Senate Touts Accomplishments of First Year

‘Nothing Much… Achieved,’ Say Critics of New Body

It’s been just over a year since Cambodia’s Senate got off to a somewhat shaky start, and its leaders have published its first annual report of achievements.

It is a slim volume.

Seven pages suffice to explain how the Senate was formed, what it is supposed to do, and what it has done in its first two three-month sessions. The list of activities takes up less than three of those pages.

The report itself, produced by the Senate’s office of the Secre­tariat General, says don’t expect too much too soon.

As a new institution, it says, the Senate needs more time “to become a strong and professional legislative body’’ that can completely fulfill its responsibilities.

Cambodia’s first priority is still “national reconciliation and political stability,’’ the report states. “Under these fragile circumstances, our Senate cannot afford to act beyond the reality of the situation.’’

Senator Ung Ty, the CPP deputy chairman of the Senate Commission on Human Rights, said the new body has indeed helped stabilize the political situation. “Human rights and democracy have been advanced,’’ he said. In addition, the nine Senate commissions—set up to deal with a wide array of concerns—have been very active, he said.

Before the Senate was established, critics questioned whether it was needed, saying the 61-member body was created to give CPP President Chea Sim a senior post—a key factor in completing the coalition agreement. Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ran­a­riddh got Chea Sim’s former post of National Assembly president, and Chea Sim was named Se­nate president.

When King Noro­dom Siha­nouk pre­sided over opening ceremonies last year, he warned the new senators to work hard to  justify their $1 million bud­get. He said senators needed “to prove to our people…that our Senate is not useless, but, on the contrary, is able to render great services to the people, the nation, and our homeland.’’

Observers this week split on whether they have done so.

“Nothing much, really, has been achieved,’’ said Lao Mong Hay, executive director, of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. “A staff of 200 seems too much. They’ve taken some study tours abroad, but there’s been nothing substantial in terms of results.’’

He said the $1 million might better have been used to hire and train more staff for the National Assembly.

Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Co­operation and Peace, on the other hand, thinks the Senate is developing into a positive force.

“The Senate has been able to present itself as a relevant institution that can contribute to the development of this country,’’ he said. “They have created more debate. Sometimes the Senate has not agreed with the National Assembly, and that is good. It strengthens democracy.’’

One Asian diplomat said the Senate’s finest moment was when it rejected a law requiring that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs always to be headed by a woman. “They sent it back [to the National Assembly] as unconstitutional, and I think that was justified,’’ he said. In addition, senators “haven’t really choked up the process as some people had feared. So far, so good, huh?”

The Senate report is long on generalities and short on spec­ifics. For example:

• Under “Activities,’’ items 12 through 15 list agreements ratified by the Senate on “investment promotion and protection’’ with four countries—Singapore, Korea, China, and Switzerland. No details of those agreements are included.

• Pages 5 and 6 describe foreign trips taken by top Senate leaders and unspecified senators to Japan, Vietnam and Paris, as well as three joint Senate-National Assembly trips to the Philippines, Thailand and Australia. The report does list the highest-ranking member on each Senate trip, but not the entire delegation, or how much the trips cost.

• Numbers in general are scarce. The report refers to “some 200’’ employees of the secretariat general, at least some of whom “need further training both in professional skills and foreign languages.’’ How much training, and what it might cost, are not addressed.

(Additional reporting by Ham Sam­nang)

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