Saturday, 20 December 2008

Sacravatoons : " Dr Preacher "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon

Sacravatoons : " our Jiva Baby "

Courtesy of Sacravatoon

Cambodia: 'Labour compliance has improved in garment units' - ILO, India
December 20, 2008 (Cambodia)

The International Labour Organization's (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia released its "21st Synthesis Report on Working Conditions in Cambodia's Garment Sector," which assesses compliance with Cambodian labour law and international labour standards in garment factories.

The 21st Synthesis Report is the fifth synthesis report to be issued using the automated Information Management System (IMS) for collecting and storing monitoring data and producing reports.

The Synthesis Report contains a wealth of information, including findings on compliance with fundamental rights and selected working conditions. Data is displayed in easy-to-read tables and graphs.

The synthesis report confirms that the joint efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia through its Ministries of Labour and Commerce, the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and Trade Unions to progressively improve working conditions in the garment sector continue to positively impact labour standards.

Although some areas of concern remain, particularly regarding freedom of association and discrimination, for several years now there has been consistent improvement in working conditions.

The garment sector's economic outlook is currently overshadowed by the global economic slowdown, and the industry faces multiple challenges to preserve its market share and to survive a period of reduced orders. The financial crisis has prompted a 3.1% decline in apparel imports to the US so far this year through September.

During a recent Cambodian buyers forum where key international brands convened to discuss the Better Factories programme and industry outlook, the brands present stated that they remain committed to the principles of responsible production. In their opinion, Cambodia has many advantages over its competitors, one of them being the reputation for good labour standards, but Cambodia also needs to do more in the area of industrial relations, governance and infrastructure.

Industry representatives also recently voiced their concerns about the price of doing business, while trade unions see a considerable increase in rush work leading to demands for more overtime and subcontracting.

Its is clear that industry actors must heed the Government's calls, made during the 14th private sector forum in November, for greater collaboration to increase productivity and preserve industrial peace, if the Cambodian garment industry can hope to ride out the economic storm without significant negative impacts on its business performance or the 350,000 strong export garment industry work force.

The ILO and its Better Factories Cambodia programme will continue to work with their partners during this difficult period in order to assist the industry to preserve the gains it has made over the past several years in improving working conditions. Greater emphasis will be placed on dispute prevention, workplace cooperation, and capacity building, while also working with the Government, buyers, unions and manufacturers in promoting better productivity and appropriate cost saving measures.

The 21st Synthesis Report shows compliance figures that are based on monitoring data contained in 205 factory reports completed between May 1, 2008 and October 31, 2008.

Among the key findings in the report are the following:

·Eighty-six percent of the factories monitored have less than 2000 workers.·62% of the workforce is employed in factories that have less than 2000 workers.

·77% of the factories monitored have at least one union ·Fewer of the factories monitored engaged in anti-union discrimination than in the previous 20th Synthesis Report

·15% of the factories monitored had strikes. ·Compliance with minimum wage requirements for regular workers remains quite high (97%); compliance with minimum wage payments for casual workers, although up by 7%, still remains significantly lower than that for regular workers (77% in factories employing casual workers)

·There have been slight improvements in compliance from the previous report concerning maternity leave payments (up 8%), and compliance with paid sick leave (up by 11%). Compliance with wage payments has improved or remained the same for all areas reported but one (correct OT rate for piece-rate workers is down by 3%)

·Compliance with limits on the frequency and duration of overtime is down 5% and 12%, respectively. ·Three of the top ten issues that have seen the greatest improvement since the previous report relate to the development of OSH management systems.
Click here to download the "21st Synthesis Report on Working Conditions in Cambodia's Garment Sector".

B.C. man facing allegations of sex tourism has court application dismissed


VANCOUVER, B.C. — A British Columbia court has rejected a Vancouver-area man's request to dismiss three dozen charges related to allegations of sex-tourism.

The charges against Kenneth Klassen stem from allegations involving young girls in Colombia, Cambodia and the Philippines. Klassen's lawyers argued there is no direct link with the Canadian justice system because the alleged offences took place outside Canada.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen rejected that argument.

