Tuesday, October 20, 2009

An open letter to His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia from an oil cursed citizen

Your Majesty: 
I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference in Washington, D.C., arranged by Oxfam an international Civil Society Organization, an NGO. The conference was titled “Managing Cambodia’s Oil and Mineral Resources: Opportunities and Challenges for Development.” 
While listening to the excellent presentations made by Your Ambassador and by one of the spokesmen of the host organization, I felt tears coming to my eyes, hearing of exactly the same dreams and illusions that I had heard in my own country, Venezuela, thirty-five years ago, when oil prices increased dramatically. Those dreams have now been horrendously shattered by the awful realities of what is known as the oil-curse. 
Of course both speakers duly addressed the challenges and explained what “had to be done” in order to avoid this oil-curse, but the arguments; such as the need for transparency, good long term investments and setting aside funds for the future; and the determination with which they were made were also identical to those we made thirty-five years ago. All of it proved far from sufficient, did not serve us well and in fact only provided for the excuse of going down the wrong path. 
The real problem is that not one single of the precautions suggested has a real chance to stand up against the darkest forces of the oil-curse. No matter what you do, the fact is that oil revenues, when they are both generous and centralized in the hands of the State, provide for an independently wealthy government which does not need the citizens, and therefore becomes arrogant, and cruelly turns the citizens with very high expectations into beggars for favours. 
May I therefore respectfully beg of your Majesty to support the possibility that Cambodia’s net oil revenues be paid directly to the Cambodian citizens, in full and from the very first day. 
That article 58 of your Constitution states that mineral resources are the property of the State is no impediment for the results of the exploitation of those resources being paid out directly to the citizens. On the contrary, if the oil revenues were to remain in the hand of the State, that would effectively impede complying with article 56 that states “The Kingdom of Cambodia shall adopt a market-economy system” and, much more important, with article 51 that states “The Cambodian people are the masters of their country.” 
I am no one to remind a King of his duties, nor do I wish to presume to have royal wisdom, but having read in your Constitution that the King shall be the protector of rights and freedom for all citizens and shall assume the august role of arbitrator to ensure the faithful execution of public powers, let me in all humility say that, if I were the King of Cambodia, there would be no better legacy I could dream of leaving to my people and country than freeing it forever from the darkest side of an oil-curse. 
If there is an absolutely urgent need to initiate government projects, then allow the citizens to have the right to pay for these projects by giving back as income taxes a certain percentage of any oil revenues received, but please help your subjects to be and feel relevant to the future of their nation. 
Your Majesty, I would deeply appreciate any attention you give this letter and, if it is considered an undue intrusion into the affairs of Cambodia, please know that it has been written with utmost sincerity, thinking of a country that has gone through much suffering and destruction, and therefore truly deserves that oil helps, in the words of its Constitution, to turn “Cambodia into an “Island of Peace” . . . moving toward perpetual progress, development, prosperity, and glory” instead of forcing it to face new nation-destroying hardships. 
Sincerely, I remain, your Majesty’s humble friend, 
Per Kurowski 
Just another oil-cursed citizen. 
There is no such thing as an oil-cursed politician, oil-cursed government or oil cursed policymakers, on the contrary they are all most often shining examples of the blessings of oil... there are only oil-cursed citizens.

Read it here at The Phnom Penh Post