I read Mr Matthew Grainger's balanced and interesting report on the recent CDRI
International Roundtable on Structural Adjustment Programme in Cambodia (January
26, 1996). I also read Dr Walden Bello's paper titled "Economic Liberalization
in Southeast Asia: Lessons for Cambodia", and Dr K.P. Kannan's paper, "Economic
Reform, Structural Adjustment and Development: Issues and Implications".
Dr Bello of Chulalongkorn University's Social Research Institute in Thailand and
Dr Kannan, CDRI's research director, are reminding policy makers in Cambodia that
there is an alternative paradigm for Cambodian economic development to the standard
IMF/IBRD prescription of market economics.
The trickle-down theory is attractive in concept, but it has limited relevance in
the real world due to market imperfections. Government intervention, as a result,
is necessary to ensure equity and development without degradation of the environment.
Growth and equity are two sides of the same coin.
For that reason, real GDP growth, in my view, is alone not a good indicator, if we
ignore the distributional or equity and environmental aspects of development. One
has to look at Thailand and Malaysia to realize that this obsession with GDP growth
rates among policy makers results in serious socio-economic imbalances with long
term political consequences.
Malaysia's realization of this problem is now incorporated in its Second Outline
Perspective Plan 1991-2000. Even as of yesterday (Feb 13), Malaysia's Deputy Prime
Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim was reported to have said that in the next Malaysia
Plan, our seventh, the social and related aspects of development will receive greater
attention. After nearly 40 years of economic management, Malaysia's decision to evaluate
its strategies and adopt new approaches to achieve more balanced development supports
Dr Bello's call "to articulate an alternative future" and "to ponder
carefully the consequences of fast track capitalism..."
We must remind ourselves what development is all about. Here I would quote Dr Kannan:
"In terms of development, the ultimate objective is that of human development
and reducing inequities as between people and regions." I am, of course, reminded
of great development economists of the sixties like Sir Arthur Lewis, Gunnar Myrdal,
Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Nurkse and my mentors in economics, Clifton Wharton Jr.,
and Ungku Abdul Aziz (Malaysia), who studied the processes of development and underdevelopment
with a socio-cultural perspective.
Development is about bringing about systematic change, and providing meaning to the
lives of people so that they have opportunities to progress as far as their abilities
can take them. It is about ensuring that scarce resources are used responsibly so
that succeeding generations can build on the efforts and achievements of their forebears.
It is about institutions, culture and people. It does not exist in a vacuum, certainly
not in econometric models, computer simulations, scenario planning systems or in
the air-conditioned offices of the World Bank, IMF and the ADB. Most of all, development
is about responsibility and accountability for all stakeholders, not a power game.
Because it is a grassroots process and culture bound, development must be driven
by nationals, in the case of Cambodia by Cambodians, with a shared vision, not by
experts who have no stake and who do not have to live with the consequences of their
prescriptions. This is not to discount the contributions made by the international
community, donor countries and multilateral agencies. But it does emphasize that
the granting of technical and financial assistance does not confer on the provider
the right to impose their own values, preferences and way of life, or to dictate
what is best for the beneficiary.
Cambodian leaders know what they want for their country. They have a clear vision
of their country's future as reflected in their National Programme (NPRD) and this
is more than what can be said about some countries in the Third World. They have
a strategic purpose which is to create a fair, just and peaceful society and, through
strong sustainable economic growth, to raise the living standards for all Cambodians.
Cambodia is committed to a democratic system of government with a Constitutional
Monarchy, and free market economic system with the private sector as the engine of
growth and government in the role of strategist and manager-mentor.
Cambodia is adopting a state-directed economic growth strategy. This approach accepts
the price mechanism, and the market in general, as an efficient allocator of resources.
It also taps the dynamism of the private sector, but recognizes that government activism
is essential in the area of national strategy in a competitive and interdependent
world and to tame the excesses of the profit motive and ensure that economic growth
is sustainable, balanced and equitable in the long term.
Their development will be on the back of agriculture which is today the step child
of most economies in East Asia. It may not be the "sexy thing" to do, but
Cambodia is making its first wise move. Modern agriculture backed by advances in
bio-technology, efficient water resource management systems, and strong marketing
and distribution networks is a profitable undertaking.
Since the private sector is going to be given a prominent role in the development
of the Kingdom, the World Bank and other multilateral agencies should finance a masterplan
study on small and medium scale industries and businesses and recommend policies
and strategies for developing this sector. In many countries in East Asia, this sector
is the driver of economic activity with the greatest potential for growth.
It is more refreshing to talk about development than other issues, usually negative
ones, about Cambodia. The country has done well since the formation of the Royal
Government. The tasks and challenges ahead are daunting. Cambodia needs the understanding
and the patient support and cooperation of friends. Credit when it is due should
be given. Criticisms, on the other hand, should be constructive.
For democracy to survive in Cambodia, economic development is essential. I have not
known of any situation in the world where democracy exists side by side with abject
poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and social inequities.
I stand, therefore, to be educated by anyone who has had the privilege of seeing
democracy in a symbiotic relationship with the aforementioned phenomena.
I hope your readers - especially those in the IMF, World Bank, ADB and UNDP here
in Phnom Penh - will respond with their comments on my letter. If that happens, my
purpose in writing this letter as a sort of rejoinder to the Cambodian development
debate is well served.
- Din Merican, Phnom Penh. (Din Merican is an economist with an MBA degree
from the United States, who worked for more than 30 years in the Central Bank in
Malaysia and in the private banking industry. This letter represents his personal