Monday, 11 August 2008

Acleda poised to shift focus out of Cambodia

August 10 2008
By Raphael Minder in Hong Kong
Financial Times (UK)

Acleda, a Cambodian microfinancier that has built up the country’s largest retail banking network, is considering opening its shareholding to a western commercial bank as it starts to expand outside its home market.

Last month Acleda became the first Cambodian bank to make a foray abroad, after obtaining a banking licence from neighbouring Laos. The bank is eyeing China and Vietnam next.

In Channy, chief executive, told the Financial Times that Acleda had received 19 investment proposals and would decide next month which one would make the best “strategic shareholder”. Western banks are on the list, although he would not disclose names.

Acleda began 15 years ago as a microfinance program­me backed by the United Nations and has since established itself as one of Asia’s leading providers of microcredit.

It has also developed a full-fledged retail business, with 214 branches across Cambodia. Mr In Channy forecast that, in five years, microfinance would represent 30-40 per cent of Acleda’s lending business, down from 50 per cent now and 70 per cent in 2005.

Mr In Channy added that there was no specific timetable for expanding into more countries but sounded particularly optimistic about filling a void in the Chinese lending market. “There is just no institution in China like ours serving the lower sector,” he said.

To meet such ambitions, Mr In Channy said Acleda “really needs the capital base to grow”, at a rate of about $70m a year. Adding a shareholder, however, could alter the balance of power, since Acleda is currently 51 per cent-owned by its staff and other locals, while the other 49 per cent is owned by foreign funds and international donors, including the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private lending arm.

With inflation recently soaring in Cambodia, Mr In Channy insisted that Acleda could weather any serious economic downturn, noting that its rate of non-performing loans was 0.02 per cent in 2007, compared with an average of 5.2 per cent for the country’s banking sector.

In a report earlier this year, Standard & Poor’s, the credit ratings agency, commended Acleda for its good asset quality, “although the laws on secured transactions are not well-defined in Cambodia and recovery is not guaranteed. This might call into question the bank’s ability to enforce claims and magnify its exposure to structural weakness in the economy.”

Cambodia: CPP Wins Almost 60% of Vote

PHNOM PENH, Aug 11 Asia Pulse - The Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) won 58.1 per cent of the popular vote in the July 27 general election, according to figures released by the National Election Commission (NEC) on August 9.

NEC also said that with 21.9 per cent of vote, the Sam Rainsy Party is the CPP's nearest rival.

According to a NEC official, turnout was 75.21 per cent or six million of the 8.1 million eligible voters.

But the official declined to say how many parliamentary seats each party had won before a further announcement next month in which full official results will be revealed.

The Sam Rainsy Party on the same day rejected the outcome and demanded a re-run.

Earlier, the CPP claimed it had captured at least 90 of the 123 seats in Parliament.


Military must justify budget

The Bangkok Post
Monday August 11, 2008

Costs have been rising for everyone lately, but the nation's elected representatives should take a long and careful look at the new request for funds by the armed forces. In testimony late last month to a House committee, senior officers said the military needs 169 billion baht for the next fiscal year, which begins on Oct 1. That is about 26 billion more than the current year, or nearly 18%. And this year's budget of 143 billion baht is a full 60% higher than fiscal 2006, thanks to the largesse of the government installed by the military coup.

Now inflation is high, but no employee or civil servant will be getting a raise that works out to about 51% in two years. Thus far, the commanding generals, admirals and air marshals have been quite vague about what they will do with such a large budget rise.

Defence Ministry permanent secretary Gen Vinai Patthiyakul told the special House budget committee that an internal study showed that Thai military power was rated ''a bit lower than Singapore and South Korea''. But neither of those countries borders Thailand or poses a threat.
Compared with Laos and Cambodia, Thai forces rate ''a bit higher''. One certainly hopes so. Laos has about 29,000 troops using Indochina war-era weapons, spending the equivalent of 470 million baht. Cambodia's total armed forces of perhaps 100,000 men account for a budget equivalent of 4.5 billion baht.

While spending does not always parallel effectiveness, there clearly is no comparison between the capabilities of the Thai armed forces, with more than 200,000 men and women on active duty or in paramilitary forces on instant call.

The military, rightly, has a special place in the nation's budget, just as it has a special place in the nation. It defends the Thai borders, and there is no more sacred duty. The armed forces play a vital role in society, and have frequently been called on to sacrifice at home and abroad. At the same time, however, the military is subject to government control. The national treasury is limited, and both the government and parliament must oversee a huge number of programmes that are important to the country.

Gen Vinai and the commanders of each of the armed forces told the budget committee that equipment is wearing out, and both maintenance and new weapons are needed. But an important part of managing the military in peacetime is keeping supplies in the pipeline, exactly so that taxpayers can afford the bill.

