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ADB's Malik fires parting shot over good governance

ADB's Malik fires parting shot over good governance

After four-and-a-half years as country director for the Asian Development Bank (ADB),

Urooj Malik says Cambodia's failure to fulfil good governance expectations is frustrating

the kingdom's progress.

Malik ended his term in the ADB's top job on April 22 and will head to the organization's

headquarters in Manila to oversee regional infrastructure.

Speaking at an April 19 book launch, Malik offered some thoughts on his time in Cambodia,

praising efforts to make the government more accountable - such as the drafting of

an anti-corruption law and reforms to the legal and judicial systems - but said more

needs to be done to help ensure the ADB-supported National Audit Authority fulfills

its task.

"It needs to be strengthened, it needs to be empowered," said Malik.

The ADB has supported the National Audit Authority (NAA) since its inception in 2002

in an effort to increase the financial accountability of government. But it has been

a controversial project, with many criticizing incomplete audits and the strong political

ties of the Auditor-General, Uth Chhorn, a member of the Cambodian People's Party.

While conceding that a political appointment "may have been the case",

Malik said the fact that an initial candidate was rejected twice by the National

Assembly showed a democratic process at work.

Malik said the existence of an operational audit office in a country renowned for

corruption was a good sign but he called for better public dissemination of audit

results.

Acknowledging the NAA had only completed a few audits of government ministries and

is yet to investigate the Ministry of Interior or the National Police force, Malik

commented: "In practice we must always be cognizant of the context of the country."

Malik also said there was more to be desired in Cambodia's reform of the public administration.

"In particular, in terms of renumeration, better incentives for civil servants

but also better public service to enable the social sector to deliver social service

delivery not just at the center but down into the provinces and the districts and

the communes and villages, which is where the poor people live," said Malik.

He said "considerable progress has been made in forestry reform" since

2001 when the ADB conducted a review of the forest concessions set up supposedly

to manage the harvesting of timber and found what it described as a "total system

failure".

The revoking of 17 forest concessions during his time as ADB boss was seen by Malik

as a sign the system was being "cleansed" of "fly-by-night" operators

and predicted a further cleanout of those who cannot produce robust sustainable management

plans.

"From these 15 [remaining concessions], our view is that maybe only half of

those, at best, will remain," he said.

The reform of the forestry sector and increased effectiveness of the NAA are just

two of the development issues facing his replacement, Shyam Bajpai.

Bajpai has worked with the ADB for ten years, most recently as Director of Management

Support Division in the Manila-based Strategy and Policy Department.

Having recently arrived in the country, Bajpai said he was "looking forward

to the challenge of Cambodia".

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