US Ambassador Says Corruption Scares Off American Firms

U.S. Ambassador William Todd on Thursday said that despite his efforts to promote Cambodia as an attractive destination for business, major American companies are reluctant to invest here as they still perceive the country as indelibly corrupt. “I believe now is the time for big U.S. businesses to come here. And I believe that they want to come here—but I believe that the issue about corruption is preventing them from coming here,” Mr. Todd said ahead of a workshop on corruption hosted by the American Cambodian Business Council (AmCham) in Phnom Penh. … “The corruption issue, to be frank with you, has created what we think is a drag on the economy. It’s basically something that’s prevented a lot of U.S. businesses from coming in here,” he [William Todd] said. “I see probably three or four companies a week who want to do business here in Cambodia, who either want to buy things, or sell things, or open things,” he said, “and I’ve seen some very large business—some of America’s largest—and they want to basically make 100-billion-dollar investments, 200-billion-dollar investments and so on, but they get scared off.” According to the Cambodian Investment Board, U.S. investment in Cambodia amounted to just $5.3 million last year, a mere 0.23 percent of all foreign investment in the country. Mr. Todd said that while the creation of an Anti-Corruption Law in 2010, and corresponding Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), is a step in the right direction, implementation of that legislation has been limited. … He [William Todd] added that while between 41 and 42 percent of Cambodian exports go to the U.S., accounting for more than 20 percent of Cambodia’s gross domestic product, “unless the corruption issue is dealt with, making that number go much higher is going to be real hard to do. And making it go much higher in industries other than textiles could be hard to do.” Mr. Todd concluded by urging foreign companies currently operating in Cambodia to make sure they are compliant with existing anti-corruption laws, and expressed hope that future dialogue between the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP would bring more substantial reforms. ..

Ben Woods and Phorn Bopha