The government's methods to alleviate poverty were put under the microscope at the
Third National Poverty Forum on December 18. Participants asked why there was no
single, coherent plan to tackle the issue, and questioned how well the government
would monitor progress, a vital part of the plan.
Kim Saysamalen, an under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Planning and the government's
key poverty strategist, said the aim of the monitoring system was to track trends
and collate data to determine whether the plans were working as intended.
He said the government would carry out socio-economic surveys every six years, beginning
in 2003. Annual surveys were also planned, but it was essential to first strengthen
But the UN Development Programme's data specialist questioned the reliability of
this statistical approach. Dr Claude Katz said it was impossible to measure accurately
a social fact such as poverty.
Dr Katz explained that a reduction in the poverty rate from 39 percent to 36 percent
contained a margin of error of 2 percent each way. That meant the 'new' poverty rate
could be anywhere between 34 percent and 38 percent, while the 'old' rate could actually
have been anywhere from 37 percent to 41 percent.
"[So] a fall from 39 percent to 36 percent ... does not mean anything. Unfortunately
for the moment the institution in charge is not sufficiently taking this into account."
The forum also sought feedback on another poverty reduction initiative: the country's
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Both programs are part of the government's National Poverty Reduction Strategy, an
all-encompassing development plan. Senior Minister Sok An said that fighting poverty
was the government's highest priority, as that was the best way to ensure development.
"Poverty reduction will be achieved only if the fruits of economic growth are
shared widely, so the poor can benefit," he said.
The forum's main focus was on the MDGs, an international plan to halve extreme poverty
in the world by 2015. Among its goals are: eradicating poverty and hunger; universal
primary education; gender development; tackling HIV/AIDS; and environmental sustainability.
Saysamalen said the most important aspect in attaining the MDGs was to make people
aware of them at the grassroots level. To that end the government had undertaken
awareness campaigns in seven provinces in 2002.
Attendees then asked the government to explain the differences between the Second
Socio-Economic Development Plan (SEDP-II), which is a rolling five-year plan, and
the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), a similar document drawn up at the behest
of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A PRSP is a pre-condition
for countries wanting to receive soft loans from them.
Saysamalen said the government regarded SEDP-II as its overall development plan for
poverty reduction, but saw the PRSP as a concrete strategy which specifically dealt
with the next two years.
"When we created the SEDP, we considered it as Cambodia's national document,
but is also unacceptable to [IMF and World Bank]," he explained. "We had
to set up the PRSP."
Sok An said the fact that there were two distinct plans should not cause confusion
as they did not contradict each other.
"When we have many plans, many strategies, we are better off."
Around 36 percent of the population lives under the poverty line of 2,000 riel
(50 cents) a day.