“Helping one another to make a peaceful and better world” is a phrase prompting people worldwide to be kind to one another. It is common that the economically developed and fast-growing nations play a role as international aid donors to help the developing countries via aid and grants. Several countries have been aiding Cambodia, including China, the largest donor giving concessional loans and grants, the United States, Korea and Europe.
After the first general election in 1993, at least 35 official donors and hundreds of civil society organisations have provided development aid to Cambodia in various sectors and development areas.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap explained that the Kingdom had just recovered from the more than three decades of civil war and there had been integration and peace only since 1999.
Therefore, aid and donors were necessary for the government to develop the country, by asking for pledges from international donors who loved Cambodia. “Understanding the difficulties of Cambodia, international donors help our country so that we can alleviate poverty effectively and rapidly,” he said, adding that the aid could help the government meet people’s needs, including helping with the creation of schools, hospitals, roads, agriculture and other development.
“They help Cambodia only if they see that Cambodia’s government has made a strenuous and great effort in developing the country by itself and it is sure to lack fund to develop,” Cheam Yeap said.
Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest nations with 35 per cent of its 14.5 million people living below the poverty line, defined as earning less than $1 a day. According to government officials, Cambodia needs about $2 billion each year for the country’s expenses and the country’s revenue is about $550 million, so the rest is contingent on aid. In the past year, Cambodia has received aid of $1.1 billion from all the donors.
The aid is divided into three types, including short-term loans with low interest, long-term loans with high interest, and grants.
Chith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, said that international donors wanted to see Cambodia escape from poverty, so they expect reforms to be developed, for example, democracy.
Ath explained that Western donors, including the United States, had their clear goal of desiring reforms in Cambodia, as opposed to the Chinese, whose aid was not transparent and was always bilateral.
The critics of international aid to Cambodia say the government has used aid disbursement ineffectively.
“We have to cement more on the aid, using it effectively and efficiently and making it transparent and participative. And we have to have a clear plan in co-operation with the donors for people’s benefits,” Chinit Sam Ath said.
“Cambodia will not be dependent on aid forever. We have to be independent one day.”
However, Cheam Yeap said that aid, especially grants, was provided through technicians who come to Cambodia to do projects themselves.
“The government does not hold that money. We just co-operate with them when they need our help,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said during the meeting of foreign donors aiding Cambodia in 2010 that his government promised to continue to tackle several key issues including corruption, judicial reform and land disputes, all of which have been often cited by the donors as being areas of concern.
Diep Soksereyos, a student who majors in international relations at the University of Cambodia, said the aid did not reach its intended target and lacked transparency to the people because of corruption by some officials.
“The government should reveal the figure and all the information related to aid to the people. How much is the aid and what sectors they will develop,” he said.
Cambodia is expecting oil in 2012, and then it will have more resources to develop the country. Therefore, the aid will be reduced by international donors since the country can help itself develop.
Sereyos has still expressed his concerns over the use of aid and the expected revenue from oil. Therefore, the National Petroleum Authority will have to co-operate with the Anti-Corruption Unit to prevent the loss of money.