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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Donors set to check government progress on reform

Donors set to check government progress on reform

THE donor community is gearing up to meet the government this month at the first

of its quarterly reform meetings, but some grassroots aid workers are concerned that

the government may be able to sidestep important issues unless donors show firm resolve.

The meet will be the first since the February 25-6 Consultative Group meeting in

Tokyo, where donors pledged $470million in aid - with the understanding that the

government push ahead with reforms in several key sectors.

To tackle the wide range of issues that remain of concern to the donors, four sub-committees

have been formed to deal with the most pressing issues.

Asian Development Bank heads up the Fiscal Reform Committee, UNDP chairs the Public

Administraton Reform Committee, while World Bank looks after demobilization concerns

and FAO takes the helm for forestry and environemntal concerns.

Each of the sub-committees is holding a series of meetings to prepare for the head-to-head

with the government. At Post press time the date of the meeting had still not been

announced.

One NGO worker, who asked for anonymity, said that grassroots aid workers in the

forestry sector are looking hard not only at the concrete steps made by the government,

but at the rhetoric too - and they're determined that the actions will suit the words.

"Sok An made quite a good speech [at the end of March regarding the revised

land law], but what we don't want to see is Hun Sen bluster - with him continually

saying 'yes, we will fight illegal logging', and then when the meeting comes round

he just says 'look, I said we would fight illegal logging' as proof of his commitment.

"Anyone can say that - we want performance indicators."

The kind of indicators that donors are looking for are logging concession cancellations,

proper monitoring of logging trucks - things that are easily visible.

But the donor community is eager to point out that it is not 'policing' the government.

"The idea is to encourage the government to commit itself, and then demonstrate

that it really has," said the NGO worker.

Donors are also perceptibly softening on moral conditions that the government has

to meet in order for aid to be forthcoming, according to the NGO worker.

"There's an undercurrent that it's the protection of human rights that's the

basic key to whether the other reforms can be implemented stably - but I don't think

the donors are going for absolute conditions. So they're not going to say - if you

do 'x', then the aid stops - it's more a case of turning the tap slightly off if

things get bad. It's a more subtle approach.

So why this softened stance?

"Possibly because no country in the world has a perfect human rights record

- if they had to achieve that then America would have to stop trading with itself."

Meanwhile, even before the donors find out what the government has been up to since

the Fenruary meet, there is some confusion over exactly who will be included in the

sub-committees.

Representatives of the NGO community are still waiting to be included in two of the

donor groups - fiscal and forestry reform.

The subcommittees are currently comprised mostly of bilateral and multilateral representatives

- and some NGO representatives are concerned that this is an indication that

they are not going to be allowed the kind of participation that they had hoped for

at the CG.

"At the CG, we stood up and said we could participate usefully in the quarterly

review meetings, being at the grassroots level, but so far we're feeling resistance

on some of the subcommittees to let us in," said one disgruntled NGO worker

who has a special interest in land issues.

Another worker said he thought the resistance was forming because the bilaterals

were worried that to include NGO reps as well would "open the floodgates"

for too much input from too many people.

"We're waiting to be invited," said Russell Petersen of the NGO Forum.

"We need to reassure them that we can play a positive role." He added that

NGOs were spearheading support for community forestry, and were assisting the Council

of Ministers on the re-draft of the land law - and were thus in an ideal position

to help on the subcommittees.

Jonas Lovkrona, Program Officer for the UNDP, said that he did not believe there

would be any problem with bringing in NGO representatives, but cautioned that this

was a new venture for the community, and that the whole venture was still in the

early stages.

"We'll wait until the first meeting with the government to see what happens,"

he said.

"It's good to have established a mechanism like this - it's something that should

have been established a long time ago."

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