Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Bar and the Golden Rule

“Tell me what country allows you to have a 100 per cent banking licence, to allow foreigners to own 100 per cent in the telecom sector, to allow foreigners to own 100 per cent of the agricultural business? Only Cambodia.”

Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol, 8 October 2014, the Phnom Penh Post

“You [foreign investors] have a dollarized economy here; you’re able to repatriate your revenue; if you make money you can take it with you; you can basically have 100 percent foreign ownership; there are tax preferences here in Cambodia that are frankly better than in the region.”

US Ambassador William Todd, 8 July 2014, the Cambodia Daily

“During the [trade] presentations, I made a statement that when I come back to Cambodia I will need to talk to our prime minister to nominate Ambassador Todd to be our expert or an official on the CDC (Council for the Development of Cambodia)… He’s done such a great job making presentations…in terms of the investment opportunities in the country and I really appreciate that, ambassador. You’ve done such a tremendous job for us.”

Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol, 8 October 2014, the Phnom Penh Post

“When they [foreign lawyers] come to our country, they act as if the Bar never exists. They go straight and set up a legal consulting company with Ministry of Commerce and apply for business and legal consulting services from tax department... then immediately start to provide legal services, they do not even care about consulting with the Bar to see whether their business is legal or try to apply for registration with the Bar to see if the bar can accept it.”

Former Bar secretary-general and HBS LAW managing director Ly Tayseng, 5 May 2015, Campro Forum

“Their illegal practice [not registering with the Bar] has affected confidence and value of the legal profession, and damaged the interests of the public.”

Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 8 December 2014 Statement

So, what can those 50 illegal foreign lawyers do – they are violating the local law by refusing to register with the Bar – that Bar’s members of almost 1,000 cannot? A fair bit, actually.

First, they come with monies foreign investors bring into the country. It is unlikely that the investors would fly in solo with millions of dollars without their own lawyers, or at least without lawyers they can trust, which immediately disqualifies local lawyers. Or the local lawyers would find it tough to secure the trust.

Second, the foreign investors and their lawyers must know how the Cambodian court system works. It does not necessarily require legal skill in a court of law that allows free flows of bribes. It is an open secret that money can buy the “right” connection that opens all doors – even those with rusty locks. And it does not need an Einstein brain to identify where the right connection is. Here some local lawyers may be of some use as long as they specialise in connection networks.

The Bar’s sudden urge to uphold the rule of law may carry little weight, if any. The hard sell of Cambodia as a place for foreign monies by Sun Chantol gives a distinct impression that nothing will be allowed to stand in the way. The cosy relationship between Sun Chantol and William Todd, who is outspoken in protecting the foreign lawyers’ interest, will throw the Bar’s rule of law rhetoric into Choeung Ek dumpsite. Why do the Ministry of Commerce and/or the tax department not refer those foreign lawyers who wish to set up legal services to the Bar? Don’t they know the Bar exists? Don’t they realise there are rules on practising laws in the country? Or, they simply don’t care about the rule of law as long as the money flows in.

Then, what can premier Hun Sen, who is a member of the Bar, do to force these foreigners to register? Very little, really. His livelihood is not connected to running any legal practices like other Bar members. The threat of bankruptcy that purportedly arises from the unregistered foreign lawyers does not stare him in the face. His sole interest is in the money foreigners bring in.

The Bar’s campaign to apply the registration rule for all is facing defeat; it has fallen on deaf ears. A consolation prize is that the Bar, which is a union for lawyers, is not alone in failing to uphold the rule of law. Other unions of workers and other victims of money have been there, and bitterly disappointed. The Bar’s concern for damages these illegal practices do to public interest is touching. However, it is about time they knew it is an illegal jungle out there. And those with the most money win.

Anyhow, it may be comforting to know the rule by law, or the golden rule – those who have the gold make the rules – does not discriminate whether workers are in factories or legal practices. 

Ung Bun Ang

Parthian Shot

It sounds like a fair court system that does not discriminate between the bright and not so bright of the Royal Academy for Judicial Professions (RAJP) graduates. When it is not so certain who should make more money as a judge or prosecutor, the Academy opts for the lottery to determine the future wealth of their graduates.

At least the lazy thinking is consistent with the golden rule that does not discriminate whether it is the Bar or other unions it runs over.  

“The reason we chose this [lottery] method is because we do not want to compel the one who is outstanding or weak to become a judge or a prosecutor; we leave it for luck to decide.”

RAJP president Chhorn Proloeung, 28 November 2014


Pseng-Pseng will take a break in June and July. The next issue will appear on 30 July 2015. It may not deserve a break, but target issues do.

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