The recent spate of kidnappings, robberies and the murder of a prominent Taiwanese businessman colored the discussion at Wednesday’s Second Government-Private Sector Forum, sponsored by the Council for the Development of Cambodia and attended by approximately 500 local business leaders.
But when a reporter asked what is being done to protect foreign investors from crime, Prime Minister Hun Sen cut him short. “That is a question that should be asked, but not by you,’’ Hun Sen said. “This is not a press conference, but a forum for investors.’’
Investors did ask that question, and dozens more, in the daylong session aimed at improving the country’s business climate and solving problems for the thousands of foreigners trying to do business here.
One member of the Hong Kong-Macau Business Association said he had believed things were getting better in Cambodia. But last Friday’s murder of Lee Chim Hsin, the president of the Taiwanese Business Association, “has caused grave concern,’’ he said. No one has been arrested for the murder.
“Where is the government’s guarantee of personal safety? These violence incidents increasingly testify to the fact that security in Cambodia has degraded.’’
It may seem that way but it’s not true, Hun Sen replied. “The situation is not worsening.’’ Random violence occurs in cities around the world, including New York, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, he said.
“But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility. We want greater safety for everyone, and are working toward that goal.’’
Security concerns were also raised by Van Sou Ieng, the president of the Garment Manufacturers Association. Several factories suffered broken windows and wrenched gates during the garment strike that ended last week.
“How can manufacturers be sure recent events won’t repeat themselves?’’ he asked. If a low-cost, low-skill industry like garment manufacture can’t survive in Cambodia, he said, there is little hope the country can support more advanced industries.
“Investors who provide good working conditions will have stable workforces,’’ responded Minister of Labor Ith Sam Heng, noting that only 10 percent of Cambodia’s 200 garment factories took part in the strike.
He added that workers are demanding higher wages and shorter work weeks around the world, and urged manufacturers to talk more to union leaders.
Other speakers cited familiar complaints, from endless paperwork required by ministries to high fuel costs and bribe-taking at all levels of government.
Although investors have been told to visit the CDC for “one-stop service,’’ they complained that it has become nearly as bogged down as the multiple ministries it was supposed to replace.
Hun Sen told the participants that he had cleared his schedule so that they could air all the problems they wanted to.
He said he had his top officials on hand to answer questions, and that only those in the hospital or out of the country were excused from attending the forum.
“We can stay here all day. We can go to 11 pm, stopping only for dinner,’’ he told the mostly male crowd at the Intercontinental Hotel. “I can stand it if you can.’’
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