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Donors, govt open aid talks

INTERNATIONAL donors and government officials gathered in the capital Wednesday for a landmark donor-government forum amid calls for the government to accelerate the pace of key reforms tied to the disbursal of aid.

More than 100 representatives from donor countries and international financial organisations attended the third Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum (CDCF), and they are set to make fresh aid pledges before the meetings wind up today.

In his opening address to the forum, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed the government would use aid money effectively, adding that officials will continue to tackle key issues, including corruption, land rights and the reform of the judiciary.

“The Royal Government has made its utmost effort to firmly and deeply implement various reform programmes and consider them a ‘life or death’ issue for Cambodia,” he said.

But speaking on behalf of donors, World Bank country director Annette Dixon complained that “progress has been limited” on efforts to improve strategic planning and aid management, though she lauded the progress made since the last CDCF in December 2008.

“It is important for the government to take the lead in aligning resources to development priorities,” she said.

During Wednesday’s closed-door sessions, delegates discussed the implementation of the government’s National Strategic Development Plan Update for 2009-13, as well as policies to ensure macroeconomic stability in the wake of the global financial crisis.

In December 2008, donors pledged US$951.5 million in development aid, up from the $690 million pledged in June 2007.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said after Wednesday’s session that the forum was going well and that he had not heard any “complaints” from international donors. “I don’t know how much money the government will receive from donor countries this year, but I estimate it will reach our expectations,” he said.

At a twice-yearly government-donor meeting in April, Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon said aid trends were continuing upwards, and that the government’s needs would top $1 billion in 2010.

The CDCF process has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, with local and international groups calling for donors to put more pressure on the government to meet agreed reform benchmarks – known as Joint Monitoring Indicators – that are tied to aid payments.

“It is not enough to throw money at problems and hope the ruling party will act in the interest of the people,” 15 local NGOs stated in a briefing paper released Tuesday.

In a statement Monday, London-based graft watchdog Global Witness said donors should take “a coordinated stand against the horribly subverted dynamic of aid in Cambodia in which their country’s money props up the basic functions of the state, leaving an elite free to exploit the state’s assets for personal profit”.

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting Wednesday, Raoul Jennar, a government adviser, said the donor-government collaboration had succeeded in creating a new legal framework, and that he hoped for “strong support from donors” at the meeting.
“A lot has been achieved.... More than 260 laws have been adopted during the past decade,” he said. “The problem is implementation, but that requires human resources, sometimes highly-skilled – that’s the difficulty this country is facing.”

Other attendees said the focus should be on civil society participation rather than foreign policy makers.

“Donors alone will not be sufficient for driving sustainable change,” said Sin Somuny, executive director of Medicam, an umbrella organisation for health-sector NGOs. “One thing donors should do is help any environment or mechanism for community and civil society participation.”

Representatives from the US and Indian embassies declined to comment Wednesday. Australian and British officials could not be reached.

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