Transparency of the Regulatory System
In general, Cambodia’s regulatory system, while improving, still lacks transparency. This is the result of the lack of legislation and the limited capacity of key institutions, which is further exacerbated by a weak court system. Investors often complain that the decisions of Cambodian regulatory agencies are inconsistent, arbitrary, or influenced by corruption. For example, in May 2016, in what was perceived as a populist move, the government set caps on retail fuel prices, with little consultation with petroleum companies. In April 2017, the National Bank of Cambodia introduced an interest rate cap on loans provided by the microfinance industry with no consultation with relevant stakeholders. More recently, investors have regularly expressed concern over draft legislation that has not been subject to stakeholder consultations.
Cambodian ministries and regulatory agencies are not legally obligated to publish the text of proposed regulations before their enactment. Draft regulations are only selectively and inconsistently available for public consultation with relevant non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector, or other parties before their enactment. Approved or passed laws are available on websites of some ministries but are not always up to date. The Council of Jurists, the government body that reviews laws and regulations, publishes a list of updated laws and regulations on its website.
International Regulatory Considerations
As a member of ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia is required to comply with certain rules and regulations regarding free trade agreements with the 10 ASEAN member states. These include tariff-free importation of information and communication technology (ICT) equipment, harmonizing custom coding, harmonizing the medical device market, as well as compliance with tax regulations on multi-activity businesses, among others.
As a WTO member, Cambodia has both drafted and modified laws and regulations to comply with WTO rules. Relevant laws and regulations are notified to the WTO legal committee only after their adoption. A list of Cambodian legal updates in compliance with the WTO is described in the above section regarding Investment Policy Reviews.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Although the Cambodian Constitution calls for an independent judiciary, both local and foreign businesses report problems with inconsistent judicial rulings, corruption, and difficulty enforcing judgments. For these reasons, many commercial disputes are resolved through negotiations facilitated by the Ministry of Commerce, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and other institutions. Foreign investors often build into their contracts clauses that dictate that investment disputes must be resolved in a third country, such as Singapore.
The Cambodian legal system is primarily based on French civil law. Under the 1993 Constitution, the King is the head of state and the elected Prime Minister is the head of government. Legislative power is vested in a bicameral parliament, while the judiciary makes up the third branch of government. Contractual enforcement is governed by Decree Number 38 D Referring to Contract and Other Liabilities. More information on this decree can be found at this link .
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Cambodia’s 1994 Law on Investment created an investment licensing system to regulate the approval process for FDI and provide incentives to potential investors. In 2003, the government amended the law to simplify licensing and increase transparency (Amended Law on Investment). Sub-decree No. 111 (2005) lays out detailed procedures for registering a QIP, which is entitled to certain taxation incentives, with the CDC and provincial/municipal investment subcommittees.
Information about investment and investment incentives in Cambodia may be found on the CDC’s website .
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
A draft antitrust and competition law is reportedly near completion. Once enacted, it will be enforced by Cambodia’s Import-Export Inspection and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CAMCONTROL). Cambodia enacted a Law on Consumer Protection in November 2019, but it has not been fully implemented as of April 2021.
Expropriation and Compensation
Land rights are a contentious issue in Cambodia, complicated by the fact that most property holders do not have legal documentation of their ownership because of the policies and social upheaval during Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Numerous cases have been reported of influential individuals or groups acquiring land titles or concessions through political and/or financial connections and then using force to displace communities to make way for commercial enterprises.
In late 2009, the National Assembly approved the Law on Expropriation, which sets broad guidelines on land-taking procedures for public interest purposes. It defines public interest activities to include construction, rehabilitation, preservation, or expansion of infrastructure projects, and development of buildings for national defense and civil security. These provisions include construction of border crossing posts, facilities for research and exploitation of natural resources, and oil pipeline and gas networks. Property can also be expropriated for natural disasters and emergencies, as determined by the government. Legal procedures regarding compensation and appeals are expected to be established in a forthcoming sub-decree, which is under internal discussion within the technical team of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The government has shown willingness to use tax issues for political purposes. For instance, in 2017, a U.S.-owned independent newspaper had its bank account frozen purportedly for failure to pay taxes. It is believed that, while the company may have had some tax liability, the action taken by the General Department of Taxation, notably an inflated tax assessment, was politically motivated and intended to halt operations. These actions took place at the same time the government took steps to reduce the role of press and independent media in the country as part of a wider anti-democratic crackdown.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Cambodia has been a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) since 2005. Cambodia is also a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 (the New York Convention) since 1960.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
International arbitration is available for Cambodian commercial disputes. In March 2014, the Supreme Court of Cambodia upheld the decision of the Cambodian Court of Appeal, which had ruled in favor of the recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board of Seoul, South Korea. Cambodia became a member of the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes in January 2005. In 2009, the International Center approved a U.S. investor’s request for arbitration in a case against the Cambodian government, and in 2013, the tribunal rendered an award in favor of Cambodia.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Commercial disputes can also be resolved through the National Commercial Arbitration Center (NCAC), Cambodia’s first alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which was officially launched in March 2013. Arbitral awards issued by foreign arbitrations are admissible in the Cambodian court system. An example can be drawn from its recognition and enforcement of the arbitral award issued by the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board in 2014.
Cambodia’s 2007 Law on Insolvency was intended to provide collective, orderly, and fair satisfaction of creditor claims from debtor properties and, where appropriate, the rehabilitation of the debtor’s business. The law applies to the assets of all businesspeople and legal entities in Cambodia. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report ranks Cambodia 82 out of 190 countries in terms of the “ease of resolving insolvency.”
In 2012, Credit Bureau Cambodia (CBC) was established in an effort to create a more transparent credit market in the country. CBC’s main role is to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions and to improve access to credit information.