Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday touted Cambodia’s new-found political stability and vowed to continue reforms in efforts to encourage more foreign investors.
“There’s no reason to worry about political instability,” said the premier in his speech at a foreign investment conference at the Hotel Le Royal. “Some investors are concerned that the upcoming [commune] elections might cause another political turmoil, but nobody would cause any troubles because the Khmer Rouge movement has already finished.”
Hun Sen spoke to more than 250 potential foreign investors representing multinational corporations at Cambodia Investment 2000, a conference organized by the Washington-based American-Asean Business Council and Bangkok-based Dataconsult.
The premier emphasized that Cambodia has achieved peace and political stability after decades of civil war, creating a favorable climate for investors. Then he blamed the UN-led international community for putting pressure on the Cambodian government to hold the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“The tiger has already died, but some people are still scared of the tiger’s skin,” he said, referring to the Khmer Rouge. “If they keep pressuring, I cannot ensure that Cambodia enjoys the peace and stability.”
After the Untac-led general elections in 1993, Cambodia saw an increase in foreign investment until the 1997 factional fighting and the Asian financial crisis. Despite new-found peace, the flow of foreign capital is still slow.
“I wish to invite you all to join us, through your concrete contribution, to wage a war against poverty and prepare Cambodia for a bright future,” Hun Sen said.
He noted such reforms as a crackdown on illegal logging, and said he would cancel three logging concessions by Sunday. Those concessions have been identified as virtually depleted of commercially-valuable timber in a recently-completed Asian Development Bank-funded review.
Earlier in the day, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh also declared Cambodia is ready to receive more foreign investment.
“Cambodia needs the participation of the private sector to rebuild its economy following more than two decades of internal conflict, isolation and political instability,” said Prince Ranariddh.
He also said Cambodia has achieved true peace since the Khmer Rouge defections, and said the two major political parties—Funcinpec and CPP—have learned how to cooperate. He was apparently referring to the factional fighting of 1997 that resulted in his ouster from power.
At least one potential investor was impressed.
“There is a big potential here in Cambodia,” said Graeme Hay, engineering director for the Australian-based Pipe-Line Protection Industries Co. He noted that the government has a flexible tax system, and that there seems to be no language barrier.
“You could make a fortune if the government follows what it said to us,” Hay said.
He said he wasn’t worried about the lack of infrastructure and security issues, but he said weak legal framework and lack of rule of law are concerns.
“The biggest risk here is inconsistent government policy,” Hay said.