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Donors come in for rebuke

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Hun Sen raps world powers, institutions over financial crisis

Photo by:
Heng Chivoan

Prime Minister Hun Sen greets donors and government officials on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen sharply criticised the world's leading economic powers and development groups for poor financial management Wednesday at the opening of a three-day meeting between the government and donors, during which Cambodia is expected to negotiate foreign aid for the coming year.

"It's  like an elephant falling on a lamb," he said, describing the effects of the global economic recession on developing countries, which he blamed largely on the United States.

The rebuke followed the announcement of US$215 million in aid from China, which Hun Sen has repeatedly praised for supporting Cambodia without demanding reforms in return.

The prime minister said that while the government needed to overhaul its public spending management, so too did developed countries and financial institutions, calling out the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Asian Development Bank - all of which were present.

The prime minister also turned on his own government, telling his ministers, "You must transfer money into the national treasury, and not lend it out to make profit".  

Hun Sen predicted Cambodia would be able to pay off all its foreign debt within the next five years - a figure that currently stands above $3 billion, according to recent figures from the Finance Ministry.  

He also highlighted government efforts promoting human rights, multiparty democracy and natural resource conservation - areas that have drawn criticism from Cambodian and international observers.  

Praise, and criticism

Qimiao Fan, country manager of the World Bank in Cambodia, applauded the government for achieving a  more than 30 percent increase in revenue collection this year over last, and for faster disbursement of funds for public services, according to tabs kept by the bank.  

But he said "significant changes" would be needed in the transparency of revenues from the emerging oil and gas sectors - touching on a sensitive topic following a scathing attack by environmental watchdog Global Witness on an industry it accused of being inundated with graft.

Global Witness has called several times on foreign donors to withhold funds to the government for its failure to tackle corruption.

For some observers, the annual donor meeting is little more than a showcase of the government's failure to deliver on its reform promises.

But SRP lawmaker Son Chhay criticised donors, saying: "They need to make the government more responsible and not focus on pleasing its leaders".

He was also skeptical of China's aid contributions, calling them thinly veiled attempts at one-upmanship on the eve of expected aid announcements by other foreign donors.

"The Chinese do this to challenge and threaten other donors," he said.

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