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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UK agency to end bilateral funding

UK agency to end bilateral funding

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British ambassador says decision motivated by desire to fund countries with fewer donors.

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG

Patients wait for medical care at the Treal Health center in Kampong Thom earlier this month.

AUK department that seeks to curb global poverty informed government officials on Friday that it would cease to provide bilateral funding to Cambodia after existing commitments expire in 2013.

The Department for International Development (DFID) had previously planned to provide funding after its Cambodia office closes, which is likely to happen in 2011.

But the desire to funnel aid to nations with higher populations of poor people and fewer donors largely prompted the decision to phase out bilateral aid, British Ambassador Andrew Mace said Sunday in an interview.

Richard Erlebach, acting country manager of Cambodia's DFID office, said independent evaluators produced an assessment of the office's operations at the end of January. The decision to cease bilateral funding was made by Douglas Alexander, the UK's secretary of state for international development.

Mace said the assessment, which has yet to be released, highlighted concerns about providing aid to a country in which there would not be a DFID office to oversee its distribution and administration.

"Delivering aid is more that just giving out money," he said, adding that evaluators ultimately concluded that "you can't rely on other people for technical input".

Erlebach said the decision was also fuelled by overall DFID budget constraints, though both he and Mace said the desire to target countries with more poor people and fewer donors was the main factor in the decision.

Mace said DFID Regional Director Sue Wardell met Friday with officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Finance Minister Keat Chhon. Wardell also met with donors and NGOs to deliver the news, which Erlebach said was greeted with "disappointment".

DFID provided £18 million (US$29.7 million) in bilateral aid during the last fiscal year, which ended in March. Erlebach said he expected a similar amount to be provided this fiscal year.

Mace said DFID's three main initiatives in Cambodia involved programmes related to decentralisation and local governance, rural livelihoods and access to health services, focusing in particular on maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.

Erlebach said aid to the government's decentralisation effort, which involves the transfer of administrative duties from Phnom Penh to sub-national entities, would likely be phased out by the end of the year.

The health services programme, which evaluators determined was among DFID's most successful efforts, will continue until 2013, he said, adding that timing decisions were based on commitments already in place.  

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Sunday that he had not heard of the announcement and referred questions to Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, who also said he did not know anything about it.

Thida Keus, executive director of rights group Silaka, which is involved in the decentralisation reforms, said she believed the phase-out of support from DFID would cause "a limited disturbance to policy implementation".

But she said she saw DFID's decision to close its Cambodia office as "part of a trend" in which donors shut down country offices and instead administer aid multilaterally. Erlebach and Mace said DFID would continue to provide multilateral funding through organisations such as the UN and the Asian Development Bank.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

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