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Pledges, promises, faint praise

Observers ask how useful the annual donor ‘ritual' really is

WITH a record of nearly $1 billion in foreign aid pledged, last week's annual donor-government meeting has been lauded as a success by its official participants.

In a statement ending a two-day meeting, Finance Minister Keat Chhon announced pledges totalling $951.5 million in development aid for 2009.

Donors last year pledged $690 million to the Kingdom.

Keat Chhon said China - which only joined the annual meeting last year - had made the biggest pledge of $257 million.

But the donors' requests for reform and the government's promises of action sound sadly familiar, indicating that a decade-old pattern of rewarding inaction with aid has not been broken, observers say.

"It's a ritual, an annual ritual between the government and the international community," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

"They said exactly the same things last year, the language is the same, the outcome is always the same - we finish the ritual with a stamp of approval [on the government's development plans] and then its back to business as usual," he added.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday opened the meeting with a new promise to donors that he would fight corruption by passing long-awaited anti-graft legislation as soon as possible.

Speaking on behalf of donors, Cambodia's World Bank country manager, Qimiao Fan, urged the government to quickly pass the anti-corruption law and to use the pledged aid effectively.

These same requests have been made at every donor-government meeting, including by Fan's predecessor, Ian Porter, last year.

"In many ways, it is a ... dance. Donors demand nothing concrete, there is very little expectation," Ou Virak said.

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