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
- Russell Peterson, Representative, NGO Forum on Cambodia