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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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.
that the efficacy of the police and security forces was hampered by the fact
"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."
also noted that there was a "lack of an adequate legal system to guarantee the
organization of the foundation of security and order."
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
"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."