He ruled that sexual exploitation of children is something that a nation has a sovereign interest in preventing amongst its nationals, no matter where they take place.

Klassen, an international art dealer, was arrested in March, 2007 after a two-and-a-half year international investigation.

The RCMP said it netted videos that showed a man having sex with young girls.

The charges against Klassen include sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, and making child pornography.

Cambodian military delegation visits southern provinces

VOV News

A delegation from the Cambodian Royal Army’s Infantry Command has been on a working visit to Vietnam’s southwestern provinces.

The delegation was received by Son Song Son, Deputy Head of the Southwestern Region’s Steering Board, in Can Tho city on December 19, who briefed them on socio-economic development in the region and the lives of local residents, who include more than 1 million Khmer ethnic people.

Mr Son stated that the Vietnamese Party and State have always paid due attention to developing the economy and improving the living conditions for the nation’s ethnic minorities, as well as supporting them in maintaining and preserving their cultural treasures and heritage. He also informed the guests that the number of poor ethnic families in the southwestern region has been steadily reduced and that their children have been provided with a decent standard of education.

The Cambodian delegation will join celebrations marking the 64th establishment anniversary of the Vietnam People’s Army on December 22.


Man sentenced in wife's abduction

The Republican
Saturday, December 20, 2008


NORTHAMPTON - A Springfield man who kidnapped his wife by stuffing her in the trunk of a car was sentenced to prison Friday after his wife pleaded for leniency.

Sort D. Thang, 35, of 47 Kosciusko St., Indian Orchard, pleaded guilty to kidnapping and violating a restraining order in Hampshire Superior Court.

He was arrested on June 21 after he fled from police on foot, leaving the car he was driving at a Northampton exit on Interstate 91. Police found Thang's wife terrified and sobbing in the trunk.

As prosecutor Michael A. Cahillane recited the evidence to Judge Mary-Lou Rup, the defendant violated the restraining order obtained by Carrie Thang when he went to her Springfield home on June 21 and shoved her into her car.

In Holyoke, Thang pulled his wife from the front seat and forced her into the trunk, Cahillane said.

Another motorist, Alfonso Rivas, heard the woman screaming for help and followed the car as it headed up I-91 to Northampton. Thang got off at exit 18 and drove into the Meadows area of city. Rivas, meanwhile, had telephoned the police and was still following the car.

Thang stepped out of the car but got back in when he saw Rivas and sped through downtown Northampton and back onto the interstate. He abandoned the vehicle at exit 18 southbound.

Police found Carrie Thang in the trunk, crying and clutching a screwdriver for protection. Thang hugged a female trooper and thanked her for saving her life, saying, "He was going to kill me," Cahillane said.

Northampton police arrested Thang a few hours later as he was walking on a footpath near Veterans Field. Cahillane asked for a sentence of 5-7 years in state prison.

In seeking a lesser sentence, defense lawyer Marissa L. Elkins told Rup that her client has developed post traumatic stress disorder from a life of violence. According to Elkins, Thang was born in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and suffered from malnutrition at an early age. His family lived in a refugee camp before emigrating to the U.S., where they settled in a gang-ridden section of Los Angeles. Thang had a cousin die in his arms and suffered wounds from a gang shooting, Elkins said.

Because Thang does not have the proper immigration papers, he was ordered deported in 1998. However, he has been in limbo because Cambodia is unable to accept all the deportees from the U.S., Elkins said. Thang has been unable to get counseling or health insurance, she said.

Carrie Thang, who has two children with the defendant, told Rup that her feelings regarding punishment have changed since the incident.

"At first I wanted him to be locked up forever," she said. "This man asked for help but there was nothing I could do."

Carrie Thang said she wanted Thang to serve his time at the Hampshire County House of Correction, where he would be more likely to receive treatment for his problems than in state prison.

Rup sentenced Thang to 3-4 years in prison but said she would recommend to the Department of Correction that he serve the time at the county jail. He was also ordered to serve two years probation and to complete a program for batterers and undergo therapy while he is in custody.

