Saturday, July 21, 2007

Week 5 in Phnom Penh – Another step – and thoughts start to ponder leaving

Sees the farewell to Jeff (returning to Tamworth) Giedre (returning to London before doing a Masters course in Lithuania) and Marco back to Netherlands for 3 weeks so will miss him on his return. This group of long stayers at the Goldiana are rapidly diminishing. Will soon be replaced by a new bunch of consultants, volunteers, travellers and odd sods.

Another small step towards Cambodia having a FOI law or Access to Information legislation occurred this week. On Wednesday afternoon 18th July the MoNASRI Drafting Team including the inter-ministerial members (Defense, Interior, Information and Justice) accepted the contents of the draft policy paper with a few suggested changes. The chair has given members to 10 am on 23rd of July to give further feedback before we print the copies for the national workshop on Wednesday 25th July. 130 people from Ministries, civil society and donors have been invited to attend the workshop. There will then be about 3 weeks for further feedback and input to occur before the final draft is presented for approval to the Minister and then given to the Council of Ministers.

After that date it will be up to the Council of Ministers, ministries and civil society as to what happens with this proposal. I tend to swing between optimism and pessimism. Certainly the talk and written documents like the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy, Governance Action Plan 2 and particular programs like the Defense White Paper are very strong on improving/increasing transparency.

Yet Cambodia has a multitude of problems in terms of the capacity of its civil service – ranging from salaries, training, resources and political affiliation playing an important role in many appointments (or possibly determining who doesn’t get promoted etc). The general response both within and without Cambodia when I initially tell people what I am working on – incredulous, shakes of the head or simply humorous disbelief. It has taken 10 years for the Anti-Corruption law not to yet get to the parliament but I have no reference point for estimating if this policy paper will have a shorter and less problematic journey.

Day 28 Phnom Penh July 14 Saturday

Denise, the LA artist and school teacher, and I meet with her friend, a young French journalist working for Cambodge Soir a French-Khmer newspaper. Journalists have all resigned enmasse from the publication. A long complicated history. We go to a small café – 3 teas and 1 breakfast ends up costing me $2 US.

The journalist fills me in about the complications, difficulties and ways of getting information. She also confirms (a not unfamiliar practice in some African countries) that some investigative journalists offer to pull stories for the right price. She has a little electric scooter (cost $250 US) top speed 20km, silent running. Ideal for Phnom Penh traffic. Denise tells us about her high school which has a classroom for the more difficult students – called the dungeon, down below the auditorium, no windows, teacher – unqualified – with walkie talkie – class mostly African American.

On our return to Hotel Goldiana Denise and I find Imelda, Giedre and John have continued breakfast in foyer. We are later joined by Jeff. We get a few snaps of us together. Say goodbye to Jeff – who had not met John before (Jeff early breakfast eater and John late one so had never overlapped at our table). They have a lot in common.

Finish off polished journal for Week 4 and add to blog after sending to Esther – last I communicate with my wife directly during the week. Our schedules and work patterns meant we kept on missing each other. Miss her heaps and our chats online. Watch Geelong beat Collingwood. Have a very late lunch at Garden Centre. Debate between virtual team members continue. Potter on first lectures for Law 609 Comparative Administrative Law,. Take computer to dinner again to work on this journal. Jun joins me and we talk about music – he likes classical music and Australian wines. Watch a war movie before sleep,

Day 29 Phnom Penh Sunday

Another sightseeing day postponed. I work on comparative administrative law all day. Typing up first set of lectures, finding more readings – including a French-Lithuanian one that pleases Giedre. Notice a slight expansion in the topic area – especially in Holland and in the area of globalisation and administrative law – a very strong US influence..

Think about the rise of the theme globalisation and (insert area of law) and the rise of the global law schools. Also a good excuse for administrative judges to hold conferences etc in places like Tuscany in the summertime. The very large regulatory focus or role of US admin law catches most Australians by surprise.

Collect a series of articles and other material for students,

Email Jeff Lubbers who allows me to use his excellent powerpoint slides on US system and a very useful article on comparative Chinese administrative law. Jeff taught me in his January course at ANU on Comparative US and Australian administrative law. Course probably brought home to me how little I really understand US system. Certainly a little more after 5 intensive days. Would really to jointly teach a comparative course with Jeff.

Very pleasant to spend a day on the course and thinking about admin law in general rather than FOI day in and night out. Looking forward to teaching this course.

Days 30-32 Monday – Wednesday 2pm

This time spent polishing the draft paper - and it really benefits. Much tighter, better presented and more consistent. PACT have all gone (except about 3 staff) on a retreat for the week. So local consultant and I working in solitude. Rumours of a female ghost on our floor. As in Malaysia - the stories and presence of ghosts and spirits taken very seriously. Maybe one day I will talk about the Spirit Dogs of Penang.

Giedre departs for London.

Drafting Team meeting on Wednesday afternoon

Draft policy paper for national workshop on 25yh July largely approved. Members have to 10am on 23rd to provide further comment.

Thursday and Friday Days 33-34

A bit of a come down after build up to the meeting. Local consultant and I working alone in PACT building. Claire the volunteer arrives back on Thursday afternoon. We work on polishing paper, powerpoint presentation for next Wednesday and catch up with documentation.

I mention that on weekend I may go to S21 – Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and/or The Killing Fields. He looked strangely at me. He then talks about visiting the Killing Fields a couple of months after the end of Pol Pot’s regime in 1979, talks about the all prevailing stench. You can see in his eyes the repulsion and the lack of desire to ever return.

Have dinner with Jun on Friday night. He surveys the rice production of 4 farms every day (in this heat exhausting), eats tea at Hotel and then spends rest of evening inputting his data. A treasure trove about farm incomes, farming practices etc. Then stay up to past midnight to watch Geelong beat the Bulldogs.

On Thursday and Friday receive the first week reading notes from Law 609 students. Students had to summarise at least 2 articles on comparative law. A number of original enrolments have dropped but picked up a heap more – numbers now about 25 and may get to 30. A lot more than I was planning for. The briefing notes on the readings are generally very good and most of the students seemed to have really engaged with some of the key points.

Interesting experience teaching the first few weeks at a distance.

Since I have been here 2 floors have been added to the building next door (whilst back at the Law School the room renovations are running behind schedule). Buildings springing up all over the city. The Cambodian lunch place we often eat at – Snack Anarna(?) is being renovated but serves lunch and dinner (renovations occur over night – packed up and meals ready to be served next day). Every day you go in - there is a new change, addition, windows missing, walls disappearing – has about 200+ customers for lunch.

Still find the traffic fascinating. Was told that in Vietnam footpaths are not treated as such ie seen as belonging to the property they are in front of ie for parking, food stalls, shop items (strange to see box after box of large flat screen tvs out front of a shop – and think about what they do when it pours – rush out and drag inside?) and pedestrians belong on street. Exactly the same here in Phnom Penh. The new traffic laws mandating helmets for bikes (not consistently enforced but more and more helmeted riders appearing) is understandable from a safety perspective (not from a heat perspective) but reduces the relax feel of girls sitting side saddle on bikes, resting their heads on the shoulders in front of them – kind of a 1940s/1950s French film feel – especially with girls in white dresses riding old style bicycles.

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