I NTERNATIONAL donors have spent $1.3 billion in Cambodia in four years - though the
spending has been largely uncoordinated, and most has gone to Phnom Penh.
The imbalance could lead to more "poverty and social inequality", according
to a report this month from an all-encompassing NGO working group.
The group was also worried that Cambodia is having to borrow - rather than be given
- more and more of its aid money.
This "may lead Cambodia into an irreversible debt trap," the group says.
The draft report, from the ten-member "Working Group on Development Assistance"
based on recent statistics from the Cambodian Development Council (CDC) and UNDP,
points to how NGOs and international donors will have to redefine their roles in
It says, for instance, that of the $432 million aid given to Cambodia in 1994-95,
the biggest share going outside Phnom Penh went to Battambang - at just two percent
of that total.
Other provinces were Kompong Speu (1.9 percent), Siem Reap (1.5 percent), Kompong
Som (1.4 percent), Takeo (1.3 percent) and Kandal (1.2 percent). All other provinces
got less than 1 percent each. Some got nothing.
The report notes that while NGO activities are visible all over the country, "the
geographical imbalance of development assistance is a source of real concern".
The concentration of money in Phnom Penh was due to security concerns in some provinces,
and because infrastructure development was concentrated in the capital.
"Unfortunately, a central focus of NGO work [into rural development]... has
not received the same attention from bilateral and multilateral donors," it
In May, the Government and UNDP tried to coordinate aid, holding regular meetings
about the National Program to Rehabilitate and Develop Cambodia (NPRD). The report
says that effort was "well justified" and "most welcome".
The report points out the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) has been asked
to take part in ICORC and UNDP-sponsored donor meetings. Ample opportunity now existed
for NGOs to become more involved in aid coordination on international, national and
provincial levels, it says.
The report notes that aid money has increased every year since 1992. In the last
year, however, grants rose by five percent, while loans increased 58 percent.
"The cost of debt represents a heavy burden on the national budget," it
said. Almost a quarter of the 1995 GNP was for debt repayment on loans Cambodia took
out from Socialist bloc countries before 1992, CDC/UNDP figures show.
NGOs had to develop closer working relationships with the CDC and the UNDP, the report
concludes, and to improve aid coordination. Large capital development projects had
to be monitored and critiqued - and here the European Union's $80 million program
and the Mekong River development were specifically mentioned as causing "concern".
Statistics showed that of the $977 million pledged by multilaterals in the four years
to 1995, only $380 million - or 39 percent - had actually been spent.
Bilateral donors, on the other hand, pledged $1,312 million in the same period and
actually gave $967 million. Japan, for instance, spent more money ($395 million)
than the World Bank, ADB, UN agencies, IMF and European Union did combined.
"While donors rationalized that Cambodia lacked absorptive capacity they failed
to center their programs on, and direct more funds at, capital development,"
the report says.