Financial crisis casts shadow over Angkor Wat

The Asia File
by Ben Bland

Dec 20, 2008

I'm currently in Siem Reap - the Costa del Sol of Cambodia - working on an upcoming story. It is evident that Cambodia is really starting to feel the pain of the global economic downturn, particularly as it doesn't have the financial ammunition of larger, more well-developed neighbours such as Vietnam.

Scores of new hotels, restaurants, bars and massage parlours have sprung up over the last five years here to cater to the growing numbers of tourists from Europe, the US and (in particular) Asia visiting the amazing temples of Angkor.

But the problems in Thailand and the accelerating global slowdown have taken their toll and businesses tell me that tourist numbers are down by around 30pc on last year.

The tuk-tuk drivers, who are used to complaining about their lack of business, are struggling even more than usual. Many of the tourist-focused restaurants are empty at dinner time and the bar scene on Pub Street, in the heart of town, is much less rowdy than it was just a few months ago when I was last here.

According to the Phnom Penh Post, destinations outside the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are suffering much more severely, with occupancy rates down by as much as 70pc on last year in some hotels.

The government has got together with various players in Cambodia's tourism sector to set up a taskforce to try to reverse the slump. But, even as the crisis in Thailand appears to be easing, the world is sliding further into the economic mire, with the outlook deteriorating rapidly in Asia.

That is seriously bad news for Siem Reap because Asian tourists (particularly Korean, Japanese and Chinese tour groups as well as some Vietnamese and Singaporeans) have been a major source of growth.

And tourism is vital to Cambodia's fledgling economy, generating around 15pc of GDP.

Education: Brunei Ranks 36 Among 129 Nations

Bandar Seri Begawan - Brunei Darussalam has been ranked 36th among 129 countries in Unesco's Education for All Development (EFA) Index under its Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2009.

Kazakhstan topped the list with a score 0.995 followed by Japan 0.994), Germany (0.994), Norway (0.994) and the UK (0.993) to complete the top five.

South Korea was ranked 20th at 0.984. Brunei's score was 0.972.

The EFA Development Index (EDI) is based on the calculation of data provided on four categories: the percentage of primary school-age children enrolled in schools, the adult literacy rate, the gender specific EFA rate and the survival rate to Grade 5.

Brunei scored a high 0.998 under the survival rate

to Grade 5 category, 0.974 under the primary enrolment category, 0.946 under the adult literacy rate category and 0.970 under the gender-specific EFA category.

The list includes only the 129 countries which provided the complete set of indicators required to calculate the EDI and so does not include many countries including developed ones as well as fragile states with weak education statistics systems.

Among the countries not included in the report were the United States, Australia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Of the 129 countries, the top 56 were placed in the High EDI category including Malaysia which was ranked 45th. Positions 57 to 100 were placed in the Medium EDI category and including Kuwait (66), Indonesia (71), Myanmar (84) and the Philippines (86).

Countries from positions 101 to 129 were placed in the Low EDI category and include India (102), Cambodia (104), Lao PDR (108), Bangladesh (109), Pakistan (118) and Chad (129).

Malaysian Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein represented the Southeast Asia Ministers of Education (Seameo) at the meeting held from Tuesday to Thursday.

Malaysia's improved position from 56th place to 45th (0.965) out of the 129 proves that Malaysia, a staunch supporter of Unesco's EFA agenda, had successfully leaped from the middle level in the GMR 2008 (0.945) to the high level in the EDI GMR 2009 (0.965), said Hishammuddin.

The 0.02 increase in the EDI score was based on the improvement of the scores in the four evaluated categories.

The GMR annual report is Unesco's mechanism to monitor education development in member countries in its bid to achieve the EFA agenda by 2015.

-- Courtesy of The Brunei Times

Web reacts to conviction of Rwandan Bagosora, What about Cambodia Genocide???

WEB NEWS: Today on the Web: internet users react to the life sentence given to Theoneste Bagosora, one of the main implementers of the Rwandan genocide. Also: a conviction for adultery for a South Korean actress gets Web users talking.

