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Donor forums fail on reforms

Twice-yearly ‘ritual' fails to hold govt accountable, say rights groups.

LOCAL and international rights groups continue to question the effectiveness of the country's periodic government-donor meetings following last week's Government Donor Coordination Committee (GDCC) forum, labelling them "discussions of ritual, stripped bare of meaningful content".

In a consensus statement presented at the meeting, foreign donors urged  "prompt passage of the remaining four fundamental laws and the Anti-corruption Law" and requested that the government "share the draft [law] before it moves forward".

The statement also included a request to "speed up" processes guaranteeing land rights and "inquired" about the status of the government's pledged access to information policy.

On Thursday, an anti-corruption coalition comprising 40 NGOs urged the government to implement anti-corruption legislation, which has been on the reform agenda since 2001.

"Civil society and millions of Cambodians eagerly await the approval of the law," the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations Against Corruption said in a statement Thursday.

But rights activists say donors have consistently failed to hold the government accountable in achieving reform targets.

"The donor-government aid meetings have become an annual pilgrimage at which the donors admonish the government for not making progress on basic governance and corruption measures, yet continue to pledge more and more of taxpayers' money," Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner for international anti-corruption group Global Witness, said by email Thursday.

Nichol said Global Witness has consistently called on donors to link the disbursal of non-humanitarian aid to basic improvements in the governance of the country's natural resources and other state assets.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that donors and NGOs who are prepared to push hard for reform are undercut by others who lack principles, just want to have good relations with the government or simply don't care enough to make an effort.

Gradual reform

But donors and government officials cited progress on key reforms, with Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith saying the passage of the Anti-corruption Law required extensive preparation and research, and that it would be held back until the passage of a new penal code.

US embassy spokesman John Johnson described last week's meeting as "productive", adding that it served to highlight some of the progress that Cambodia has made, particularly in relation to the policy reforms that have been put forward in response to the global economic crisis.

"We urge the government to act on reforming corruption and governance with the same urgency which was applied to the economy," Johnson said by email.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, told the Post that progress towards good governance and land reforms had been clearly lagging despite the huge amount of attention these topics had received during past meetings.

"The meetings are not essential in achieving reform targets," he said.

"The recent meeting focused for a large part on issues that are outside the government's reform agenda. As a result, the government's reform efforts, especially on land, legal and judicial reform, were not part of the discussion."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY KUNMAKARA

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