The army and air force have also been coy about how they have used 38 billion baht out of this year's huge budget increase. The deal to buy 96 armoured cars from Ukraine was pushed through with undue and even unseemly haste. It was hard to imagine a more suspect, opaque purchase _ until the air force bought 12 combat aircraft from the Swedish firm Gripen International. No senior officer or defence minister showed up to explain to the country or to parliament just why these cars and planes were necessary, and the funding was shrouded in mystery.

The military needs to be far more cooperative and accountable in explaining its budget. The country will not let the armed forces down when it needs manpower, equipment or money. But neither can taxpayers afford to simply hand over whatever commanders want, with no explanation.

Like the Foreign Ministry, the military should appear before parliament and justify its request for a massive spending increase.

Wild frontiers

SIDE VIEW - A collection of stoned heads up for sale aside the road in eastern frontier of Thailand.

By Manote Tripathi
The Nation
Published on August 11, 2008

The provinces bordering the Cambodian border are rich in ancient architectural wonders

Hot, dry and very dusty for much of the year, the Kingdom's eastern provinces along the ThaiCambodia border are best explored during the rainy season. Although the heat can still be a killer between downpours, there are so many natural and ancient attractions scattered across Prachin Buri and neighbouring Sa Kaeo, which was elevated to provincial status in 1993, that this area more than merits the drive from Bangkok for a weekend break.

Known for their topclass national parks, waterfalls and whitewater rafting courses, both Prachin Buri and Sa Kaeo boast a number of classic Dvaravati and Khmer temples dating back more than a millennium. The drive to the two provinces is like journeying back in time through Thai and Khmer history and art ending, for those who wish it, in a very modern Vegasstyle spread just across the border from Aranyaprathet.

For time efficiency, it makes sense to start your itinerary from the far end and work inwards. At 236 kilometres from Bangkok an easy threehour drive the hilly expanse of Sa Kaeo is strewn with remnants of ancient Khmer heritage that spill over from the Korat plateau in lower Isaan
For history buffs, this is an ideal destination for many reasons. First, these lesserknown Khmer temples are a lot older than the famous ones like Angkor Wat. Secondly, many of these are tucked away deep in the forest and are relatively unknown to most tourists.

It's a long drive to Sa Kaeo, but Road 359 offers priceless views of endless eucalyptus plantations set against a backdrop of distant hills as the road rises and dips through slopes all the way to the provincial capital. Driving in the rain, you almost get to touch rain clouds hovering just above treetops.

Ironically, the first landmark you'll notice is not an ancient temple but rather a Baan Uathorn (lowcost) housing estate at the beginning of Road 348. Rows of white houses with blue tile roofs contrast beautifully with the green swamp but memories of that eye candy soon fade on the approach to Sadokkokthom Temple in Khok Sung subdistrict, the biggest Khmer temple in eastern Thailand. Still in a much better condition than any other in the province, the temple lies east and is just 400 metres from the Cambodian border. Beyond the borderline are unmarked minefields in Banteay Meanchey.

Tucked away behind rural villages and surrounded by big trees, the temple has two large baray (reservoir) to the east and the north, the former the biggest at 240 by 440 metres. Inscriptions from two stone blocks (now kept at the National Library) found here reveal that the temple was unusual.

Built of laterite and pink sandstone from Khao Lone nine km to the north during the reign of King Aditayavarma II (10491066), Sadokkokthom was originally a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Chairat Sakulpram, a volunteer guide, says that the temple was the most important of all in the area because it was the centre of knowledge for all Brahmins who wanted to serve in the royal Khmer court. They came here to study all aspects of the religious protocol before entering the service in the ancient court.

Much of the damage, Chairat says, is the result of looting that started during the 1960s, much of thought to have been perpetrated by GIs stationed in the northeast in the wake of the Vietnam War.

The partially disfigured reclining vishnu lintel still adorns the gopura but the Shiva Linga from the main tower sanctuary is now missing.

From Sadokkokthom Temple, it's tempting to visit Aranyaprathet just opposite Poi Pet if for no other reason but to observe Cambodian life without actually crossing the border markets. These day, visitors come to Aranyaprathet for three main reasons: to try their luck in one of the casinos just over the border, to hail a Toyota Camry taxi for a Bt500 trip to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat or to shop at Talat Rong Klua market for handicrafts and products from Tonle Sap, Vietnam and China.

It's a hot and dusty market full of contradictions, with young Cambodians both selling their wares and begging for mercy. On the other side, buses with the names of casinos plastered on the windshield ferry gamblers across the border.

