|The fine levied on me for overstaying my visa Cambodia|
"Your mission is over. You go!" says a lot more than just those few literal words. It tells you how certain government officials regard foreigners and especially foreigners in foreign NGOs. It says something too about Cambodia's current politics that is accentuating those perceptions.
"Seminar on Principles of Management and Good Governance".
2. The months have passed by and needless to say none of the authorities, despite promises at the time, have ever come back to me. So now in active retirement when returning to Cambodia with my wife, I have to pay full visa charges in the same way as people who have never contributed to the country. Some people suggest I should apply for Cambodian citizenship or it should be requested on my behalf. The problem is that people like me, because of not giving in to paying informal fees to government officials, are far from in favour. Furthermore, let me be clear, I have never given in to anyone "on-the-take". From my first NGO paid job in Cambodia in 1998 (Cambodian Institute of Human Rights) to my last one ending in 2016 (Nomad RSI), I encountered senior people taking money that they were not entitled to, depriving the intended beneficiaries of benefits intended for them. In both cases by the way I was not paid money owed to me. Despite pretensions otherwise, top people within relevant organisations and authorities, inside and outside of Cambodia, chose not to take appropriate action. This is why a major element of my post-retirement #ForeignAid career is to promote much better ethical policies including the principle of holding perpetrators and lax management and oversight to account.
This is a sequel to my blog above. It is best to be familiar with that to see the context.
First of all I admit this title is a little unfair. It grabs attention to lead to some reasonable points but I must acknowledge that Cambodia authorities are fully justified in wanting to keep #Covid19 out of the country. Cambodia simply does not have the means to tackle outbreaks like those that have scourged UK, USA, Spain and many other countries.
My question is whether its actions are proportionate and fair, not only in the case of my Cambodian wife and myself, but of others?
First of all and as has been widely-covered in the world's media, draconian emergency measures, restricting essential freedoms, were adopted despite the fact that so far Cambodia has had very low incidences of Covid 19.
Secondly Cambodia imposed severe measures in effect virtually closing its borders. One of the country's main economic stays, the tourist industry, was dealt a severe blow. Most airlines cancelled flights but then a few have resumed as evidence has grown that so far Cambodia has escaped the worst of the infection. In order to maintain that welcome status regulations were introduced requiring travellers there to obtain prior “Fit-to-Fly” Covid-free health certificates. Then after arrival they were tested again and quarantined. If the results were negative, they were released the next day free to quarantine at home for another 14 days with a third test on day 13 to show all is well, If just one person on the flight proved positive, then all would stay in compulsory quarantine for the full period. In several cases the 13 day tests proved positive extending quarantine until further tests proved negative.
In November stricter measures, quarantine in approved centres only for the full 14 days, were applied regardless of the two negative tests. For foreigners like me it means staying in a Ministry of Health approved hotel room at a cost of US$60 a day plus $30 for meals. That is a minimum of $1,260, more if the stay goes beyond 14 days, and of course the tests have to be paid for at $100 each. The Cambodian wife could stay free in government facilities but of course they are primitive and that would be grossly unfair to her, to be completely on her own with strangers for the first time in her entire life. So an extra $20 is charged for the hotel room for her and another $30 for meals.
Now the money is not the main issue although I have to say I think that there's more than a touch of “never let a good crisis go to waste” at play.
It is well known that Covid19 and coping with its consequences does affect people both physically and mentally even if they have not caught the virus. We have had to live with the risks of it since March including two lock-downs. However here in the UK we are allowed out for essential exercise and daily tasks like cooking our food helps to pass time. Cambodia's compulsory quarantine means being holed-up in a single room for the duration.
My question about the proportionality of Cambodia response is why we cannot be afforded the same treatment as government officials and international visitors with 'A' and 'B' visas as well as private businessmen who can be exempted if suitably sponsored? In fact no similar allowance is legislated for “Civil Society”, local NGOs, who are supported voluntarily by people like me. This omission might not be accidental.*
The fact is we have our own home in Takhmau in private walled and gated grounds. The commune chief lives along the same road and the commune police post is nearby. We've put up with 10 weeks of home isolation in UK, so why can we not be trusted to do two more in Cambodia?
I appreciate that some casual travellers have broken their own quarantine requirements – but not responsible people like us who have witnessed Covid 19 and its lethal effects.
Then if you examine cases of Covid19 being imported, it is the exempted elite most responsible, isn't it? The Hungarian Foreign Minister's visit resulted in widespread concern including Prime Minister Hun Sen quarantining at home for 14 days. Despite a positive contact with a known sufferer, he didn't have to go in to a compulsory quarantine centre.
The fact is authorities have to weigh up the relative risks, costs and benefits of restrictions. The more stringent they are, the greater is their effect on suppressing the virus but the more dire it is on economic and social well-being. I wonder if Cambodia authorities have taken in to account studies such as those in the Lancet? Certainly we would expect the World Health Organisation to be advising them. I do not think that there has been much community engagement.