Tribunal Denies Paper Against 'Joint' Crimes

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
19 December 2008

Defense lawyers for jailed Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary have accused the Pre-Trial Chamber of the tribunal of interfering in the administrative work of the courts, following a denial of their thesis on certain legal theories.

The defense had written their thesis to exclude from trials topics such as Joint Criminal Enterprise, which can hold conspiring parties guilty for crimes committed by one, and other legal principles.

"We wrote our thesis and requested intervention and the denial of the implementation of charges under Joint Criminal Enterprise, which affects the interest of our client because it is not in Cambodian law," sad Ang Udom, a lawyer for Ieng Sary.

Ieng Sary was foreign affairs minister of the regime and faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role.

"We brought our thesis to the tribunal for a decision, but the tribunal turned it back to us without a hearing," he said. "It's not right to deny our thesis and proposal."

The defense has now sent a letter to the courts, claiming the Pre-Trial Chambers' decision not to consider the thesis was interference in administrative work.

"If someone complains about a case to the court, the court receives the complaint," he said. "Whatever the court decides, the court should issue a verdict."

However, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the chamber was within its rights to turn away the treatise.

Ang Udom issued a letter to the courts Thursday claiming he would launch the paper on his own Web site.

"If the court does not publish our thesis, we will post it on our Web site," he said. "If the court permits."

Reach Sambath said the team had a right to launch a Web site, but the Khmer Rouge tribunal Web site is officially recognized.

Hun Sen Orders Gambling Crackdown

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
19 December 2008

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday ordered a clampdown on slot machines and other gambling instruments nationwide.

"I found 12 slot machines in Phnom Penh, two in Sihanoukville and one in Kandal province that have abused the government's directive," Hun Sen told the Council of Ministers.

Hun Sen pushed the Finance Ministry to control hotels with slot machines in Phnom Penh, adding, "We don't allow Khmers to play.

"Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said Friday he doubted the order would be implementing, citing as examples attempts to shut down illegal checkpoints and smuggling operations, as well as failed attempts to reform the judiciary.

"I always hear Prime Minister Hun Sen issue orders to eliminate corruption and robbery, but the government never does that," said Heang Rithy, chairman of the Cambodian National Research Organization.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yiep said the government was willing to do what was in the public interest. Gambling was destroying society, "so we don't want it to happen in Cambodia," he said.

Opposition Parties Seek To Unite

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
19 December 2008

The leader of the Human Rights Party on Thursday publicly announced his intent to form a “unique political party alliance” with opposition leader Sam Rainsy, to compete with the ruling party in coming elections.

The Human Rights Party won three seats in July’s national election, following 26 seats for the Sam Rainsy Party and 90 for the Cambodian People’s Party.

The “unity” would provide “a new choice and a new hope to the people,” HRP President Kem Sokha told reporters Thursday. The parties would seek an alliance in electoral list registrations “to compete with the CPP,” he said.

The announcement was the result of requests from party activists from Cambodia, the US and Canada for a unification, party officials said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said Thursday she would take the idea to party leader Sam Rainsy “for consideration.”

“We understand that we must unite and strengthen the principles of democracy, the respect of human rights and the freedom of the people,” she said.

Kem Sokha said the time was right for unity, as Cambodia continues to be plagued by poverty, the narrowing of democracy, violence against human rights, social injustice and other ills.

No agreement has been drafted or signed, something both sides agreed would be necessary.
Observers said the joining of the two parties would attract people’s support but would have little effect on the CPP.

ILO Assails Unsolved Union Murders

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
19 December 2008

The International Labor Organization has renewed criticism of Cambodian authorities for their failure to solve the murders of union leaders, according to a report by an ILO committee obtained by VOA Khmer.

The report details the killing of union leaders Chea Vichea and Ros Sovannareth, who were killed in 2004, and Hy Vuthy, killed in 2007, among others.

The killings signified “a climate of violence” and a “serious obstacle to the exercise of trade union rights,” the ILO said.

The report also cited the prison sentences of Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, two men held for the killing of Chea Vichea but widely believed innocent.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak said the police were at the service of the courts in making arrests and said the ILO was acting as a “victim.”

