This may be the most ingenious or noxious thing you've ever heard--or even both at the same time. Coming from Southeast Asia, I get to study all sorts of unusual goings-on that would shock the rest of the world. However, I must admit that this incident takes the cake if you think in terms of "conflicts of interest" and "principal-agent problems" (to say the least).
Through the initiative of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Cambodian military is exploring the use of corporate sponsorship of the armed forces [!] as a means of raising revenue. As you might expect, this is raising all sorts of issues about the military serving public, not private interests. From TIME:
At the end of February, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen kicked off a program creating partnerships in which businesses would provide donations for particular units of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. The government has framed the initiative, which involves some 60 pairings, as facilitating the magnanimous inclination of corporations operating in Cambodia to support the welfare of the country's troops. Observers, however, caution that the program will ultimately serve to further enmesh the country's powerbrokers — political, military and business — into a network to serve their mutual interests and ensure everyone's allegiance to the ruling party.If this ain't the mother of corporate social responsibility issues, I don't know what is. Nike, eat your heart out. It's the return to the shilling fields.
The Cambodian military regularly guards large-scale private land concessions across the country, according to rights groups, and has been used to evict the rural poor for business developments. Hun Sen's new policy, says U.S.-based watchdog group Global Witness, is a step toward formalizing that process. "Global Witness has documented links between Cambodia's military and powerful business tycoons for many years now, so the relationships are not new," says Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner with the group, which was expelled from Cambodia in 2007 after publishing a report, fervently refuted by the government, that linked prominent officials in the government, military and business community with the illegal logging trade. "This latest move ... to officially sanction these partnerships is particularly shocking because it legitimizes a guns-for-hire scenario."
The government and companies participating in the new patronage program reject claims that the partnerships could lead to improprieties. Ly Yong Phat says his involvement in the program is to compensate for the military's lack of funding for troops' basic needs. Corporate support, according to a government memo, will "solve the dire situation of the armed forces, police, military police and their families through a culture of sharing." The government has responded to criticisms by specifying that donations would likely come in the form of food and shelter.