The country's three-year plan to combat poverty, known as the National Poverty Reduction
Strategy (NPRS), was approved by the boards of the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) on February 19 and 20 respectively.
The approval means Cambodia will continue to qualify for concessional loans from
the two institutions. On March 3 the government will formally launch the NPRS, which
covers the period 2003 to 2005.
Steven Schonberger, senior operations officer at the World Bank, said the assessment
by staff from the Bank and the IMF was undertaken to determine whether the NPRS would
provide a credible way to combat poverty.
"[The NPRS] provides a reasonable basis for reducing poverty, but the joint
staff assessment points out some real risks," Schonberger said. Among those
risks were governance issues, the need for judicial reform, and a lack of capacity
in monitoring the program's success.
The Bank's assessment noted that one strength of the plan was that the government
had consulted widely with the public, NGOs and the donor community. Another was improved
coordination between the government's poverty secretariat, the GS-CSD, and the different
But among the major risks in implementing the plan, it said, were weak capacity in
the civil service, and a slowdown in the world economy. The assessment warned that
could damage the prospects for economic growth required to meet the poverty reduction
The government aims to cut the poverty rate from around 36 percent of the population
to 19 percent by 2015. Kim Saysamalen, an under-secretary of state at the Ministry
of Planning (MoP), heads the GS-CSD. He is confident the government can achieve that
"We believe we can, and we have experience in the past," he said. "Between
1994 and 1997 poverty reduced from 39 percent to 36 percent with no [formal] strategy,
and that was with GDP at 4.5 percent."
Saysamalen said that to meet the new goal, the rate would need to drop by 1.2 percent
annually, a slightly quicker rate than was achieved in the mid-1990s. With the formal
strategy and GDP growth of up to 7 percent annually, that should prove achievable,
even if it occasionally falls below that.
He acknowledged that monitoring was key to the success of the NPRS. As part of that
the government will launch its socio-economic survey in March. The survey should
be completed by the end of the year and should indicate if poverty has improved or
Saysamalen said other annual surveys at the local level and in line ministries would
provide further information to assist monitoring. The government would try to run
these so-called secondary data surveys through the SEILA program, a commune level
capacity building program.
Russell Peterson, the representative at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the NPRS
was largely a reflection of existing plans, which vary in both quality and the participation
of different ministries.
"The NPRS provides a good overview of what the government is intending to do
regarding poverty reduction, which provides an opportunity for monitoring,"
Peterson said, "but what is really important is which areas the World Bank and
IMF choose to become conditions of their new loans. We hope that there can be discussions
and transparency in the selection of those areas."
Peterson said monitoring was always difficult, and given the ambitious nature of
the NPRS, he felt there was a need to focus on key areas that affect the public such
as governance, health and education.
The NPRS process is not without its critics, who blame it as simply another way for
the multilaterals to influence the domestic policies of governments needing loans.
Schonberger said the fact that approval was necessary to continue receiving concessional
loans did not mean the institutions were "holding something over the government's
"The real challenge is to find a way to work with government so that [the NPRS]
isn't simply an exercise [for the government] to meet the conditions for concessional
loans," he said. "That requires a step back and to say to government: What
are the priorities?"