Unconvincing Salesman Par Excellence

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Alternatives Watch – 30viii09
Op-Ed by Ung Bun Ang
Originally posted online

Council for Development of Cambodia secretary-general Sok Chenda may find it most difficult to attract foreign investments. He is confident, enthusiastic, and optimistic, which are necessary attributes for the task. However, he may need to be more. Reporter Roger Mitten, who conducted and published an insight interview with Sok Chenda, concludes he is only half convinced after encountering the man he dubs the salesman par excellence.

Sok Chenda Sophea

There are reasons why the salesman par excellence is not fully convincing. He claims all businessmen are interested only in profit, “not physical incentives, the political regime, not even religion – Ramadan or not, they don’t care”. His best selling point is simply that there is money to be made in Cambodia. He says there are fiscal incentives, total foreign ownership, and many untouched sectors to choose, offering “unique” opportunity foreign investors cannot find elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the sale pitch is only half truth. Globalised Cambodia, of which Sok Chenda is proud, also means investors do have access to other truth the salesman par excellence would prefer buried. Many long term investors – the type that Sok Chenda claims like growing up with the host country – take into account in their investment decisions those Sok Chenda dismisses as irrelevant, plus much more.

One of them is the high cost of doing business in Cambodia, which Sok Chenda acknowledges in particular for electricity, telecommunication, and transportation sectors. The government’s effort to reduce the electricity costs by buying it from Vietnam is commercially sensible at least in the short run, but this will not address a structural defect that keeps the cost high – corruption.

Sok Chenda shows the least concern about the impact of corruption. He maintains as long as there is a profit at the end businessmen do not mind making some payment they “should not really have to make”. He does not seem to realise these unnecessary payments push the business cost up, requiring the businessmen to pass them onto consumers in the form of higher prices to retain their profit. This in turn keeps away other businessmen whom Sok Chenda tries to entice. It is a vicious cycle that could be broken only by bringing corruption under control.

However, the corruption is likely to persist, if not prospering. Sok Chenda trivialises corruption by claiming the number one in transparency Singapore still has “people who are corrupt and who cheat the tax department”. He fails to distinguish between corruption and impunity for corruption when asserting, “Singapore has policemen and jails for a reason [corruption]”. It would be hard pressed for him to come up with any case where a Cambodian high profile official is convicted and jailed for corruptiod and jailed for corruption. Incidentally, Sok Chenda – he says he ends the interview so that he can pick up his daughter at the British School – may have difficulty in justifying the school fee with his official meagre income.

Thus, the salesman par excellence appears to be an optimist who would say, “See, I am not injured yet” while falling from Eiffel Tower.

Ung Bun Ang

Quotable Quote:
“The latest definition of an optimist is one who fills up his crossword puzzle in ink.” - Clement King Shorter (1857–1926), British journalist and literary critic. Observer.


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