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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Commitment aplenty but little action at donor meeting

Commitment aplenty but little action at donor meeting

THE donors and the government both walked away from their second quarterly

meeting on Oct 27 with a renewed commitment to implementing sweeping reforms

across Cambodia - despite apparent foot-dragging from both sides on certain

issues over the last three months.

Military reform, a key donor concern,

had ground almost to a standstill since the last quarterly meeting. Despite the

near-completion of registration of soldiers and identification of ghost

soldiers, almost nothing has been done to prepare for the pilot program of

demobilization.

"The donors admitted they needed to have a much more

co-ordinated approach so that they do not send conflicting messages and

unrealistic expectations," said Russell Peterson of the NGO Forum, who attended

the meeting.

"There is a readiness on all sides to move forward with the

demobilization issue," said British Ambassador George Edgar, accepting that this

was a problem area. "It's a question of ... coming up with something that is

acceptable to everybody. There is a good deal of work to do - a question of

different points of view that have to be aired and worked through to come to a

solution, rather than an unwillingness on either side to take things

forward."

But internal UN documents seen by the Post showed that the

demobilization working group, chaired by the World Bank, had serious doubts over

the efficacy of the government's Executive Secretariat (ES) of the Council on

Demobilization to deal with the demobilization problems.

"The ES has not

done anything," read the document. "There has not been any progress since the

July 22 Working Group meeting for two main reasons: the inherent weak capacity

of the ES, and the ES apparent determination not to revise the Transitional

Safety Net that the donors have rejected in its current form of

$1,200."

However, this major stumbling block appeared to have been

overcome at the meeting when Sok An announced that the government was ready to

reconsider the controversial $1,200 payout for each demobilizing soldier. The

government and the demobilization working group were to due meet Oct 28 to try

to hammer out any remaining differences of opinion.

Fiscal reforms were

generally praised by the donors; tax revenues have increased by 58%,

unexpectedly overshooting the budget by 12%. While this may be good news for

government coffers, the bad news for the social sector is that public

expenditure is still low, and disbursements of funds to the health and education

sectors are slow and inadequate. Military and security spending still accounts

for 50% of the current expenditure, again underlining the need for radical cuts

to the armed forces.

"Overall, spending on priority sectors in September

- health, education, agriculture and rural development, fell short of targets

... by 19%" admitted Finance Minister Keat Chhon in his report.

"The

problem is not just that the social sectors need increased budget allocation,

its also that ... effective implementation needs to be made," said Peterson,

adding that disbursement in the provinces was not yet sufficiently transparent

for the ministries to be able to plan effectively.

For once, the

ever-present forestry hot potato brought some pleasant surprises; the government

proudly announced "complete elimination of large-scale illegal logging". They

also made the long-anticipated announcement that international watchdog Global

Witness would be officially joining the government team in the fight against

forest crimes.

"The RGC, UNDP and FAO are ready to co-operate with the

Global Witness for provision of services as an independent monitoring unit,"

said Chhea Song, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in his report

to the donors. He noted that since January, over 800 sawmills had been destroyed

or closed, and that forestry legislation was progressing well, with the draft

forestry law prepared, and the sub-decree on forest concession management

submitted to the Council of Ministers for adoption.

"We have successfully

cracked down on illegal forest activities and established basic conditions for

initializing the process of sustainable forest management in Cambodia," said

Song.

But not everything was good news. Perhaps some of the most worrying

statistics of the day were presented by Sar Kheng, in his public law and order

speech, which opened the meeting. He noted that between June and September there

had been an "alarming increase" in the number of offenses compared with the

second quarter, March to May. The third quarter saw 1,536 offenses, (compared

with 1,132 in March-May), 694 of which were classified by the Ministry of

Interior as "criminal acts," and 842 of which were "moderate

offenses".

But the number of armed robberies resulting in killing makes

staggering reading. In the third quarter, there were 450 instances recorded -

meaning that more than three people are killed every day in Cambodia as a result

of violent crime. The kidnapping rate in Phnom Penh is also remarkably high, "at

least one instance every two weeks", according to Sar Kheng.

He noted

that the efficacy of the police and security forces was hampered by the fact

that:

"The education system is not developed yet, activities of

disseminating education are still weak while the invasion of foreign culture is

dominating, contributing partly to the increase of various offenses."

He

also noted that there was a "lack of an adequate legal system to guarantee the

organization of the foundation of security and order."

With these

statistics in mind, at least one diplomat cast a critical eye over the broader

picture, particularly in reference to the government's continual reminder at the

meeting that it had achieved so much in just 10 months and 27

days.

"That's all very true," said the diplomat, "but how long has Hun

Sen actually been running the country? Impunity still reigns, high level

corruption is rife, there is little respect for human rights, and accountability

and transparency are still at a low level."

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