International NGO’s and the Private Sector in CambodiaNovember 30, 2006
They are at it again, this last month I counted 172 NGO job advertisements in the local media and 17 private sector jobs. The problem is not how International NGO’s work; the problem is how to make them stop.
Cambodia is not in the middle of a famine, nor is there a drought. It has not been hit by a natural disaster of tremendous magnitude. If Khmers are hungry, it is because the are poor.
If Khmers do not have clean drinking water, it is because they, and their Country, are poor.
If they live in a wooden lean to shack next to a rubbish heap, it is because they are poor.
If they sell their daughters into prostitution; it is because they are poor.
And they are poor because they do not have jobs. Cambodia has few decent roads; it is because the government is broke.
Cambodia does not have a decent education system; it is because the government is broke. The RGK is broke because they receive very little in the way of taxes. What Cambodia needs are employees paying income tax into the national coffers.
What Cambodia needs is a private sector paying corporation tax to the government. What Cambodia needs is an independent and honest judiciary and law enforcement system to support Business and Employment Law.
What Cambodia needs is an efficient and honest taxation and collection system. But however much NGOs scream and shout; blubber and throw their toys out of the cot, about these issues, NONE of them are seriously working on dealing with the problem. They are all far too interested in driving their nice 4×4’s from their air-conditioned villas to their air-conditioned offices (both backed up by generator of course) to actually get involved in doing anything; that could turn a profit, that could create real employment, that could challenge corruption or the impunity of the ruling elite. Oh they have a good whinge about it, complain and moan about it in Café Java or Ruby’s Wine Bar, give the odd quote to the Cambodia Daily (oft times anonymously or safely from another Country) and in true NGO style they might write a report or two about it. But what are they actually doing to create employment?
What are doing to strengthen the Private Sector? Absolutely Nothing.
The process: Government 101 for Dummies.
Businesses and employees make a profit, and earn a salary. The government taxes a percentage of this in order for the government to do the things that governments need to do – employ policemen and nurses, or build schools and roads, all the usual sort of things.
These activities do not generate money for the government, they are EXPENDITURES – much like the salaries paid to NGO Staff, or monies given in Aid to impoverished countries.
So all the while those International Organisations are busy using other countries taxpayers’ money to fund their activities and purchase their LandCruisers, they are in fact benefiting from the very system that they seem to snub.
Furthermore, until Cambodia’s economy is in a position to take over that payment burden it will continue to be wholly reliant on that overseas money. In short, the NGO’s are not working on solving the cause of the problem, they are just flittering around the edges of the symptoms, all the while enacting their own personal wet-dreams of social reengineering programs – not too mention having quite a pleasant tax free life style out of it – oops, mentioned it, sorry, sorry, bite tongue…
I will go one step further, and save a thousand NGO reports (not too mention trees) on the subject, by giving you a quick hit list of areas that need encouraging and working with: • Incentives for Direct Foreign Investment • Teaching SME Business Skills: book keeping, cash flow forecasts, marketing, writing a business plan, et cetera ad infinitum. • Hell, Business Skills in general, not “participatory gender mainstreamed fully inclusive workshop seminars on academic and intellectually interesting irrelevant topics” but actual real world skills that are useful • Teaching vocational skills – plumbing, electrical engineering, bricklaying, car mechanics, et cetera. • Start up loans and grants for new businesses (that would be genuine profit making organisations, not silk weaving communes consisting of four one-legged old women and a gecko in Rattanakiri) • A workable legal framework for business and commerce – including the creation of a ‘small claims court’ accessible by SMEs • A clamp down on corruption, bribe taking (especially ‘unofficial taxation by intoxicated, armed, officers of the law’)
The views in this column are entirely those of Lord Playboy (of Phnom Penh, Sonteipheap and that muddy patch of ground next to the school;) they are in no way are representative of Khmer440, its editors, staff or tea-boy-gimp, of any Ministry of the Royal Government of Cambodia who employs Lord Playboy, of people who abstain from alcohol, of employees of NGO’s who think profit is a dirty word, those people who think poverty is the fault of business , or those people who are scared by just being in Cambodia. Damn, things will be different when I am running the Country.