KUALA LUMPUR: Cambodian senior minister Ly Thuch has acknowledged that Malaysian businessmen played a large role in turning his country from a ruined state into a nation with a booming economy.
He told FMT Malaysians were among the first people to invest in Cambodia after three decades of war and famine had left it with nothing to offer “other than ashes”.
“We had nothing left,” he said. “Almost all our intellectuals had been killed by the Khmer Rouge.
“We needed teachers and we needed midwives, hospitals, schools, houses, roads, clothing, everything. And Malaysians came forward to invest.”
Cambodia’s economy, driven by tourism and garment exports, is now one of the fastest growing in Southeast Asia. According to the World Bank, it is among the fastest growing in the world, averaging at 8% between 1998 and 2018.
Ly is in Malaysia to receive an award from a local company.
Malaysian entrepreneurs first entered the ravaged country to produce textiles, and Ly noted that the textile industry has since grown into one that is worth US$12 billion a year in exports.
He said Malaysian businesses also started the construction sector in Cambodia, “which is now still booming”.
Among other businesses engaged in by Malaysians are those that come under the education, telecommunications, banking and tourism sectors.
Ly said these were benefiting Cambodians through transfer of knowledge and employment.
“From ashes, we are now heading for the skies,” he said.
Ly, who is the vice-president and secretary-general of Cambodia’s Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, also spoke of efforts to clear his country of the land mines planted during the years of war.
“We are now aiming to free our country of land mines by 2025,” he said, adding that the areas cleared so far would constitute three times the size of Singapore.
“We have another 2,000 sq km to clear, mostly located in rural areas and forests.”
He said one land mine could kill an entire family, adding that more than 20% of Cambodia’s children had been handicapped by mine blasts.
“The government couldn’t build schools or hospitals until land mines were cleared,” he said.
For the effort, Cambodia spends between US$7 million and US$10 million a year, with another US$30 million coming from Japan, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. South Korea will join the list of donors next year.
According to Ly, families living in areas free of land mines earn nearly four times more than those in the danger zones.
He said Cambodians are hungry for success as the government looks at upgrading the workforce with IT skills and improving human resources and the use of English.