Op-Ed: PM Hun Sen: Cambodia will Smart Spend Oil Revenue; War is Over Yet COVID-19 Fight Continues
AKP Phnom Penh, December 30, 2020 --
Cambodia’s long-awaited first drop of oil is now being extracted offshore in the Khmer basin, says the world’s longest serving Prime Minister. This Southeast Asian nation will make sure that these oil revenue will be a blessing, not curse, and that the money will go to support the top priority sectors of health and education.
As the country celebrates its 22nd anniversary of the end of the country’s nearly 30 years of civil war, the Premier says that Cambodia’s conflict is over but the COVID-19 fight is far from finished.
The first drop of oil
Just an hour after the Prime Minister Hun Sen posted on his Facebook on Dec. 29, 2020 that, “Cambodia’s first drop of oil kicked off”, tens of thousands of enthusiastic Cambodian people clicked “like” and “share” as the announcement went viral nationwide on social media.
Cambodians from all walks of life could not wait to see the Prime Minister deliver the positive news through his impromptu speech to his compatriots about the oil being extracted from the seabed of Cambodia in Bloc A, with investment by Singapore’s oil and gas exploration company, KrisEnergy.
Bloc A totally belongs to Cambodia and she continues to negotiate with Thailand on the Overlapping Claims Area (OCA) in the Gulf of Thailand.
Although it is uncertain how much profit this small nation of more than 16 million people will gain, media quotes a reliable source saying that, “the five-well mini platform will reach a peak rate of 7,500 barrels per day once the four additional wells are completed”.
The Royal Government of Cambodia and KrisEnergy will have more work to deal with, such as the upstream" and "downstream" sectors in the oil and gas production process. It is, however, a good start already, given the fact that the government spent years through arduous negotiations with previous foreign companies before a deal was reached with KrisEnergy.
30 years waiting
Addressing the nation on the state-run television channel, TVK, on Dec. 29, 2020, the Prime Minister said that we had to wait for 30 years before oil production became a reality.
He recalled that in 1991 the U.K.-based Enterprise Oil entered the bidding process and became the first oil company to sign an exploration contract in Cambodia, in bloc A, and it was cancelled after the Paris Peace Agreement 1991.
In 1994, the Premier himself travelled with then-Prince Norodom Ranariddh and visited Bloc A. Enterprise Oil later pulled out of the deal and it was then replaced by U.S. Chevron.
While not drop of oil was extracted between 1999 and 2000s there were already words of concern from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank (WB), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), among others, asking Cambodia’s government how it was going to the spend the oil revenue. They had already learned some bad lessons learnt from a few least developed countries (LDC) where some oil revenue turned out to be a curse rather than blessing.
“Many people kept asking me, will it become a blessing or curse. I hit them back by saying that since we have not yet produced oil we must not talk about it,” Prime Minister Hun Sen recalled.
“We had not then caught any fish and they already asked if the fish will be fried or baked or made into soup… it did not make sense,” he explained.
Today the government voice’s is crystal clear: The revenue will be spent for top priority sectors of health and education, although it is not yet known how much revenue will be netted from this extractive industry.
The very first drop of oil will also land on the Prime Minister’s desk. He has instructed Deputy Prime Minister Tea Banh, Minister of Defence, who is second in command, to receive the first product from Minister Suy Sem, of Mines and Energy, and place it at the Peace Palace as a symbol of success.
Cambodia’s leader also reassured the nation and his compatriots and the world that Cambodia still stands strong despite being hit by the deadly COVID-19 virus since early this year.
Cambodia's global trade value recorded at US$32 billion of which the country exported was almost US$16 billion for 2020 thanks to the continued two-way trade with many countries.
As of yesterday, trade revenues netted more than US$5.27 billion, including US$2.39 billion collected by custom officials and another US$2.878 billion by tax officials.
The government has US$3 billion cash in the bank from its savings, as well as foreign reserves of US$20 billion, said the Prime Minister. He added that Cambodia has gold deposits of 44.4 tonnes.
“No one can topple Hun Sen's led gov't,” he reassured.
Cambodia now also enjoys its largest free trade pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and Cambodia also inked with China, and she is on her way more trade deals soon with others, such as South Korea (Republic of Korea), and Eurasia.
“So, do not try to topple me. I can defeat you in a few minutes,” he warned his opposition, adding, he is “If you want me step down I want to stay on, but it you ask me to please stay in power I want to leave office.
“I can be in power for another 10 years from now,” said the now 68-year old Prime Minister.
Cambodia’s war is over, but COVID-19 is far from over
When young, Hun Sen joined the resistance as a soldier on April 4, 1970, as a hard core fighter answering the appeal of the Prince Norodom Sihanouk, just days after Lon Nol’s coup overthrew the Prince from power while the Prince was on an overseas trip.
Today, he reiterated that, although the war is over, Cambodia’s war to fight COVID-19 is still there. Cambodia continues its efforts, along with complying World Health Organisation (WHO) instruction to fight the virus.
The first drop of Cambodia’s oil announcement coincides with the 22nd anniversary of country’s celebration of the end of Cambodia’s civil war on Dec. 29.
Cambodia’s internal divisions continued from one time to time. Fighting among themselves, especially since 1970 after the pro-liberal camp, led by military chief marshal Lon Nol, toppled Prince Norodom Sihanouk on the Mar. 18, 1970, followed by bloody fighting in the country, over-shadowed by the Cold War, the Killing fields (April 1975- January 1979), Vietnam’s support to liberate Cambodia (1979 to 1989) and prevent the return of Pol Pot to power. During that time the United Nations, the west, supported Pol Pot occupied Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations till 1993.
Despite the intervention of the United Nations [UNTAC] after the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 reached by the four Cambodia’s factional fighters, still the war in this country dragged for another 5 years, claimed the Prime Minister.
Although the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia spent US$2 billion with its tens of hundreds of personnel from nearly 20 countries and local employees, still the U.N. operation did not end the war till the Prime Minister Hun Sen himself championed his win-win policy in 1998 that brought about fully national reconciliation and peace.“The war is over, yet the COVID-19… we keep wearing mask, keep cleaning hands, and social distance of at least 1.5 metres,” the Premier said.
He also asked people try to avoid closed rooms with air-con, do not hug, and do not be close.
“We have now adopted the social distance of more than 1.5 metres regardless of how big the space they have.
“If not necessary, no need to hold gatherings of people. They should use video conference instead of meeting in person in provinces”.
He also instructed the owners of hotel, restaurant and other central facilities to ensure that the venue is clean. Keep checking body temperatures before letting people entering a certain office. If any owner does not comply with health instruction they will face closure.
As of Dec. 30, 2020, Cambodia’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 are 364, including 361 recovered and three others still hospitalised, with no deaths reported.
Global confirmed cases of COVID-19 are 80,155,187 including 1,771,128 deaths in 222 countries, areas or territories.
By Ek Tha
Spokesman of the Council of Ministers,
Standing-Vice Chairman of the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit,
Advisor to the Ministry of Information