The fresh criticism comes as Cambodia’s garment industry is facing a slowdown along with the global economy and as the Supreme Court is set to hear the case of Chea Vichea’s murder, Dec. 31.

Officials Urge Proper Care in Bird Cooking

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
19 December 2008

Health officials on Thursday encouraged the proper preparation of duck and chicken on Thursday, in the face of the culling of hundreds of birds suspected of carrying the H5N1 virus in Kandal province.

“Villagers must be sure themselves whether the meat is well cooked,” said Ly Sovann, deputy director of the communicable diseases control department at the Ministry of Health. “They should wear a mask while they kill the poultry and must clean their hands after the killing.”

Officials continued culling poultry on Thursday, with up to 344 birds kiiled, and continued education efforts in Kampong Speu province, following the discovery of bird flu in a Kandal man in late November.

The victim, Teng Sopheak, remains under treatment in Calmette hospital.

Experts worry that the H5N1 virus, carried in domestic and wild birds, could mutate into something more dangerous for humans. The virus can be spread from bird to human, but not from human to human.

Avian influenza has claimed at least seven Cambodians since 2005.

Thai people urged Sisaket residents to demand the re-opening of the gate to Preah Vihear temple

The monks marching toward the gate of Preah Vihear temple.

Reaksmei Kampuchea newspaper
18th December, 2008

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

Because the gate to Preah Vihear temple has been closed for a few months which has caused disruptions to the livelihood of traders in Sisaket, the Thai foreign Ministry has organised a meeting to push for the quick re-opening of the Preah Vihear temple.

According to the reports by the Thai media on the 17th of December, the meeting took place in Sisaket province on the 16th of December. The meeting’s participants include Thai officials, Sisaket traders, experts as well as many Sisaket residents have expressed their concerns about the impacts on the livelihood of the local residents after the gate to Preah Vihear temple was closed after the Thai invasion of Preah Vihear areas on the 15th of July, 2008.

According to the above source, the Thai Foreign Ministry officials urged the Sisaket residents to push the new government for a quick re-opening of the Preah Vihear gate.

In the past, the Sisaket traders and tourist operators have urged the Thai government to help push for the quick re-opening of the Preah Vihear gate. They said that since the closure of the gate, their livelihood has been greatly impacted. Sisaket governor has also pushed for the re-opening of the Preah Vihear gate.

The same source said that the chairman of the Sisaket Development Coordination Committee has urged the Thai government to continue to maintain Thai troops in the Preah Vihear areas until the border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand have been resolved. Officials from Sisaket province said that Thailand must maintain Thai troops their until they are able to evict the Khmer people from the staircase of the Preah Vihear temple as they have demanded.

The officials from the Thai foreign Ministry said that they will convey the messages of the Sisaket people to the meeting of the Foreign Ministry and compile a report to submit to the new prime minister and the cabinet to make the decision.

On the same day, there were about 44 Buddhist monks holding a Dharmayietra march to the gate of the Preah Vihear temple. Among the 44 Buddhist monks, there were 8 foreign monks who have been canvassed to join the march.

Sisaket authority said that the Thai monks as well as the foreign monks have presented the image of the Buddha to the Thai troops based around the Preah Vihear areas.

After the Dharmayietra, those monks will travel to Bangkok to urge the Thai government to resolve the Preah Vihear issues.

PM praise for VN, Cambodian banks


Ha Noi — Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung praised the co-operation between the State Bank of Viet Nam (SBV) and the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), particularly an agreement signed during the NBC governor’s current working visit to Viet Nam.

Receiving an NBC delegation, led by its governor Chea Chanto in Ha Noi yesterday, the PM said that the Vietnamese Government and people would do their utmost to boost the friendly, co-operative and neighbourly relations between Viet Nam and Cambodia for the benefits of both sides.

The PM welcomed Chea Chanto’s visit, saying that it would promote the two countries’ co-operation, particularly in economics, trade and investment.

