a motorbike to more heinous offences such as human trafficking. As claimed by the World Economic Forum, 10% of Cambodia’s GDP last year was in the “black economy.”
The upcoming election gives little hope for change as Cambodia’s highest court dissolved the main opposition party last November, leaving authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen in more than thirty years of power. According to Reuters, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) “was accused of plotting to take power with the help of the United States after the arrest of party leader Kem Sokha” on September 3rd, 2017. Being banned from political activities for the next five years, the only opposition party able to pose a significant challenge to the incumbents sealed the fate of the Cambodians, with the nation marking its “death of democracy.”
In light of these undemocratic “setbacks,” the White House has suspended aid to this country. According to the White House, the U.S. has spent more than one billion on supporting the “economic, social and democratic well-being” of Cambodia during the last 25 years. Just earlier today, ABC News reported that the nation’s opposition party has urged the Australian government to “reject this week’s election results and send a clear signal to Prime Minister Hun Sen that he cannot destroy democracy.” Mu Sochua, Vice President of the CNPR, states the election was a complete “sham.”
My short experience with an NGO provided me insights into some of the challenges these organizations face, trying to advocate for everyone’s needs. In 2013, The Diplomat reported that there were approximately 3500 NGOs registered in the mentioned Southeast Asian country. Since then, many have closed down due to lack of funding. While some NGOs receive money from foreign aid, others struggle to have their proposals approved by donors. Cambodia’s troubles are being sidelined within the international community by more important problems like Syria’s crisis.
How much can the international community actually do? In a country where political power and wealth lies in the hands of a few, while the rest struggle to make a living and where foreign aid meets corruption, the future seems very bleak.
Cambodia has a long way to go on its path of development, but as long as corruption continues to thrive, the citizens’ hopes for the nation will continue to die.