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Benchmark progress described as 'positive' despite failures

Benchmark progress described as 'positive' despite failures

German Ambassador calls progress on land issues 'very disappointing'.

Smaller meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen scheduled for June 30.

International donors have described progress toward reform benchmarks as generally

positive, despite failures in key areas and a surprise last-minute change to the

mid-year consultation's format.

Donors and government representatives sat down June 14 to review the 32 performance

monitoring indicators agreed on at last December's Consultative Group meeting.

"The mood of the recent meeting was very constructive and the chair [of the

meeting] asked for comments. With each meeting the dynamics get better and better,"

said Douglas Gardner, the UNDP's resident coordinator.

Donors and government representatives read through each benchmark, spending more

time on the most serious issues, said Nisha Agrawal, country manager of the World

Bank.

Representatives from the joint technical working groups had prepared reports and

attended the meeting, although government representatives for legal and judicial

reform were notably absent, Agrawal said.

Prior to the meeting, donors had suggested that a similar event scheduled for June

30 would be redundant. But it wasn't until the start of the June 14 meeting that

Finance Minister Keat Chhon announced that the government agreed.

As a result, donors and some representatives will sit down with Prime Minister Hun

Sen at a smaller gathering, also tentatively scheduled for June 30.

Donors will focus their discussion with the PM on natural resources, raising concerns

about the lack of progress in forestry and land management.

"Progress on the land issue has been very disappointing," stated Pius Fischer,

Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, on behalf of the donor community.

"We continue to see land grabbing and weak implementation of the land concessions

framework. The indicators, which we all agreed upon during the last CG-meeting in

December, so far have been largely missed."

Fischer went on to describe various donor concerns, including the failure of the

government to provide "immediate public disclosure of existing contracts and

compliance status".

NGOs have pushed donors to confront the government over its failure to meet this

benchmark.

Immediate disclosure was also discussed during the first quarter meeting in March,

but "nobody at that level feels empowered enough to say 'yes, we are going to

do it,'" Agrawal said.

Officials claimed they could not determine which ministry was responsible for coordinating

disclosure since the benchmark called for all concessions details to be made public,

Agrawal said.

The issue will be taken to Hun Sen in the smaller event to come.

Natural resource issues could play a key role in determining future World Bank support,

Agrawal added. Both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank specifically linked

future funding with completion of development benchmarks.

"We all feel like this is a very critical issue for Cambodia's development,

and it needs to be managed well," Agrawal said.

Bilateral donors operate under their own criteria. However, those that have co-financed

projects with either of the banks will have to follow the indicator system, she said.

While donors and officials used words such as "positive" and "good

spirited" to describe the June 14 meeting, none can predict whether Cambodia

will reach all its benchmarks - and what will happen if it doesn't.

"We hope all the benchmarks will be successfully met," said Ngo Hongly,

chair of the Public Administration Reform Working Group. "But what plan around

the world is ever finished 100 percent?"

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