Almost every day this week, Cambodian TV audiences have watched a character named Mr Honda ask his friend Khlok how he paid for his comically huge gold chain and diamond ring.
“You don’t want to know—it is a secret,” Khlok replies. “But as a friend, I have to tell…. Just opening one non-governmental organization means big money.”
“Oh, an organization for insults?” asks Mr Honda.
“It was formed to insult,” Khlok confirms. “[We say] ‘Corrupt government, corruption, corruption, change, change, change the old, replace with the new, change the old, replace with the new.’
“Once you know how to insult like this, money comes right away.”
The facetious dialogue comes from one of a handful of sketches performed live by the Koy comedy troop on June 6 and 7, then rebroadcast on the Bayon, CTN, and TV5 networks this week.
Chuong Chy, also known by his stage name “Koy,” is the troop’s leader, and holder of the rank of colonel in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit.
Mr Chy said by telephone Thursday that he produced
the show to respond to recent
allegations of corruption in the Cambodian government.
In a May 30 speech at an anti-corruption concert, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said that the Cambodian government loses up to $500 million in public funds every year because of corruption. Three days later, Transparency International released its annual corruption barometer, which revealed that almost half of Cambodian families have paid bribes in the last year, as did three quarters of those who dealt with the country’s judicial system.
Mr Chy, who was not joking, said that he saw no evidence of corrupt judges or government officials.
“Saying that officials are corrupt, I don’t know. I just see them building schools, wells and bridges,” the well-know comedian said. “There is no corruption. They take money to build things; they didn’t take it to put in their own pockets.”
Local film producer Ly Bun Yim said Thursday that it was not right for comedians to mock NGOs, thought many others were hesitant to comment on the comedy sketches.
“NGOs help people a lot,” Mr Bun Yim said, adding that NGOs act as watchdogs for the government.
“Without NGOs…it would be like riding a horse without holding the reins,” he said.
Yuk Chenda, a VJ for CTN, said Thursday that she didn’t’ want to comment.
“I ask not to be involved. I don’t understand what the show wanted to say.”
Film star Tep Rindaro said that he doesn’t know much about the work of NGOs. “I also don’t understand, and I’m not so much interested,” he added.
Representatives of the NGO community, which is a sizeable body of groups, organization and interests given Cambodia’s decades of turbulence, continuing poverty and under-funded social services, said Thursday that the programs were misleading and unfair.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said Thursday that it was ridiculous to suggest that NGO workers are rich.
“When we ask [people]…. Why not start to work with NGOS? Even my relatives and my friends say they won’t come; they want to work with the government,” Mr Panha said. “The powerful guys in the government are so rich. The NGOs cannot compare,” he said.
NGO Forum on Cambodia Director Chhith Sam Ath said that the sketches represent a misunderstanding about the role of NGOs.
“The NGO complements the government,” he said. “Based on our experience on the ground, we learn from our experience, and try to give comments and advice to the government.”
He also pointed out that some NGOs have recently reported a decrease in funding.
“We have enough for survival, but some don’t have enough for survival,” Mr Sam Ath said.
Thun Saray, president of local human right organization Adhoc, agreed that the comical message is misleading, but it should be give and take.
“I think that it’s the right of the government to respond, because we criticize them. It’s a part of the process,” he said.
The comedians, however, have denied that the government was in any way involved in inspiring their sketches.