He said the fact that Cambodia has granted permission for two Vietnamese banks to open in Cambodia would help increase the bilateral trade to US$2 billion by 2010 and encourage Vietnamese businesses to invest in Cambodia.

Governor Chea Chanto said that, during the visit, the two central banks exchanged views on the economic situation in their countries and on their activities in the areas of monetary policy, inspections, supervision and credit organisations’ operations.

He reported to the PM that the two sides had signed a memorandum of understanding on the exchange of information regarding banking inspections to create a legal basis for stricter management, increased efficiency and more safety and security for the two countries’ commercial banks.

Chea Chanto affirmed that Cambodia would create favourable conditions for the Agribank and Sacombank, as well as other Vietnamese banks to open branches in Cambodia. — VNS

Belfast boost for children of 'Killing Fields'

Inspire Magazine

Around 3,000 men from across Northern Ireland – and beyond – have given nearly £20,000 to help the fatherless children of Cambodia’s ‘killing fields’.

The generous gift was made recently at The Mandate men’s conference in Belfast, as delegates responded to the plight of street kids in Phnom Penh. And now the money will help Cambodia-based Hosea Ministries to set up an assessment centre in January, for children with drug misuse problems.

Each year The Mandate – which has become known as one of the biggest men’s conferences in Europe – focuses on a charity as part of its one-day programme of Christian worship and teaching. For 2008 they chose Hosea Ministries, a young organisation helping to restore the troubled nation of Cambodia.

The donation was warmly received by Hosea board member Gail Fisher, a native of Northern Ireland.

"We were so thrilled to hear the news that £20,000 had been collected," she said. "Our centre can be a place where staff can encourage children and family members in their motivation to change."

Cambodia was victim to some of the most horrific events of the 20th century, which were powerfully portrayed in the 1984 action thriller The Killing Fields. Most of the educated adult population was killed – or forced to flee their homeland – as the Khmer Rouge tried to wipe out all intellectuals.

According to Hosea Ministries, the average age in Cambodia is still only 19. The organisation wants to help the country recover from its horrific past. A key part of their work is the rehabilitation centre Hosea House, which assists children and young people with substance misuse problems.

For more information, please phone The Mandate office on 028 9045 7500

Cambodians make merry for Xmas

Photo by: Anita Surewicz
Christmas decoration at one of the shops on Sisowath Quay

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and Anne-Laure Poree
Friday, 19 December 2008

While they do not always know what the holiday is about, many young Cambodians view Christmas as the perfect opportunity to get together with friends and exchange small gifts

Most Cambodians are not Christians, and they don't always know what Christmas is all about, other than that it's a religious celebration. But this doesn't mean they don't celebrate this "Western" tradition.

Chan Rattana, 16, is a very well-organized young girl who has perfected the art of celebrating Christmas. She has already bought postcards for her friends and has organised to meet her classmates from Sisowath High School to "eat something together on the 25th, then exchange gifts and go to a concert at the ELT English School".

"Christmas Day is an interesting ceremony, strange to our Khmer culture, but it is great to give presents to friends. It is a really friendly day."

However, Chan Rattana's classmate, Chan Vortey, 16, has learned not to get overly excited about Christmas, as she doesn't want to offend her elderly grandmother who is very attached to Cambodian culture.

For Chan Vortey, Christmas Day is dedicated to friends, whereas Khmer ceremonies are dedicated to the family. She will not buy any gifts but will send text messages to her friends living in the province and buy postcards. She also wants to give a traditional Apsara picture to her foreign neighbours as a Christmas gift.

Chan Vortey might be one of the growing number of customers of Oum Vantha, 35, a books and anniversaries gift seller near Sisowath High School. While she said last year she sold 1,000 postcards on Christmas, Oum Vantha says she doesn't personally celebrate the holiday.

Saiy Samphorse, 21, a shoe seller at Sorya Centre, said she has been so busy that she doesn't have time to even entertain the possibility of celebrating Christmas. She said that she will try to buy gifts for her close friends if she has the time.

" Christmas day is an interesting ceremony, strange to our khmer culture ... "

A Khmer-American, Srey Roth, 23, is ready to spend between US$10 and US$20 for each gift she is planning to give to her close friends and relatives for her first Christmas in Cambodia.

