Friday, November 5, 2010

Cambodia, China announce 1.6billion dollar deal: officials

PHNOM PENH — China will inject 1.6 billion dollars into Cambodian infrastructure over five years, officials said Thursday, just days after the US urged the country not to become too dependent on the Asian giant.

"Within the next five years, Cambodia and China will have 23 co-operation projects," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told reporters after a meeting between China's top legislator Wu Bangguo and the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen.

Hydropower dams, mining projects, bridges and railway links would be among the initiatives funded by China between 2010 and 2015, he added.

At their meeting in Phnom Pehn, Wu and Hun Sen witnessed the signing of 16 deals, including a loan agreement arranged by the Bank of China that will see Cambodia's largest mobile operator CamGSM borrow over 590 million dollars.

China also plans to help Cambodia build a new railway to neighbouring Vietnam, providing one of the last missing links for a pan-Asian network that would connect Singapore with China's Kunming by train, according to the spokesman.

He said Wu also promised to boost Chinese direct investment in the kingdom, which so far this year stands at 610 million dollars.

Wu's visit to Cambodia comes just days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile appearance in the country and urged Cambodians not to become "too dependent" on China.

Khieu Kanharith said Wu hailed the "fast growing ties" between the two countries and told Hun Sen that "China does not want to seek power and become the owner of the region".

China -- a former patron of the Khmer Rouge regime, which oversaw the deaths of up to two million people in the 1970s -- is the country's top donor, according to Cambodia.

Nearly 400 Chinese companies have invested billions of dollars in Cambodia, including key infrastructure projects such as hydropower dams and coal power plants.

But China's involvement in the country has not been without controversy.

A December 2009 decision by Cambodia to deport 20 Uighurs, a largely Muslim minority group in western China -- despite their application for UN refugee status -- came ahead of a 1.2 billion dollar aid and loan package from Beijing.

China has rejected accusations that the generous package was linked to the move.

Cambodia’s new stock exchange: not just a numbers game

ALTHOUGH the number of licences issued to firms to act on behalf of the long-awaited Cambodian stock exchange represents an important consideration, the experience of the companies approved is perhaps more significant. So too critical factors that remain unresolved, such as the currency of operation.

In terms of numbers of licensed firms, seven underwriters would seem excessive during the opening phase of trading as there will almost certainly only be three firms listed. That means some will see no underwriting business from the outset and will have to bank on the exchange’s early success in attracting new IPOs.

What the Security and Exchange Commission of Cambodia announcement did not make fully clear on Tuesday is that many approved underwriters are licensed to perform multiple roles. OSK Indochina Securities has been approved to act as a dealer, broker and adviser as well as an underwriter, it announced on October 21. Similarly, SBI Phnom Penh Securities has received a “full licence” to operate as a securities firm.

In terms of the number of firms licensed, the SECC appears to have approved a total that is more than adequate to start out with spare capacity for the expected rise in IPOs once the exchange gains momentum. As noted by SECC Director General Ming Bankosal in March, approving the 22 companies that applied for licences would have been too many.

More important is the level of expertise brought in to operate with the exchange. With little or no experience of securities markets, Cambodia has rightly approved companies with a wealth of experience overseas.

The SECC approved licences for two majority Malaysian firms along with Vietnamese companies, a South Korean firm and CAB Securities of India – all of which have invaluable securities market expertise. Cambodia Capital Securities is expected to play a key role following years of experience connecting businesses to foreign investors.

None of this expertise will necessarily guarantee the success of the stock exchange though. The key to a solid start has to be a strong foundation based on well-considered regulations, some of which remain unclear and incomplete. A decision on listings in riel, United States dollars or both is just as critical. Should the exchange launch prematurely, confidence at the opening bell would most certainly be undermined.

In terms of the quality and quantity of licensed operators within the market, the SECC has established the necessary foundations based on setting aside national pride for practicality purposes.

In relation to the start date and choice of currency, the commission would be well advised to follow in a similar vein – a rushed launch with listings in riels would only lead to a critical lack of confidence in a market many investors still consider overly risky.

A Cambodian traffic 'incident' with a government official



What might have otherwise become just another anonymous moment of vehicular impunity on the streets of Cambodia’s capital has leapt into the public consciousness and will now likely stay there for much longer than many in officialdom want, thanks to a bystander with a mobile phone camera.

Could this be Cambodia’s first viral video?

The low-fi, 34-second clip was originally on the blog LTO Cambodia last Thursday and has since logged 34,000 views from combined YouTube postings.

On another popular web forum, Khmer440, two separate posting on the incident had received a total of 3,125 views by Monday afternoon.

Comments on LTO Cambodia range from the jaded – “That’s Phnom Penh!” – to the incredulous.

“How can Cambodia move forward if these people are doing this to their own country?” one poster asks.

The driver has been reported by police as Sok Than, a deputy director at the Ministry of National Assembly-Senate Relations Inspection Department. His family says he suffers from a mental illness, according to deputy municipal traffic police director Pen Khon. The vehicle has been confiscated, while Sok Than was released on Thursday into his family’s care.

It’s unclear if charges will be laid.

“It is an individual’s problem and does not affect the government,” replied Council of Minister Spokesman Phay Siphan when asked by a reporter whether this kind of behaviour, now making the rounds on the social media websites, embarrasses a government struggling to address both impunity and one of the worst traffic records in Asia.

Others were less forgiving.

“He should resign from his position for such behaviour,” said one government officials who did not want to be named. “He is a top official so he should do the polite thing and respect local authorities and the law.”

The incident highlights the immediacy of information in a country where, not too, long ago the official record was something that was always subject to debate.

“These days, when you see an accident or any unusual cases on the street, you can capture that very moment and tell your friends,” said prominent Cambodian blogger Tharum Bun via Google chat.

“Web tools like YouTube and Facebook help spread the stories faster and faster.

“I was on Twitter and quickly learned that a Phnom Penh expat had just posted a blog post with video about a traffic accident. … While watching the video, I told a friend about this and sent her the link,” he added.

“A day later I realised that people on social networking sites shared the video clip on Facebook. Thus, friends of their online friends are well aware of this.”