Six months after candidates for the National Arbitration Center boycotted examinations designed to ensure their credibility, the Commerce Ministry has scheduled a new test for this month, though potential arbitrators were divided on whether to take the new exam.
According to a letter dated Feb 15 signed by Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, would-be arbitrators are legally required to sit three-hour tests either on March 14 or 20. The letter added that those who fail would have a chance to retake the test at a later date.
“It will not be as difficult as the student’s entrance exam at the college, which selects only four or five [people] out of 100,” said Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Commerce Ministry, adding that the test would be held at the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions, and is not designed to eliminate candidates, but to ensure they understand arbitration.
“I pray to have them all pass in order to take part in a vital job,” he added.
On Sept 4, all 54 candidate arbitrators boycotted two days of examinations intended to assure their competence and understanding of commercial arbitration, which is intended to resolve business disputes outside the courts.
Though similar tests are common in arbitration centers around the world, candidate arbitrators said the test was not a legal requirement. But in January Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the tests.
No date has been set for the opening of the National Arbitration Center.
Ros Monin, one of the potential arbitrators, said Thursday that though some arbitrators are now willing to sit examinations, others still want to know more about exactly how the test will be conducted before agreeing to take part.
“I have not decided yet because I have not seen the rules of the examination,” he said.
Lim Chheng, another candidate, said he will not sit the test on principle, but admitted that the government and business community had won the fight.
“I will not attend that exam. The law is not retroactive,” he said. “In the interest of the law, we have protested a lot and it turned out to be useless as the government sticks to their main idea to require the passing of the exam before being listed as a national arbitrators.”
Members of the private sector say that testing potential arbitrators is essential to ensure that investors have confidence in the new institution.
The “[p]rivate sector wants to see and ensure that we have highly qualified and knowledgeable arbitrators in the NAC,” said Sandra D’Amico, vice president of The Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations, in an e-mail.
“If the recruitment and selection process is doubted, then the whole credibility of the NAC will be in question, so the scheduling of the examination is welcomed by [the] private sector.”
Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, also voiced approval for the scheduled tests and said that he doubted the delays would affect the confidence in the center, as assurance that the arbitrators are qualified has long been a top concern.
“The business community does not want to see something done that is supposed to be for their benefit that is of no benefit of all. It just wastes their time,” he said. “I don’t think their [the arbitrators’] stance was very wise, but if they take the test and pass then there no is reason that we should not have confidence in them.”