R eading Matthew Grainger's coverage of the Structural Adjustment Programme roundtable
(Post, Feb 22, 1996) leaves one with the impression of lassitude among conference
participants for such reform in this country. The author has captured loud and clear
the skepticism of overseas speakers, but fails to consider the rationale that has
led the Royal Government to embrace so-called orthodox policies in the first place.
The crux of Cambodia structural reform in the past three years has been to find lasting
improvement to the way the government operates. It is about re-asserting government
control on the national budget. It is about official waste, and how to deal with
its attendant social inequity. It is not about reducing government control in economic
life. It is not about "more" versus "less" market, if such debate
has ever taken place in Cambodia.
Passing tourists who pride themselves for being socially aware, will not fail to
see that the apparatus of central administration is anything but a paragon of efficiency
or probity. To anyone who has had the briefest encounter with Cambodia's state bureaucracy,
the need for "orthodox" reform would seem self evident. Many would indeed
regard "state service" in this country as a painful contradiction in terms.
The level of pay does not explain why Cambodia's taxpayers are apparently saddled
with more than a fair number of the mediocre or the indolent. It certainly does not
justify the use of state-owned cars for Sunday family outings. If an "alternative"
budget could have been drawn up that will allow such state largesse to go on unchecked,
the now defunct State of Cambodia would have dearly loved to hear about it.
Strangely enough, the issue of Cambodia's long-term dependency on external assistance,
did not receive the kind of attention it deserves.
It highlights the country's openness to outside pressure just as much as it should
also bolster the Royal Government's determination to review unproductive spending.
- Ung Bunleng, Phnom Penh
(The author is a staff member of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, currently
seconded to the National Bank of Cambodia. The views expressed are his own and not
of those institutions he is associated with.)