INTERNATIONAL donors have pledged a record US$1.1 billion in development assistance for the upcoming 18-month period, following a two-day government-donor forum that wrapped up in the capital Thursday.
At the close of the third Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum (CDCF), Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon hailed the outcome of the talks.
“The meetings have been conducted successfully for all of Cambodia’s donors, development partners and development partners from civil society,” he told reporters.
“This financing responds to the need for the development of the National Strategic Development Plan for this year.”
Keat Chhon said Japan was again the largest donor. He declined, however, to give more details about the $1.1 billion pledges, saying, “We cannot disclose the breakdown of how much each country is providing to Cambodia.”
Areas of focus in the government’s development agenda, he said, were “roads, water, human resources and electricity”.
During Thursday’s meeting, delegates discussed anticorruption measures, judicial reform and measures to improve aid effectiveness.
The $1.1 billion pledge – which surpasses the $951.5 million pledged at the last CDCF in December 2008 – comes amid mounting calls for international donors to pressure the government to meet good governance reform benchmarks.
On Tuesday, 15 local NGOs said donors should “take responsibility and speak out against the deterioration of rights and democracy in Cambodia”. Doing nothing, they added, could be seen as “tantamount to complicity”.
A series of 20 NGO position papers released last week said land rights and resource-revenue transparency should be key areas of focus.
Eleanor Nichol, a campaigner for UK-based watchdog Global Witness, described the CDCF meetings as a “mass exercise in intellectual dishonesty” that resulted in little concrete action on the ground.
Despite years of government-donor talks, she said, hundreds of millions of dollars in resource revenues have not appeared in national accounts.
“I’m absolutely astounded that in a year that’s been an annus horribilis in terms of corruption, donors have decided to up the amount of support they are giving the government,” she said.
“We’re not having anything like the sense of outrage that one would expect to find in a case where there’s been pilfering on a grand scale.”
Qimiao Fan, the World Bank’s country manager, said in an address Thursday that “transparency and accountability in the management of public finances and natural resources” were critical issues in CDCF discussions.
Speaking on the sidelines of Thursday’s meeting, Japanese ambassador Masafumi Kuroki said Tokyo had pledged $130 million at this year’s CDCF. He added that there is room for improvement in aid effectiveness.
“There is already increased monitoring of aid between the government and development partners, and I think we need to further promote this process,” he said.
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said the US government had earmarked $68.5 million in aid for fiscal year 2010.
The European Union pledged around $60 million to the government, with EU member states supplying an additional $190 million, said Rafael Dochao Moreno, charge d’affairs of the EU Delegation to Cambodia.
Of this figure, UK ambassador Andrew Mace said his government had pledged around $33 million for 2010 after two days of “open and constructive dialogue” with the government.
“All the issues that were raised by civil society were on the agenda and were discussed,” he added.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the $1.1 billion pledge was “not a surprise”, and that human rights and democracy were not high on the agendas of Western donor countries.
But without an emphasis on issues such as land-tenure security and good governance, he said, little can be done to fight poverty.
“You can spend all the money you want to develop the agriculture sector, but if land is being grabbed and people don’t believe in the system – if they don’t feel secure – you’re not going to succeed at poverty reduction,” he said.
Nichol said donors have been making statements of intent for years, to little avail.
But others said donors play an important role in creating a bridge between the government and civil society through the CDCF process.
“To ensure aid effectiveness... civil society organisations need to be more active participants in the process itself,” said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia.