I am so happy today to be able to come preside over the graduation of 1,823 students of the Asia-Europe University in the early part of the Year of Horse of the Buddhist Year of 2558. It is a good thing to present diploma at the start of a New Year like this. I listened to the report of the Asia-Europe University (AEU) rector, Duong Lieng, concerning the progress made by the University. First started as a non-governmental organization in area of education, the University has now a 15-storey building of its own.
Cambodia – A Case Different from Others
The fact that I am so glad to observe these progresses concerning human resource training efforts in the past recent years, especially those efforts made right after the liberation on 7 January 1979. Cambodia was in a different state from other countries in the world in the 20th century. Even in the 21st century, no country in this world has experienced unique situation like that of Cambodia. Compared to other countries experienced with genocide, like Rwanda, Sierra Leone, etc. despites all the wars and killings, Cambodia’s case has been dramatic with the fact that everything was destroyed. The capital city of Phnom Penh was empty. There was a Buddhist prediction that there would be homes but no one to live in and there would be roads but no one to use.
That is a true event. When I grew up, I just learned the Buddhist prediction that was passing from one person to another. Nobody would have believed it. Then came this event of 17 April 1975, the regime of Lon Nol met its failure and the Khmer Rouge came into Phnom Penh. What they did was evacuating people from the city of Phnom Penh and other provincial towns. It ended right there what is called private ownerships in material as well as in sentiment, which, to the Khmer Rouge regime is their worst enemy. The best way for the Khmer Rouge to uproot people’s private ownerships of material was to move them out of the city, which means to move them away from their properties. They moved people not one time but from one place to many others until people had nothing left with them.
In the course of moving, people left their becoming-obsolete objects like cars, motorbikes for no gas and hold on to only cash and gold. When it came to a time that no currency was of no value at all, Pol Pot implemented his policy of collectivization, where his regime claimed to have succeeded in eliminating the gap between the rich and the poor. They said they had demolished the rich and brought up the equality. They moved people from the city to live and exercise collectively in rural areas. That had in fact cut off people’s ownership rights to materialism.
As far as ownership to sentiment, we all know that and would have narrated it somehow to the younger generation. They gathered small children away from their parents to form up what they called children group. Adults also had to be in what they called mobile youth unit. As far as marriage was concerned, you were in no rights to choose your partner. The relevant level of power of the “organization” of the Khmer Rouge would choose whom you would marry. That is what I called the effort to eliminate human ownership of sentiment or feeling. That had brought about social consequence in which killing of one another, even ones related by blood, was the case in action.
That made Cambodia’s departure from after the liberation of 7 January 1979 more difficult. What happened in other countries also inflicted changes but not the way Pol Pot did to Cambodia. Take for instance, they allowed people to go on using existing currencies and eventually replaced them later. Pol Pot did not do that. They closed down markets right alter the liberation. Things had gone back to bartering where people traded rice for fish, vegetable, clothing, etc. Eventually, trading in gold started before we came to this far. Some foreigners or our people might have thought why Cambodian carry out trading in so many different currencies. It is one of the reasons for the various currencies trading in the Cambodian market, indeed.
Foreign currencies circulation in the Cambodian market legally or illegally would go on. Some asked why not de-dollarization or the same should be doing to Euro or other currencies. The financial crisis of 1997 is a good example of the fact that if Cambodia is not strong on its feet, jumping would not be high and falling would not be hurtful. There have been some studies too and their findings suggest that because of the fact that Cambodian market traded in many different currencies, the impacts were also manageable.
More than that, reopening the school day of 1979/1980 was hard, really. We had to gather teachers survived the killing to get back to teaching and to train new ones. Now, it is 39 years from that horrible time. It is so sad to think about that. By this time in that year, people in Phnom Penh and/or provincial towns had been evacuated. They walked in despair. Some died on the roads. Now, in 39 years after that experience, we are celebrating here today the graduation and diploma presenting ceremony. That is the difference.
Let me recall the Khmer New Year of 1979, people living across the Mekong from Phnom Penh – Lovea Em district, Arei Khsat and Sarikakeo – crossed the river at night to collect various things like bicycles, shoes, etc. The area of Independence Monument was covered with high grass. Where there is park now, there used to be coconut trees. My wife, my son and I were sitting in the house looking out to the quiet neighbourhood. There were not many monks then. Now, though I do not go out during the national holiday, still I can stay watching TV at home.
Endorsing Three Draft Laws, Embracing Quality Education
We had to convene the Cabinet meeting to study and approve three important draft laws – Organization of the Courts, Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy and the Statue of Judges and Prosecutors (before I was on a mission abroad). In fact, the law on Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy could have been an amendment to the existing one. However, because we need to make many corrections, it is better that we write it a new one. Following that important Cabinet meeting, I conducted a visit to Azerbaijan and Belarus.
Thanks to national efforts, we have ensured development in education in a rather quick manner. I agree with the Rector Mr Duong Lieng that quality in education continues to be a priority. He mentioned about the need to strengthen capacity of professor and students’ learning efforts. It is to everyone’s knowledge that quality in education is the major course to raise high the country’s prestige in the international arena. This is the case for all educational institutions – state and private, from primary to tertiary levels. Our country would not be able to compete with our partners – in ASEAN, ACMECS, GMS, etc., if we were to lack quality in education. Let us continue to make efforts altogether.
I take this opportune moment to give my sincere appreciation to the former Asia-Europe organization for continuing to provide certificate-level professional training for our students. I think it is good to continue to provide this opportunity. Professional (short or medium term) training would do a lot in our efforts to address immediate lacking of human resource. It is a normal process. Even if in the case of our people living abroad, it is not that they all finish tertiary education. On the face of this earth, there is no such country that everyone of its citizen gains university education. Seeing the need for human resource achievement, I would urge continuing efforts to provide professional training to create more chances for our students to get job and to create jobs according to their specialties.
Cambodia to Focus on New Objectives
As I arrived in the country from the mission abroad, I had taken the chance to meet and work with some of our ministers. I told them that the current Cambodia needed to change its objectives. What change would it be? The point is that over the past almost two decades, we have made great efforts to promote labour-intensive industry. While we continue to carry on with this, we need also to promote new and value-added industries. For example, we have garment and shoes factories in Cambodia but we still have other value-added industry with great potential as well, especially those industries that are using local material resources. For instance, we still lack the sort of industry to process our rice. When we sell it as paddy, we lose the value from rice bran, the broken parts, husk and jobs for our people.
We export dozens million of tons of cassava without processing it and natural rubber in dry form. We should give more focus on prioritizing processing industry using material resource available in Cambodia. We also have to look at the possibility of opening up for industry that other countries can bring into Cambodia. Take for example the Japanese investment in a motor factory, which produces and supplies not only to the Japanese but also to the world markets as well. This evening I will meet with President of the Minebea Company, which, as far as I know, is in consideration of putting into operation new factories and new technology. It is aiming the new products to supply production lines in various countries with its latest technology.
It is in this note that I encourage the Asia-Europe organization in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to continue to provide vocational training for our students on this front. It is now clear that we have come to a time when we need to demand high processing quality. We cannot afford to produce anyone product in a large scale only to miss the standard required out there in the market.
I was in Azerbaijan and Belarus recently. The main purpose of the trip was to sell the Cambodian products and at the same time to buy those countries’ products at a lower prices. That the trip also covered political matters is true, but, for Cambodia these days, we give importance on economic, trade, investment, tourism, etc. in our diplomacy. Unlike in the previous years, when we gave importance on politics in diplomacy, in the current Cambodia, we are giving importance on economics in diplomacy to serve as a solid base for political engagements.
Take for instance in Belarus, aside from the joint communiqué we have nine other agreements that indicate joint efforts in economics, trade and investment. I visited a truck production company. They laid out a row of trucks, including the one used to mount rocket launchers. However, you should not confuse that I went there to buy any BM 21s. In Cambodia, there are two kinds of well-known trucks – KAMAZ and FUSO. I went there to visit the KAMAZ truck factory. They have made it more advanced. In the time of the former Soviet Union, they supplied us with tractors and KAMAZ trucks made in Belarus. I visited known places. They may come to visit and build assembly line for trucks in Cambodia for local as well as for regional markets.
Helps of Information Technology, Learning – a Continuing Process
As I am glad to greet our students for their graduation and present them diplomas, I would urge you that even if you have your Ph. D. degree, you may not consider it your end of education. Even if you are becoming Minister or Prime Minister, you must keep in mind that you need to keep learning. Anyone falls in pattern conservative thought would meet danger. Situation is evolving and we need to keep abreast of it. We have modern tools these days but what we can do when human beings do not modernize themselves. In the National Assembly and in the Cabinet, we have provided with computer. However, it would depend on if each member of the Royal Government would know how to operate them.
In the Cabinet, all computers are online and have pre-logged on to various websites – all Cambodian ministries and press – the Google GPS also included. The tools are advanced and human beings need to be too. This is a good example that learning is indeed a continuing process. I told my counterpart in our dinner, as an SMS came to me there, that I had to attend to numerous messages both in work and in family. As for family, because I have 5 children and 16 grandchildren, it is normal that I have so many messages to attend. My counterpart was surprised to hear that since he only had two children. He said he did not use it. Well it could add on to your busy schedule too.
Successful and Safe Khmer New Year, a Short Dry Season in July
Meanwhile, please allow me to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to all national and sub-national authorities in the whole country, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Buddhist monks and people for the fact that you have collaborated in making the traditional Khmer New Year a successful and safe one. It is normal that competent authority has to be alert in time of festivity. The region is still in sadness for the fact that (1) the (believed-to-have-crashed) Malaysian MH 370 flight is nowhere to be found yet and (2) hundreds of people died and/or unaccounted for in the ferry incident in South Korea. Cambodia also had a bad disaster in 2010 just after ending its water festival.
As you can see that in every festivity, competent authority of all levels – Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, Ministers, commanders of the armed forces, provincial authority – are keeping check on security until the end of the festivity. As for this year, our people had concentrated for New Year events in numerous places. Let alone the Angkor Sangkranta event in Siem Reap had witnessed so many people presence because of its new records. We had launch a first ever record of a pork and bean sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves at a weight never recorded before of two tons. The youth members have cooperated with the Association of Chefs to make and display. They also had an eating contest. Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia has presented its first ever record of 2 ton bean- pork sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. Let us see next year, will there be anyone or province to break this record in Siem Reap.
As far as chess championship is concerned, I was amazed by the dressing code competitors were in. It reminds us of the chess competition in the fairy tale between King Proma Toat and the Garuda King in (one of the Cambodian court literature) the Ka Key story. The champion is indeed a student who finished his study in architecture and used to stay in the Buddhist pagoda for his study too. It would be a great thing to see if in other year any province would think of making a new record on chess championship. It is my note that for those who stay in the pagoda, about 50 in 100 know how to play chess. The show of force between two groups on either side of a big stranded wire was also an amazing event that each side had up to a thousand pullers. There were also artistic performances and volleyball on sand in the beach area.
Celebrating the Khmer New Year, we now have come to the end of the dry season and the rainy season is coming too. According to the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology, the dry season will end in the second week of May. The rainy season will start in the third week of May but there will be a short dry period in July. I therefore urge our people to get ready for new cultivation season.
Everything Proceed Normally, Payday at End of the Month
As you can see, everything proceeds in its normal state. People enjoy the Khmer New Year when it came. There was nothing different. To come to the country or go out of the country is up to one’s mind. People may go to Siem Reap province or Sihanoukville province or Ratanakiri province etc. It was all up to them. What was not normal and gave us headaches was the jacking up of hotel and transport prices. Otherwise, everything was perfectly normal. After the Khmer New Year, the Cabinet met and endorsed the draft laws.
However, when I was abroad, according to the news sent to me, there have been comments by civil society that (the RGC has not brought) the three draft laws – (1) Organization of the Courts, (2) Organization and Functioning of the Supreme Council of Magistracy and (3) the Statue of Judges and Prosecutors – for consultation with them. I just needed to clarify that we have listened a lot on the issue already and according to the Constitution, we cannot present the draft laws to anyone. The process is after writing, the law is passed to the Cabinet (and after endorsing it) the Cabinet will pass it on to the National Assembly.
I would urge them not to ask for right beyond theirs. They should just do whatever their rights are to do. As institution elected by the people and defined by the Constitution and law on the organization and functioning of the Royal Government of Cambodia. It has not been instructed anywhere that the Cabinet has to consult with civil society organization. They should not ask to do other people’s job.
Today is April 28. It seems the payday happens in many places now. All I am asking is whether the payday of the month happens regularly or not. There is a team keeping watch on payday in the Ministry of Education. They asked many teachers in a few places to find out if they had their payday in the month. Their agents responded they did. I urge that the Ministries of Public Functions and Economy and Finance to follow this matter closely for me. I would not let this one slipped through my watch. If anything happens, the Ministers of Public Functions and of Economy and Finance must be responsible.
I would not want to go into political debate. I think I had better leave it at that. There should not be any concern there. I am here today and I will receive a guest tomorrow. Before I came here, I noticed there are a number of sub-decrees waiting for my signature. They are sub-decrees on giving land to the people. We are in the process of measuring land for the people – new action in existing policy. I am thankful that a number of students from the Asia-Europe University also participated. No matter how tired I could be, night or day, I must sign those sub-decrees. In a democratic society in this world, there is such think as being alike – some may be happy, some may cry. Our problem is to make the majority of people happy. To respond (to political remark) would create soap opera.
Let us all do our job normally. On May 18, there will be this election of the City and District Councils organized by the National Elections Committee. All five registered political parties will prepare for their participation. It is abnormal when some people behave wrongly. When we all go to school, they decide to skip it and force other not to go to school too. How can we who are in class wait for those who skip it? Class functions normally. Some lawyers would want us to bring the law for consultation with because that would allow them to seek financial help for organizations of seminars.
The spokesperson of the Royal Government already mentioned that the law we wrote and endorsed, is in fact along the ones exist in France, Australia and some other countries in consideration to the Cambodian situation. We have to get a hat that suits our head./.