New Head of the Danish Representation in Cambodia

Cambodia is for many people associated with a traumatised poor nation with a bloody history. However, Tom Barthel Hansen sees a lot of opportunities for development and growth, which where some of the reasons why he wanted to work there. On September first he was posted as Head of Representation in Phnom Penh. 
 “I really wanted to come to Cambodia because I think the country is going through an exiting period and a rapid development right now,” said Tom Barthel Hansen who has just been posted by The Ministry for Foreign Affairs Denmark.
“It is a real challenge to look at a country like Cambodia which is moving in a positive direction at the moment. Hopefully Denmark will be able to expand its activities here in the long run,” he said.
The Danish Representation in Phnom Penh is under the Royal Danish Embassy of Bangkok. However, the Representation in Phnom Penh takes care of all Danida’s activities in Cambodia.
Apart from a few shorter trips to Cambodia the country is new to Tom Barthel Hansen. However, as Cand. Polit he has been working with development assistance in several third world countries before coming to Cambodia. “I have always worked in developing countries. I have previously been working in Lesotho, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Bangladesh,” he said.
Latest he comes from a position as head of the department for “Quality Assurance of Development Assistance” at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen.


Sustainable development

“Cambodia has over the last couple of years experienced an economic growth of approx. ten per cent”, explains Tom Barthel Hansen. As Head of Representation he hopes to be able to influence the development process in a way, which is sustainable for Cambodia. 
 “We hope to be able to affect the decisions which are taken right now in order to ensure a sustainable development. For example, we want the government to make a legislation, which protects natural resources from being overexploited,” he said.
“According to the newspapers and other aid-organisations there is widespread use of illegal logging and land grabbing. We hope, that we can support the Cambodian government in making the necessary laws which can prevent these things from happening,” he said.
The economic growth in Cambodia is partly due to the garment industry and tourism. However, according to Tom Barthel Hansen, the growing tourism is also a reason why the country needs to be aware of protecting the environment and some of its unique cultural heritages.


Danida in Cambodia

Ensuring sustainable development has always been part of Danida’s work in Cambodia. Danida has supported environmental programs in Cambodia since 1997. Originally the programs were handled from the Danish Embassy in Bangkok.
“As the Danida activities in Cambodia grew it became necessary to set up the Danish Representation in Phnom Penh in 2002”, says Tom Barthel Hansen. “Since then Danida’s activities have expanded and the different environment activities are today gathered under one program called “Natural Resource Management,” he explained.
Apart from this Danida also administers a program for Human Rights and Good Governance. Most of these cases involve disputes over land. “This happens in most post conflict countries when power changes.  Sometimes there are several deeds to the same piece of land and nobody knows who really owns it”, he says. Danida is supporting the government in making some laws, which makes it easier to control the buying and selling of land.
Tom Barthel Hansen also finds it important to support the private sector in Cambodia, in order to ensure economic growth. Danida is looking into the possibility of using a grant of DKK 40 million to support the Private Sector, which could start to be implemented late next year.  
“The idea of this program is to support Cambodia’s participation in the globalisation process. For example by improving the environment for export and import in Cambodia, and create a more profitable environment for investments,” said Tom Barthel Hansen. 
“Cambodia is member of WTO, so they have to have a legislation which facilitate trade in place”. Until this happens, the climate for Danish investments in Cambodia is proper ably still far away.
“We need to support Cambodia in making the institutional framework for business more streamlined and conducive for investments, both national an international. There are no genuine organisations where business men can get proper guidance”, he says. However, he predicts that this situation will change in the future.
“Cambodia is maybe 20-30 years behind a country like Thailand for example. But Cambodia also has a lot of minerals and maybe oil and gas in the gulf that could provide the economic base for future economic growth. Maybe in five to ten years Cambodia can be an interesting place for Danish industry”.


A Fine Balance

Most of Danida’s activities in Cambodia are implemented in cooperation with the government as well as local and international NGOs. “ We support the Cambodian government because they have invited us and we have a good partnership with the government in many areas. This is important to remember, but it is also important to let the government know what our point of views are on difficult issues like human rights and anti-corruption,” said Tom Barthel Hansen.
At the same time Danida also supports the NGO’s in Cambodia and implement many of their projects in cooperation with them. ”We also support some of the organisations which might have a critical voice”, he says. “You balance this by holding on to Danida’s own philosophy on development aid. This is for example on financial management and we have to monitor all our programmes very carefully,” said Tom Barthel Hansen.
“It is a fine balance. But the important thing to remember is that everything is done in the spirit of a common understanding as to why we are here. And this is to improve the living standard for the poorest part of the population”, he finishes.
Tom Barthel Hansen is planning to stay in Cambodia for about three to four years. In about a year his wife who is a teacher in Denmark will accompany him, while their two daughters and a son will remain in Denmark to study.  



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