Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday rejected the advice of Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, saying he does not feel tourism is the only key to developing Cambodia’s economy.
“If we work only on tourism, we won’t have anything to eat,” Hun Sen said after watching Goh’s jet leave Pochentong Airport.
Hun Sen then walked down the red carpet at the airport and into a car without further comment.
During his five-day visit to Cambodia, which included two days at the temples of Angkor, Goh told the Cambodian government that it should focus on its tourism industry because, the Singaporean leader said, Cambodian manufacturing cannot compete in a global economy.
Goh promised to send experts to help maximize Cambodia’s tourism industry. He also pledged to train Cambodian officials to help expand its tourist industry and capacity, especially at Angkor Wat.
Goh’s advice comes as Cambodia lobbies to join the World Trade Organization, which government officials hope will open up markets in developed countries, providing a boost to Cambodia’s industries, particularly its garment industry.
Moments before boarding his plane, Goh said he hoped to begin implementing what he called his “master plan” for Cambodian tourism within the year.
“I would put it at nine to 12 months because it requires some professional people to get involved with the strategy,” Goh said.
The Singaporean prime minister, who has not visited Cambodian since 1996, did not provide any further specifics about the tourism plan. When asked whether he had considered how much money Singapore would spend on the project, he replied, “I have no preconceived notions.”
He also said he hoped to get Singaporean investors involved in helping to develop Cambodia’s tourism industry.
“We will encourage them to do so,” he said.
The number of tourists has doubled each year since 1998, and the government hopes to triple the number of tourist arrivals during the next four years.
If it can accomplish that, the boom will create 160,000 jobs for Cambodians, government officials claim.
Both leaders characterized Goh’s visit as a chance to build the relationship between their two countries.
“We discussed ways we could help one another, like we did last year,” Goh said, referring to Hun Sen’s visit to the city-state in June 2000.
Goh arrived in Siem Reap Sunday and flew to Phnom Penh Tuesday, meeting with Hun Sen and the Council of Ministers, King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath, and several other government officials.
On Wednesday evening, Goh addressed the Singapore Club in a speech one Singaporean businessman described as “heart- warming.”
Goh told his fellow citizens that the relations between the two countries were improving, which would also improve the portfolios of Singaporean speculators, the businessman said.
“He said that the Cambodian government is more confident about Singaporean investors,” the businessman said.
The Singaporean businessman, who has lived and worked in Phnom Penh for more than a year, also said he agreed with Goh’s assessment of Cambodia’s economic potential.
“I think they have a stronger fighting chance against the Chinese and the Vietnamese if they focus on tourism,” he said.
Cambodia still has a long way to go before they can compete in the global market, the businessman said.
“They’re quite far away, to put it mildly. Labor is not very productive, and they’re not very well trained. So the manpower is not there,” he said.
Another major obstacle to Cambodia’s development, the businessman said, is corruption. Often times, government officials threaten his business with inspections, which the businessman characterized as “extortion.”
Even so, Cambodia is still somewhat better off than some of its regional neighbors, the businessman said. Vietnam changes its laws and policies too often to be stable, and Burma has no foreign aid and an infrastructure that is less developed than Cambodia’s, he added.
Cambodia’s garment industry, while not a world leader, is at least reliable, the businessman said. Garments make up 80 percent of Cambodia’s exports.
Echoing the comments of his prime minister, the businessman said that Cambodia must make human-resources development a priority.
“I think the solution is training their manpower,” he said.