Lieutenant General Hun Manet, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), said that contrary to the criticism levelled by opponents, the government is focused on the wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of society.
The government has done so by providing equity cards to the poor, especially those who were worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, he said in response to unnamed critics in the EU and US who alleged that the poor had been neglected.
Speaking at a ceremony at an ancient pagoda known as Wat Nives in Takeo province’s Samrong district on December 10, Manet said there is no nation on earth that does not have poor people, but what is important is how well they are taken care of by their respective governments.
He added that the government has provided both short-term cash transfer assistance, and long-term sustainable solutions.
“The question is – what society does not have vulnerable members? Cambodia certainly does, but they are not left to suffer, as they are in several so-called developed nations,” he said.
“Cambodia remains poor. Even though we are not a wealthy state, we do not ignore our people. Since 1979, we have been helping people, especially during challenges such as floods and the recent pandemic,” he continued.
He added that the government has introduced many social protection policies, such as the issuance of equity cards to help people when they have health problems. The cards allow the poor to access free public healthcare services and other benefits.
“When our people were suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic, the state spent $40 million a month and nearly $500 million a year to help them. We also spent hundreds of millions to buy vaccines so we could reopen the country. We have a special fund for those who may be at risk. No state can help people forever, however. We need to find sustainable solutions that will help the poor become self-sufficient in the long term,” he said.
He said the government has worked hard to build roads, schools and hospitals in villages, districts and provinces and expanded the national grid, all of which helped to improve the lives of the people.
The poverty rate in Cambodia in 1994 was 39 per cent, but due to the growth of the middle class, this was now just 17 per cent, he continued.
“We are accused of not looking after the poor. There are 300,000 people sleeping on the streets every night in France, and 227,000 in the UK. Even the US has more than half a million homeless. I have conducted my research carefully. I assure you these numbers are genuine,” he said.
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said on December 11 that the provision of equity cards was an excellent government programme. He urged increased transparency in the programme, however.
“The government should consider its assessment procedures more carefully. There are rumours that some officials have falsely assessed their own relatives as poor, while denying cards to the genuinely vulnerable. There may be people with large homes who are receiving assistance, while the real poor are missing out,” he said.
He warned that this was a possible flaw in the system, and urged the government to establish a monitoring body to ensure there is no corruption within the system.
On December 3, the government announced the implementation of a dual cash subsidy programme for households affected by recent floods and those most vulnerable to the inflationary pressures as identified by the Ministry of Planning.
This assistance will be varied by location and cost of living, with families in the capital set to receive 99,900 riel ($24.22) and rural families 81,300.
Many of the families which were affected by recent floods will receive payments of 80,000 riel.