Synchronized Swindling and the Disappearing Rice

Here’s something to consider. If you had tones and tones of rice to distribute amongst the Khmer needy and poor in the first phase of an astronomical $38 million emergency food aid project, would you sign the lot over to CPP village chiefs and expect it to be distributed fairly? I thought not.

Given the CPP’s well known ability to make things disappear without trace (such as 100,000 opposition supporters from Phnom Penh’s electoral roll earlier this year), it was embarrassing for all concerned, but hardly surprising, that the Asian Development Bank’s rice vanished before reaching its intended target – thousands of poor families in Banteay Meachey, Kompong Chhnang and Pursat provinces.

‘’The project has not gone well so far. We will have to take the complaints seriously,’’ Piseth Long, ADB’s hapless project implementation officer whined to the Phnom Penh Post last week. ’’There has been a problem with village chiefs registering their relatives and villagers who have supported the CPP. This is why people are complaining,’’ added Poung Sothea of rights group ADHOC.

One can easily picture the CPP village chiefs grinning like jackasses as they got their clammy hands on the rice and then, without a single vestige of shame, doing exactly what anybody with any knowledge whatsoever of the CPP’s inveterate corruption and selfishness could have told the ADB they’d do. Fill their boots. And then give the leftovers to their families and CPP drinking cronies. As a group, CPP politicos are well beyond the edge of my compassion, but should we blame them for behaving according to type or should we blame the idiots at ADB who blithely let them get on with it? What makes the ADB so impressively stupid is that we’ve been here before with the World Food Program just a couple of years ago.

If ‘synchronized swindling’ was an Olympic event, then Cambodia would be assured of at least one gold medal every five years. So in a country where corruption is endemic, where the deserving always come last and where, if the rich and powerful can screw you, they will – the distribution of aid to the genuinely needy should be monitored from beginning to end. This a fairly straightforward rule and one I would have thought obvious, but not apparently to the Asian Development Bank.

The Ghost of Sam Campbell

November’s Sam Campbell Prize for High-Quality Journalism goes to Kevin Britten of the Phnom Penh Post who bowled us over with this little vignette last Wednesday 5th. ‘’The foreign residents of Phnom Penh come from one of three worlds – the NGO world, the business world or the diplomatic world.’’

So if you’re not languidly loafing by the pool at Elsewhere sipping a skinny latte while ‘writing a report’, or being driven around town in a shiny car with a flag flying from it, or getting paid $6k a month by ANZ, according to our Kev you are literally not of this world and consequently don’t exist.

I wonder what percentage of the expat community diplomats actually make up? I’m not usually given to betting but if Kev agrees to accept my wager, I’ll put my entire pot on there being more English teachers in Phnom Penh than embassy staff.

In fact, Phnom Penh has become uncommonly attractive to all manner of people over the last few years and the expat community has swelled exponentially. Surely we can’t omit the retired community of white men, or to give them their proper title – sexpats. Anybody who has gone shopping at Lucky Soriya in the daytime and seen the masses of elderly, inebriated and weirdly coiffured maniacs loitering near the beer shelves will know what I’m talking about.

We can perhaps add one further category of expat to Kev’s list, this being journalists who’ve been in Cambodia for a full five minutes and wouldn’t be able to find their own arses with the help of a map, a compass and satellite navigation.

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