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
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