Minister Vows To Beat Graft Or Leave Post

Commerce Minister Cham Pra­­­sidh on Sunday vowed to re­sign at the end of the year if by that time corruption still plagues the taxation and regulation of the garment industry.

“If you do not see the reform at the end of this year, you will not see Cham Prasidh as the Min­ister of Commerce again,” Cham Prasidh told members of the Gar­ment Manufacturers Associa­tion at its general meeting in Phnom Penh.

“In order to help the garment sec­tor to survive, we must cut all the under-the-table costs,” he said. “How can I still be a commerce minister if the garment in­dustry dissolves?”

Cambodia’s garment industry has been under pressure since the Jan 1 end of the Multi-Fiber Agree­ment which limited, through quotas, China, India and other major garment-producing nations’ access to the US, EU and Canadian markets.

Cham Prasidh said Sunday that 70 of 290 garment factories registered in Cambodia in 1996 have since closed.

Chuon Mom Thul, president of the Cambodian Union Feder­ation, said Sunday that since the end of the quota system; 47,670 garment workers nationwide are now jobless.

“They are jobless because of no quota and no buyers,” he said. “Strikes are not the cause.”

Huot Chanty, director of the Labor Inspection Department at the Ministry of Labor, said he could not provide the official estimate of jobs lost on Sunday.

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen laid out a 12-step plan aimed primarily at ending corruption affecting export industries. The plan focused on simplifying customs procedures and eliminating opportunities for bribe-taking.

Donors have pushed for corruption-related cost-cutting and good labor standards as ways to save the garment industry from collapse in the face of price pressure from buyers.

“What we need is a revolution,” Cham Prasidh said. “Fighting corruption is not an easy task at all…but we are trying to create a system to clear your goods in one hour.”

GMAC Chairman Van Sou Ieng said that one of the key problems for the garment industry is that it imports all of its raw materials be­cause of the lack of a textile industry here.

“It is expensive for the ship and a waste of time,” he said.

Van Sou Ieng said that Cham Prasidh’s vow to push reform or end his career was a strong message.

“Now what we hope most is that we are working with the state to reduce costs,” he said.

The chairman also said he plans to help smaller factories consolidate into bigger ones so that they can benefit from economies of scale.

He urged unions to refrain from strikes and urged opposition leader Sam Rainsy to find US buyers for Cambodian garments in­stead of encouraging strikes.

“Mr Opposition Politician never asks the US to praise Cambodia,” Van Sou Ieng alleged. “Why doesn’t Sam Rainsy ask the US for help to export the products without paying tax?”

GMAC has been lobbying the US Congress for duty-free access for Cambodian garments. In re­cent media statements, Sam Rainsy has said the US should not grant the access unless the National Assembly restores his par­liamentary immunity and that of two other lawmakers who were also stripped in February.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union federation, said Sunday he was skeptical of Cham Prasidh’s promise for change.

“This promise is so beautiful to hear, but we heard about reform and more reform, but there is still corruption,” he said.

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