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Poverty reduction

The Editor,

The article "The PRSP: Ready or not, an end to poverty?" (PPP, 27 September)

does a great service by alerting a wider public to the ongoing discussions on Cambodia's

draft Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).

While NGOs were somewhat critical of the first draft, our report also recognized

that "the RGC intends to do a lot more work before finalizing its contents".

The government has now announced that they have extended the completion date by two

months to December in order to better incorporate the feedback they have received

from various stakeholders.

The government is beleaguered by the demands of different funders with different

planning requirements. So far, the draft PRSP merely reproduces existing ministry

strategies and plans that are already better described in other planning documents.

It is widely agreed that the PRSP should prioritise and operationalise those existing

strategies that are most important for reducing poverty.

There are a number of ways that donors could assist the process of prioritization.

Donors need to specify the amount of additional resources that may become available

once an adequate PRSP has been prepared so that plans can be matched to available

resources. The degree of flexibility in current donor priorities needs to be clearly

stated. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are committed to basing

their loan programs on the PRSP, need to allow public scrutiny of the policy conditions

they will apply to their new loans.

The prioritization process needs to identify a limited set of specific objectives,

and then identify the policies and projects which stem from those objectives. The

UN Millennium Development Goals provide a good starting point for defining those

objectives, but these need to be localized and revised to reflect priorities identified

by the Cambodian poor themselves.

The ADB's Participatory Poverty Assessment, conducted in 154 villages around Cambodia

last year, identified priorities such as food security, land redistribution, access

of the poor to affordable health services and education, the importance of preventive

health care, access to potable drinking water, maintenance of rural roads, affordable

micro-finance, better flood control, participatory management of small-scale irrigation

schemes, and community access to and management of natural resources.

The report also reported the poor's recommendations for direct election of local

authorities, decriminalization of sex work, and close monitoring and enforcement

of labour rights.

Only when the priorities for poverty reduction are properly identified, debated and

agreed will the hard work of government officials and other stakeholders on the PRSP

come to fruition. The task is difficult, but NGOs are hopeful for a satisfactory

outcome.

- Russell Peterson, Representative, NGO Forum on Cambodia

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