Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Aid bill set at $1.6b; Khmer poor targeted



Aid bill set at $1.6b; Khmer poor targeted

Aid bill set at $1.6b; Khmer poor targeted

CAMBODIA will ask donors for $1.6 billion in Tokyo on July 11 to pay for a three-year

development plan it describes as "not overly ambitious."

However, Cambodia's development blueprint till the end of 1999 can hardly be called

humble.

Donors have already pledged, but have yet to spend, $700m in previous years. Cambodia

needs $900m more in the following areas:

  • A $160m program to ease rural poverty;
  • Help for 223,000 people - the families of 40,000 soldiers due to be demobilized

    - most of whom will be women, elderly and children, and many of whom will be landless,

    poor, disabled and unskilled;

  • A "massive" $14.2m revamp of the civil service, costing 30,000 jobs,

    toward which the Government admits approaching in "trepidation"

  • $25m for demining;
  • And money for separate "masterplans" in economic infrastructure ($606m),

    education and health ($384m), transport and communications ($210m), water supply

    ($96m), industry and energy ($132m) and the environment.

The "Returning to the Village" theme running through most of the package

is designed to alleviate poverty among the 85 per cent of rural Khmer - the plan's

"single most important objective."

In doing so, Cambodia must somehow wrestle around the 9-to-1 ratio of aid money now

being spent in Phnom Penh, to that favoring rural areas 3-to-1.

The Ministry of Rural Development is asking for $160.4m - or 14 per cent of the total

aid package - to set up a network of "development committees" down to the

village level.

However, $78m of that total will be spent on provincial "development office"

buildings.

The ministry wants to "strengthen and empower local village organizations to

be self-reliant." The money remaining after the building budget - in order of

size - will go to roads, water supply, irrigation, health and education.

By necessity however, a new army demobilization plan will throw another 223,000 people

- by the Government's own admission, many of whom are women, children, aged, uneducated

and chronically ill - into generally poor areas, with no arable land to farm, to

face landmines and Khmer Rouge.

The Government says the economic benefits of the plan to lay-off 40,000 soldiers

(in the process affecting their families) by 1998 will come at "some social

cost."

However, it is not the State's main objective to save $7.2m a year in soldiers' wages,

"but [it is for] the reconstruction of a civil society."

Demobilized soldiers won't be hired back into the military, or into the police or

civil service, and only those laid-off from 1996 will be supported with the aid that

Cambodia wants for this particular plan.

Again, village committees - which will include monks and elders - will help to "restore

lost capital... by extending the social support network available to veterans and

their families."

The first demobilization of 1,500 soldiers close to retirement age will begin on

November 1996.

It is not known how much money the Government will be asking for the demobilization

plan.

NGO Forum spokeswoman Nicola Bullard said that NGOs had had no warning of the demobilization

plan, which was "problematic" when it was obviously assumed that NGOs would

be heavily involved in helping those affected.

"This is an example of how important it is for NGOs to have involvement early

on," she said.

The Government wants $14.2m for a "massive" revamp toward a "unified,

neutral, transparent, effective" public service. This is likely to cost 30,000

jobs.

The civil service shake-up involves, according to the Government, "generally

improving performance."

In environment, the World Bank is driving the formation of a National Environment

Action Plan (NEAP), featuring management of protected areas, the Tonle Sap, commercial

logging, pollution, energy development and fisheries.

Again, it is not clear how much money will be requested in this area.

Pou Sothirak's Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy appears an important vehicle

for, as he said: "creating jobs as a matter of priority, thus favoring labor

intensive industries."

Sothirak quoted "capital intensive, high energy consumption industries,"

such as refineries, cement and tire factories, and value-added wood factories, would

be pushed.

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