Parallel U
pt. II

Number 37–Corruption and News

Not long ago the Prime Minister, referring to his nephew in prison, proudly announced that Cambodian justice was working and that no-one was above the law. Since the case is probably not foremost in your mind, let me refresh your memory.

A convoy of elite-family spoiled-brat swaggering-drunk neer-do-wells was speeding down a crowded main drag at about 10 pm when one of the cars hit a coconut cart and killed the seller. To those of you not familiar with dirt poor third world streets, they epitomize the disorderly, and probably nowhere more so than Cambodia. You’ve got hand carts, motorcycle carts, three-wheel taxis, bicycles, pedicabs, pedestrians and motorbikes as well as all manner of vehicles typical of an American street all going in every which direction and parked and double parked at all angles.

So here comes this rich sob driving at freeway speeds smashing into the coconut cart and disabling his vehicle and requiring a stop. The next guy in the convoy stops to rescue the first and quickly removes the license plate and prepares for a get-a-way. Meanwhile a crowd has formed and, in the eyes of the drunken bastard looks menacing, so he gets out his AK-47 and sprays the crowd and kills two more people.

In fact, such crowds of common people, understanding how unfair and ineffectual the justice system can be here in Cambodia, have been known to take matters into their own hands. Any dumb shit caught in the act of stealing a motorbike, for instance, is likely to get the life beat out of him on the spot.

Anyrate, it’s obvious who the culprit is, so after a couple months on the lam, he’s apprehended and gets 18 months in prison for something like involuntary manslaughter – some strange charge to make it sound not so bad. Didn’t take long before he felt ill and was transferred to a hospital room which happened to include all the modern conveniences – TV, air-con, etc.

Getting back to the point, two days after Hun Sen’s speech it was discovered that his nephew had secretly been let out of prison months earlier – for someone who prides himself on the tough guy image, the PM was strangely silent; maybe he was just too embarrassed to want to carry the matter any further.

Here in Cambodia corruption is blatant and in-your-face. Last week there was news of a 100 kilo pot bust in which an air force officer was implicated. In the news the next day, public officials denied that any military personnel were involved. Pretty quick exoneration I would say. In fact, public officials are often involved in contraband trade. A while back Phnom Penh’s governor went up country in a convoy of trucks to bring back some illegally cut timber. When confronted by forest rangers a standoff and shootout resulted though I don’t remember any casualties resulting.

It’s quite easy for some of us expats to get cynical and derogatory about our chosen abode. It’s hard not to be infected by that feeling but then I turn it around and consider how O.J. got away with murder. Or how the bushman’s daughter was busted soon after he took office for trying to buy alcohol with fake ID. Monkey Boy had just previously toughened underage drinking laws as Texas governor with hundreds of young people put behind bars for exactly what his daughter had done and paid no penalty for. Or Rush Limbaugh, after purchasing huge amounts of prescription drugs illegally, getting treatment for his drug addiction while millions of poor Americans languish in prison for nearly the same offence. Or how about the murders committed every day through environmental poisoning by corporations who’re interested only in their bottom line.

At least Hun Sen, near dictatorial strongman that he might be, was actually elected to his office. Contrast that with America’s holier-than-thou conservatives who’ll stoop at nothing to put and keep their monkey boy stooge in power.

Getting back to Cambodia, it was recently disclosed that Phnom Penh’s seven acre central police headquarters was traded off, in secret, with no semblance of an open bidding process, a full year ago to a member of the elite, for a new headquarters on more land but on the edge of town.

The deal smells from many vantage points, aside from the aforementioned obvious ones. It is a prominent piece of land which could be a great asset to the city if developed with care and consideration. Instead it’ll be done up with the same old hackneyed and gaudily overdone shophouses. In fact, I kind of like the city’s new architecture in spite of its unevolved character, but this is a prominent site and should be, if it’s redeveloped at all, turned into something special.

Most likely, the mid to upper scale tenants in the new development will have scant tolerance for the noise and commotion, not to mention the occasional gunfire, produced by the entertainment strip across the street. Just a week ago, someone coming out of the Heart of Darkness, one of the city’s most popular nightspots fired his gun eight or ten times. I heard no wailing or gnashing of teeth so it’s assumed that he fired into the air and not at anyone or anything in particular, but you can imagine the hullabaloo a bunch of middle class hoo-hahs would make over a scene like that. Cambodians are extremely tolerant, but not that tolerant.

The strip, with nine bars in two blocks, is an important asset to the city so I’d still hate to see it go. And dancing. In Portland, getting friends to get out and shake their buns with me would be like asking them for a little finger. Here I can pop over to the Heart of Darkness, anytime, by myself or with friends, to dance till I drop. Who cares if I’m the oldest fart on the floor by a good margin, I love it and can always use the exercise.

Final note: The most amazing thing happened last month, two different people came to visit from the states, first time anyone’s stopped by in all the time I’ve been in Asia. It was great.