Around Aranyaprathet, there are a few more Khmer temples to be found. Since most are in ruins beyond restoration, they are better ignored. Instead, turn the car inland and head towards Prachin Buri on Highway 33.

Downtown Prachin Buri, just 155km from Bangkok, is a frenzied market town with ubiquitous restaurants, glassfront barber's shops and beauty salons. A favourite spot with locals is the Bang Pakong River, which boasts countless riverfront restaurants, temples and a spectacular Chinese shrine on its banks.

One of the best known attractions is Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr Hospital, home to the renowned colonialstyle Chaophraya Abhaibhubejhr building. Built in 1909 as a residence for King Rama V on his next visit to Prachin Buri, it was never graced by the monarch, as he passed away the following year. However, it did serve other members of the royal family including King Rama VI who visited in 1911.

Named after the son of the Cambodian ruler of Battambang who served the Fifth King when this city and other parts of Cambodia came under Siam's rule, the hospital is now known as a centre of traditional Thai medicine and produces the kingdom's best known line of herbal products.

From Prachin Buri, it's an easy drive south on Road 319 to the ancient Dvaravati city of Si Mahosot. Or, if you've had enough of history, can head northwards on Road 3077 to Khao Yai National Park with its renowned waterfalls, camping sites and wildlife observation stations
A favourite stopover on the northern route is Haeo Narok waterfall (literally "the hellish abyss"), which made the headlines some years ago when some hapless elephant calves strayed off the beaten track and fell 60 metres to their death.

Heading back to the urban sprawl, you either exit on the other side of the national park, in Pak Chong, Nakhon Ratchasima, and pop into Choke Chai farm for some tasty ice cream made from real milk, or make your way back to Prachin Buri and admire King Naresuan Shrine right at the intersection of Road 3077 and Highway 33.

After that, follow the highway for 15km to Nong Chaom fruit market, then turn left into Road 319 for Bangkok with a stop at Si Mahosot ancient city.

Prachin Buri and Sa Kaeo make for an incredible driving experience and a great weekend stay - check them out while the weather is still pleasantly cool and the showers still frequent.

A land of great beauty and heartbreak inspires an artist

Artist Rachel Peters with Enduring the Spirit, one of the works in her exhibition inspired by Cambodia. 080810LP01Picture: LEANNE PICKETT


GENOCIDE, war, famine and renewed hope in a land redefining itself after the murderous regime of Pol Pot are subjects explored by artist Rachel Peters' exhibition on Cambodia.

Colours of the Khmer was inspired by Peters' three-week visit to Cambodia last year to meet up with a long-time friend, Kannikun Ouk.

Peters first met Kannikun in 1988 through her work in the charity organisation Initiatives for Change.

"When Kannikun was a child her father was killed, and he, like many others, were killed for the simple fact that they were teachers," Peters said.

As a teenager Kannikun became separated from her mother after fleeing Cambodia to a refugee camp in Thailand.

"For many years she didn't know that her mother was still alive in Cambodia until she was able to return to Phnom Penh in the mid-1980s," Peters said.

Visiting Cambodia in June 2007, Peters said her meeting with Kannikun was bittersweet as her physical condition had deteriorated after her experience as a refugee.

"It's a sad country. There's still a lot of corruption, but the Cambodian landscape is so rich and exotic and so aspects of that went into my artwork," she said.

Proceeds from the exhibition, which will run at the Allan Lane Community Gallery until August 17, will go to the Cambodia Trust.

Cambodia set to build more dams

Radio Australia

Cambodia will spend roughly 400 million US dollars later this year to begin construction of new dams in a bid to improve the country's irrigation system and boost rice exports.

The Mekong Times quotes Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor as saying that irrigation will eventually cover one million hectares of paddies throughout the country.

He says the first construction steps have started and the government hopes irrigation will reach nearly 60 percent of the entire country's rice fields, currently only 44 percent are irrigated.

Cambodia's Sokimex Group Building 5-Star Hotel in Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH, Aug 11 Asia Pulse - Cambodia's Sokimex group has held a ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a five-star hotel in Phnom Penh in an effort to improve tourism infrastructure in the country.

The US$100 million hotel, the third of its kind in Phnom Penh, is expected to be full operational in two years time.

The 16-floor hotel, once completed, will have 799 rooms, two great conference halls and 10 ballrooms.

At present, the Cambodian capital has only two five-star hotels and four four-star ones.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign travellers going to Cambodia has increased rapidly, reaching 1.1 million people in the first half of 2008, up 13 per cent over the same period of last year.

The Cambodian tourism authorities have set a target of attracting 2.5 million foreign travellers this year, as compared with over 2 million visitors in 2007.
Sokimex, established in the early 1980s, is one of Cambodia's biggest business groups.


Vietnam - News : flood in the North - 10.08.2008