Now in my case had I not taken up the Cambodia Government's new provision of an 'E'-retirement visa in 2018, I would have still had a 'B' one today and therefore exempt from the current restrictions. This visa was added to encourage people like me to stay on in Cambodia after retirement to continue to contribute economically and socially. I am rare, perhaps unique, in “localising” three international NGOs, handing over to local people, the ultimate objective of all Foreign Aid. I still give voluntary support to them and occasionally inspect on behalf of donors.
|For more Tweets search @lowriejohn quarantine.|
One more factor has inhibited our return to Cambodia. Airports and Airlines are desperate for their business to recover. London Heathrow has now added Covid19 rapid testing. Where we live and having to travel to London the day before our flight, there is a very high risk of not getting standard 24 hour test results back in time before embarking on the journey. Not travelling, not staying in the hotel booked, or being unable to board flights at that late juncture would be a heavy financial loss that is not covered by travel insurance. We cannot get an answer from Cambodian authorities or the airlines if the Heathrow test is acceptable.**
It does not help too that within the UK despite now hundreds of thousands of Covid tests daily, it does not allow travellers to use NHS testing facilities. Even though my wife and I could go to a nearby walk-in facility and obtain results straightaway, this is not allowed. I would argue this should be allowed in order to confirm that both of us are Covid-free before we leave home to travel to London.
If we are committed to not importing the virus in to Cambodia then she too – and every other arriving passenger - should be tested. There should be no exceptions.
* One factor that Cambodian officials in reality may weigh is that in my case I have not only resisted paying informal fees over the years to them (corruption) but I also work mainly with NGOs promoting human rights and equitable development often critical to them. They do not appear to respect that throughout I have always adopted “constructive engagement” as well as strict political neutrality. As I say in my earlier blog above, the contribution to the country and funding raised of over US$ 15 million does not count once we have outlived our usefulness to them.
** A colleague arriving at Phnom Penh airport yesterday (19 November 2020) has confirmed that the test "has to be a RT-PCR test not the rapid one" and it must be stamped and signed by an appropriate medical authority.
The UK connection - why it matters.
I have asked the UK Embassy to assist us. Most people would expect it to take an active interest in the Heathrow Covid-tests being accepted by Cambodia as this would re-open up exchanges between the countries. (Later one PCR-test clinic at Heathrow did oblige by meeting Cambodia's exact requirements.)
At one time UK Ambassadors would also speak up for their citizens. Above I have set out how much money I raised for Cambodia and projects that I managed, many of which were conducted through "constructive engagement" with the government. Eight of those projects were directly funded by the UK, total US$ 2,642,904 (one co-funded with Denmark). In addition I won funding from other UK donors, the largest of which was the Princess Diana Memorial Fund US$ 356,906. Now while the truth is the impact of such projects fades over time, the fact is two of my NGOs localised are still in business and for even the one that isn't, there are "beneficiaries" still continuing the work. I blog about one Kosal here but there are others. We try when in Cambodia to spend time with them and help with fundraising. I am also still on the Board of Directors of another local NGO.
Why all this should matter is often set out in my "Foreign Aid" advocacy. I think that a glaring mistake is not to have post-project inspections and evaluations, i.e. one year or more after the books have closed. Invariably there are end-project evaluations bit once they're done, that's it, everyone moves on. This is well known by those who seek to take advantage and profit - see one story here. I have seen too many project initiatives unravel and the good undone. This is less likely to happen if people like me stay around.
I wrote by the UK's Royal Mail on 26 February to H.E. Dr. Soeung Rathchavy the Cambodian Ambassador to the UK to ask her if she would kindly ask her ministry to review my case; the policies and how they have been interpreted and applied.
Although the case may not have been caught up in the current crackdowns on foreigners in Cambodia, it is hard not to make some connection - see for example this latest report in the Phnom Penh Post about new joint action by the Ministies of Interior and Labour. The "tone" for Westerners working in NGOs was set by the Prime Minister and his often repeated references to spies. (The INGO that sponsored me last year, that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted must provide a tax certificate, is a US not-for-profit.)
I sent an email on 8 March with attachments to the Cambodian Embassy requesting confirmation of receipt of my formal letter posted on 3 March.
If there is a reply either to my formal letter or the follow-up email I will post it here.
21 April 2018 - Still no reply from the Cambodian Embassy or Foreign Ministry.
Update 25 May 2018
I re-entered Cambodia through the "Visa on Arrival" without any difficulty taking no more than 10 minutes, as it is clearly a money-making venture not one to check the suitability/eligibility of visitors. In terms of time and effort it is a much easier more efficient process than for free visas via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but now we await to see if I can obtain a "retirement" visa extension without any hassle. Note the details in the receipt!
8 June 2018
My application for the retirement visa has gone in, via an agent, a three month single-entry extension for US$78. Initially all that was required were copies of my UK pension status - I had my letter from the UK's Department of Work and Pensions - and income, copies of my state and private pensions. If OK, I will hear within two weeks. They did warn me that once issued with the retirement visa I cannot change back.
11 June 2018
For the record
Written representations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation
It should be noted that the tax certificate issued by the Ministry of Interior has only in 2017 been added as a formality for visa approvals. I had not heard of this new requirement.
Now this tweet was not sent in relation to this blog but it might have been, and in the interests of freedom of expression that I support, here it is: