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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ADB's price of advice 'too high', says govt

ADB's price of advice 'too high', says govt

The government has delayed signing a loan deal with the Asian Development Bank

for an environmental management project, complaining that proposed consultant

salaries are too high.

The Post has obtained the Memorandum of

Understanding for the $20.5 million Tonle Sap Environmental Management Project.

It budgeted for $8.3 million to be spent on consultants, and $1.1 million for

raising government salaries. International consultants would receive $12,000 per

month and an extra $80 per day for expenses, all paid for out of the ADB

loan.

Director of Fisheries Nao Thouk confirmed that the government had

asked the ADB to review salary costs.

"The government complained that the

salaries are very high," he said. "The two sides will discuss the matter during

the MoU signing ceremony. I think this is too much [money] because we have to

pay the loan back to the ADB. They should keep the salaries as low as

possible."

The MoU also drew strong criticism from NGOs and the

opposition Sam Rainsy Party, whose MP Son Chhay said ADB loans did not serve the

interests of the people and were not approved by parliament.

"This has

happened many times and we want to vomit at it. It is ridiculous when the

average Cambodian only gets $200 a year," he said. "What can we do? Some deal

has been made outside the country and there is no transparency and

accountability."

Urooj Malik, country director of the ADB, said he was

unable to comment on the project as the bank was still in discussion with the

government.

However a statement from the ADB showed that a typical

project would see around 5 percent of costs allotted to salaries. That is far

less than the 46 percent of total costs allocated to salaries in the

environmental management MoU.

Mak Sithirith, coordinator of the NGO

Forum's Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said wages for the project were

unusually high and this was not an effective allocation of money.

"Not

much money will actually go to implementation," he said. "This [project] will

benefit mostly the foreign consultants and those working for the ADB, but will

have less benefit for local communities."

Nao Thouk said he expected the

revised MoU would be signed in late June.

"I am happy with the [concept

of the] project because it could help the government increase preservation of

the environment and the Tonle Sap lake resource and fishing lots," he

said.

However Sithirith questioned the need for an ADB loan. He said the

fisheries sector generated substantial income, and felt some could be used to

fund conservation projects in the Tonle Sap area if the government managed it

properly.

"It is unfair. I don't know how much the people will get from

this yet they will be burdened with paying it back," he said. "Cambodia will

have a big problem in paying so much money back."

The Tonle Sap project

will focus on community capacity building and natural resource management. It is

composed of an $11.8 million loan from the ADB's Special Resources Fund and a

$3.9 million contribution from the Cambodian government.

It also includes

a $760,000 grant from the UNDP's Capacity 21 program and a Global Environment

Facility grant of $3.7 million. The project will be implemented mainly through

the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

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