Friday, June 29, 2007

Theater of Absurdity

This is the term my boss frequently uses when referring to things in Cambodia, and I found it very appropriate. Not only for here; I think it could be equally applicable to several events that have occurred throughout law school as well, nights at the Garden in particular. But it is particularly applicable to the way in which the legal system works here. It is understandable that things cannot simply be plopped down by international donors and expected to work. It has taken "developed" countries decades to do the changing of mind sets, education of the population, etc. that will be needed here. When your entire education system (including all of the educated) was wiped out just 30 years ago, it takes some time to rebuild. But it leaves you currently with extremely uneducated persons, even those who have completed their law degree.

For example, they have been trying to organize a legal team for the Ministry of Women's Affairs for months. A woman named Savady is the head of it, and there were two girls who worked for the team. And then Doris is kind of the advisor of this team, but of course in practice she is the one working directly with the Minister. These two girls, who both have their law degrees, would rather cut and paste and stuff envelopes for the GTZ project. So they refuse to do any legal work, and get salaries (very small ones though) from both the legal team (Ministry) and GTZ. So the Minister has recently hired two new girls to work on this legal team with Savady and secured a room on the third floor for them to work in (we're currently on the first floor). Savady has decided that it is a violation of her human dignity to have to walk up three flights of stairs and refuses to work up there with the rest of the legal team. She has said that she will simply not come to work if that's where she has to work.

Now, one might logically say, that's fine, don't come to work. We'll find someone else to take your job who wants it. Problem: she's CPP (ruling party) and our Minister is FUNCINPEC (opposition party); therefore, if she isn't accomodated she can cause the Minister even bigger problems on bigger issues, effectively blocking her from being able to accomplish anything. So she stays, and nothing gets done with the legal team. This is just one example of the ways in which politics and lack of intelligence get mixed in with everything here.

Yesterday I visited the new National Assembly building, it's absolutely amazing. There's some hope (on my part if nothing else) that this new building with make the Parliamentarians feel like they have some power. The system is set up pretty well with a PM, elected parliament, senate elected by commune councils that are elected by the people. But in practice the PM, Hun Sen, pretty much rules everything. A Vietnamese leader who was recently visiting the country stated that it is important for Hun Sen to drop down because changes in leadership are necessary. This is coming from a Vietnamese leader! And not surprisingly, Hun Sen had a cold while that guy was here and wasn't able to visit with him. It's an interesting dynamic all around. And the story with the new National Assembly building is that the original bid was put in by a friend of the CPP (maybe a friend of Hun Sen's). Sam Rainsy, who is the leader of an opposition party and a parlimentarian got someone to put in another bid that was $20 million less. That contractor "disappeared" and his company withdrew it's bid. Kind of like Halliburton, only people play with AK-47s over here.
Just a few examples of things that occur in the theater of absurdity.

1 comment:

Blanche said...

Thanks for writing this.