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Aid to AIDS

Dear Editor,

Congratulations for your interview with the Chief of the Word Bank's Cambodia Country

Office, Bonadventure Mbida-Essama, (PPP, 10/20). It clearly shows donor attitudes

toward development assistance have not changed much for the past four decades, despite

worn-out rhetoric on poverty reduction. It confirms the main objective of foreign

aid is really for something else other than genuine benefits to recipient countries.

The Chief claims "an intensive level of coordination" is seen among the

Cambodia's benefactors; yet when asked about fund misappropriation due to corruption

in the country, he insists it isn't World Bank money while acknowledging its existence.

It will not be surprising if other donors make a similar insistence. It would be

interesting to learn though why, when it comes to the corruption issue, everyone

will act on their own. One can only wonder how intensive the coordination needs to

become before one could see a concerted effort to minimise waste and damages due

to corruption.

The donors' focus on controlling corruption is a pre-requisite for any long lasting

benefits of their aid to recipients. Everyone knows that corruption has always been

a major cause for a severely distorted income distribution, and hence, poverty. Yet,

it is routinely ignored as the real objective of the foreign aid as for things other

than addressing income gap and social injustice.

It is difficult to say when Cambodia will stop needing assistance. It is simply a

logical conclusion to the fact that there is no genuine effort to reduce the need

for handouts. A proper poverty reduction plan would necessarily incorporate what

needs to be done within a defined time frame, and criteria for outcome evaluation.

Failure to achieve set pre-determined targets within a defined time would involve

too much hassle with best-ignored issues like performance review, accountability,

and responsibility to the recipient countries.

Cambodia ... would forever rely on foreign handouts unless the real objectives and

attitudes of the donor countries changes beyond lip service. A genuine development

assistance under the Consultative Group would set corruption and lawlessness as top

priorities, not the ad-hoc approach to a feel-good infrastructure development. A

well-coordinated program among benefactors would force a genuine income redistribution

to ensure that the national wealth and economic growth will fairly benefit most,

if not all, Cambodians. A responsible development program would stop depriving the

Cambodian government of its own accountabilities and responsibilities. It should

begin with the fact that Cambodia is not a resource-poor country, but income from

national resources has been severely skewed in favour of a select few.

Any real success in poverty reduction would make the business of the World Bank irrelevant.

They would not be able to maintain their brilliant triple A rating without little

people at the bottom to bear the brunt of the costs in the long run. A cynic would

say they need to keep the poor poor to make their poverty reduction program attractive.

Others would say it is not really difficult to go from aid to AIDS: all it needs

is some donor making their aid plural.

- Ung Bun-Ang, The SRP Australia/New Zealand

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