National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh unveiled plans for new airports in Siem Reap and Kompong Chhnang province and tourist resorts in national parks while leveling harsh criticism against the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the US on Tuesday.
Prince Ranariddh outlined the government’s “action plan” for development during a two-and-one-half-hour address at a gathering of ministers and provincial governors at the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
In his talk, Prince Ranariddh blasted the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for inhibiting foreign investment into Cambodia by seeking changes to the Investment Law.
“According to my knowledge, there is no country in the world that has successfully developed following the policies of the World Bank and IMF,” he said. “The reason Cambodia has lost [foreign direct investment] is by following the recommendations of the World Bank, IMF and ADB.”
The World Bank in December called Cambodia’s tax collection effort “one of the lowest in the world.”
Prince Ranarridh said that Cambodia should scrap recent and proposed amendments to the Investment Law, backed by the financial institutions, that end land concessions and seek to eliminate tax exemptions for foreign companies.
To spur investment, the prince said, “We need to allow tax exemptions.”
Moving focus to the textile industry, the prince countered donor claims that high labor standards are the only savior of Cambodia’s garment industry.
Prince Ranarridh took specific aim at the deal with the US which in the late 1990s allowed Cambodia to receive higher quotas in exchange for good working conditions at Cambodian factories.
“America said if the Khmer does not follow this and that labor law…they won’t buy from us…I have to ask what about Vietnam, China?…Where are the unions in Vietnam?”
Prince Ranariddh also told the assembled officials that a new national airline is to be established and that he and Prime Minister Hun Sen had agreed that bidding should commence shortly for the development of an international passenger and cargo air terminal in Kompong Chhnang.
“[Deputy Prime Minister] Sok An is working to establish a new national carrier ‘Khmer Air’ with an investor from Thailand,” he said.
Previously the government had agreed to a joint venture with the DragonGold company to create the region’s largest airline cargo hub at the site of a runway in Kompong Chhnang province that was built with Chinese assistance during the Khmer Rouge regime.
In 2001 the government canceled the agreement and in February DragonGold’s Australian Chairman Iain Gray was arrested for allegedly defrauding an employee.
In addition to a second terminal being developed at Siem Reap International Airport by the French firm Societe Concessionaire de l’Aeroport, a Korean investor is interested in developing an entirely new airport around 30 to 40 km from Siem Reap town, the prince said.
The prince also said that Hun Sen has allowed, in principle, the development of tourist resorts in the Bokor and Kirirom National Parks.
“You have to understand that in the Philippines there are golf courses on the mountains,” he said.
“Please allow an investor to develop Bokor and build a road through a [Build Operate Transfer] plan. If we care only about Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we have nothing.”
To ally fears about deforestation, a system of tree-numbering could be developed to protect old-growth forests, he added.
Prince Ranarridh also focused on the Malaysian-owned Ariston company, which operates Phnom Penh’s NagaCorp Casino. “We allowed them to keep the casino in Phnom Penh because they agreed to help develop mega-projects including an airport in Sihanoukville, highways, electricity, resorts and a casino on Koh Posh island,” he said.
“The mega projects are not there, only a 5-hole golf course. The world standard is 27 to 36 holes,” the prince noted.
The government would now seek to develop many islands off the Cambodian coast into resorts.
“If Vietnam or Thailand want to invest, we can make a deal,” he said, adding: “We own the islands.”