WASHINGTON - Cambodian Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol has concluded a trade mission to the United States during which he emphasized his government’s willingness to make “deep” reforms to improve its investment climate.
After visits to Los Angeles and Seattle, Minister Sun Chanthol capped off his week-long tour with an appearance in Washington, where he spoke about his government's recent anti-corruption efforts.
“We carry out these reforms to help investors so that there will be less informal costs, less transportation costs, less energy costs, and [we will] train our people to have better skills," he said.
He said the new-found political will to make reforms is due to last year’s general election -- in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party lost a significant number of seats in parliament along with opposition allegations of vote fraud.
Alex Feldman, president and CEO of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, says investment interest in Cambodia has grown steadily. But he said investors need more evidence of reform.
“What the minister was talking about today was all very positive and all things that will attract business," he said. "We have seen progress. It’s probably not been as much as the U.S. investors or the government would like. Hopefully, this time we make more progress. But we’ll have to wait and see.”
Feldman says Cambodia should continue to improve infrastructure, improve the skill base of its citizens and fight corruption.
In 2013, Transparency International named Cambodia the most corrupt country in Southeast Asia.
But Sun Chanthol says Phnom Penh has taken “unprecedented” steps toward reform, including passing an anti-corruption law and creating an anti-corruption unit.
Nevertheless, Storm Tiv, a senior associate for the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, told VOA that while anti-corruption efforts have increased, the lack of transparency in the process will make them ineffective.
“The lack of the ability to publicly disclose the assets of ministers keeps corruption as an issue," he said. "And so unless assets are publicly disclosed, corruption is still going to be an issue. The existence of an anti-corruption unit, then, doesn’t seem to show any real difference in how Cambodia addresses corruption.”
Participants in the minister’s discussions in Washington seemed cautiously optimistic about Cambodia’s reform plans. But they said it's too soon to tell if those promises will actually materialize.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.