Prime Minister Hun Sen formally announced on Wednesday evening a new government initiative that creates formal patronage relationships between military units and private companies, 42 of which have already been partnered with RCAF units.
The new program will “solve the dire situation of the armed forces, police, military police and their families through a culture of sharing,” according to a government memo distributed at the gathering of military officials and business leaders at the Cambodiana Hotel.
The memo spells out the kind of assistance that businesses might want to provide their “sister” army units: “visits of encouragement, material assistance, food, medicine, general tools, harvesting equipment, cattle breeds, seeds, harvest equipment, wells, ponds, means of travel or transportation, shelter and working buildings.”
In a speech at the event, the premier said he was personally overseeing the new program and urged even more companies to participate: “I have proposals for still more involvement concerning the regiments,” he told the assembled crowd.
According to a Feb 22 document signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and also distributed at the gathering, 59 separate partnerships between private companies and military units have been established.
Each of the business-military partnerships will also be joined by a government body, ranging from the Ministry of Finance to the Banteay Meanchey provincial government and Electricite Du Cambodge.
The seven-page document lists every company that will support a military unit, including Sokimex, Tela, Canadia Bank, NCK Honda, Mobitel, CTN TV, Bayon TV and Radio, Spark Entertainment Center, Chub Rubber Plantation Co, AZ Company, Koh Pich Development Corp, and Ly Yong Phat Company. According to the document, mobile phone firm Metfone-a subsidiary of the Vietnamese military-owned telecom company Viettel-will sponsor the Ream Naval Base and RCAF Division 31.
A Metfone representative did not respond yesterday to e-mails requesting comment. However, Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhon said that the phone company and not the Vietnamese military would be involved in the alliance. “If it is Metfone, it is Metfone, not the military,” he said. “But why not? If [Metfone] wishes to help, why not?”
ANZ Royal Bank, a joint venture between Australia-based ANZ and Royal Group, is also listed as a partner to two military units: Intervention Brigade 8 and Brigade 905.
However, ANZ Royal CEO Stephen Higgins said yesterday that the bank is not involved in the alliance.
“No, it is against ANZ’s global policies to provide support for the military in individual countries, regardless of what country that is,” Mr Higgins said. He went on to suggest that the bank’s inclusion on the list could be a mistake, or a misprint for Royal Group alone.
Several other individual Royal Group properties are also listed on the document as military sponsors, including Mobitel, CTN and the Cambodiana Hotel.
Royal Group CEO Kith Meng yesterday declined to comment on the alliances, referring all questions to the prime minister’s cabinet.
Mark Hanna, the CFO of Royal Group, said yesterday that he had never heard of the new initiative and could not comment on it. “I have absolutely no idea,” he said.
Charles Vann, the deputy director of Canadia Bank, said that Canadia would participate in the program.
“The kind of help [we provide] might be food and medicine and other daily needs for the people over there that they require,” he said.
Mr Vann emphasized that participation in the program is on a strictly voluntary basis, with no minimum donation set by the government.
“We wanted to make a social contribution to help the poor people and those who need food and medicine,” he added.
Tan Monivann, the vice president of Mong Reththy Group, which is also a military sponsor, concurred with this yesterday, saying that private companies should help soldiers if they can.
“If the regiment is lacking something, we will see if we can help them with what they don’t have,” he said. “It is a good plan.”
Mr Sokhon, the secretary of state, said that the government institutions listed on the document would be “a party to the relationship” between the companies and the military.
“The military will from time to time send a delegation to say hello, and [their partners] will bring whatever they want to bring to help the unit at the border, make a call and ask them about their living situation, and so on-it’s this kind of relationship,” he said.
Mr Sokhon added that all donations are voluntary.
“It is on a voluntary basis, which means that the companies and ministries will not replace the former supply from the government, from the Ministry of National Defense,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that he was unsure precisely how the Council of Ministers-which is listed as a party to the alliance between Intervention Brigade 3’s Division Headquarters and the Kiek Rubber Plantation Company-would participate in the program.
But he said it would be a welcome throwback to tradition.
“It’s a Cambodian custom to share with each other, to help each other,” he said. “The way it used to be, every ministry in every province used to go to the Preah Vihear region, and they used to bring food, rice, dried fish, stuff like that…and we went there to feed them and cheer them up. With empty hands? No, we came with food. And now, instead of everyone going to the Preah Vihear region, they will each go out to one point, one administrative compound.”
“So many private companies voluntarily help as humanitarians by giving food to the military, but in order to make it easier, they will dictate one private company to work jointly with a ministry-like a partnership, like a sister city, like a buddy to help the frontline or the military,” Mr Siphan added, explaining the initiative.