"I was surprised when I arrived to see so many Christmas trees here. Americans and Cambodians celebrate Christmas the same way. People exchange gifts and have parties.

"Sema Nou, 19, has been celebrating Christmas since she learned about it at her English school. Now, an assistant manager for the toy department at Monument Books, Nou's gift budget for this year is US$20. "Christmas only comes once a year, and I am happy to enjoy it with the people I like," she said.

Nou's challenge this year is to make some gifts herself. "I don't care about the value of the gift. I don't care if it is big or small. The main thing is that it has been given with so much kindness," she said. "The gifts we receive or give are unforgettable gifts."

Microfinanciers brace for slower growth rate in 2009

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A teller in a bank in Phnom Penh. Microlenders expect slower growth next year, but are still confident that the sector will remain isolated from the global economic crisis.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 19 December 2008

Less capital from abroad means that microfinance institution growth may drop by to much as half in the coming year, industry sources say

MICROFINANCE institutions say they expect lower growth next year, expanding by no more than 50 percent, due to the deepening global financial crisis, revising down expansion estimates of as high as 100 percent.

But despite the downturn, double-digit growth during the last three years should cushion the impact of the worsening credit crunch, and most lenders say that a hike in interest rates is unlikely.

"We will be OK for the next few years, but we plan to reduce our rate of growth in the next year," said Chea Phalarin, general manager of Amret Microfinance.

He said Amret expansion would be between 20 percent and 50 percent, down from earlier estimates, but that the health of the sector was generally good.

"Amret will face no shortfall in financing from outside creditors or investors," he said."We can find enough sources of capital for 2009," Chea Phalarin said.

" We are still growing, but not at the 20 to 40 percent we had predicted. "

Amret last week received US$4 million in loans from the French Development Agency, or AFD, which will support up to 20,000 additional clients, he said, adding that Amret currently has 230,000 clients.

Chea Phalarin said Amret has already lent $54 million to micro-, small and medium-sized businesses in 14 provinces.

While the bank had hoped to expand its lending to $80 million in 2009, Chea Phalarin said loans would now only reach $65 million to $70 million, largely because of defaults on loans as the garment, tourism and agricultural sectors continue to suffer from a slowdown in markets abroad.

"If we lend too much, we will have trouble controlling risk. So, for my institution, we have to be very careful in targeting future growth rates," Chea Phalarin said.

Say Sony, marketing manager for Prassac Microfinance, which has lent $57 million to 98,000 clients, agreed that the world's market meltdown would affect lenders locally, but marginally.

"We are still growing, but not at the 20 to 40 percent rate we had predicted for next year," he said.

Rate hike?

Despite the slowdown, lenders said that an interest rate hike was not likely if overseas creditors did not put pressure on local microfinance institutions.

"We don't have a serious problem yet. Most of our financing comes from Europe, not from the United States," Say Sony said.

"Once creditors propose new rates for us, we will have to consider increasing our interest rates for borrowers as well."

Amret's Chea Phalarin, however, said the company is aiming to maintain its rates of between 2.25 and 3.0 percent.

But others said Cambodia's microfinance sector had to also actively protect itself from overseas credit turmoil.

Proactive approach

"We hope we can become more independent, so that donors won't always be supporting MFI institutions," said Kea Borann, a member of the Cambodia Microfinance Association (CMA) board of directors.

The CMA will begin training sessions led by foreign lending professionals in a bid to strengthen the sector against outside forces.

"We have played a large role in organising much-needed training programs for microfinance institutions. If all MFIs continue to improve the quality of their service, they should be able to avoid any future crisis," he said.

At a conference on microfinance and the financial crisis held in November, delegates said they were relatively safe from the international upheavals.

"The strongest message from the conference was that deposit-taking MFIs are well-insulated from refinancing risks," said a report from the conference.

It added that panic over the global banking situation has been largely limited.

"Large-scale savings withdrawals have occurred only in isolated cases where other factors were already at play beyond the financial crisis," the report said.