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Big changes needed to beat poverty

Big changes needed to beat poverty

A recent workshop to take ideas for the government's poverty reduction program heard

suggestions that included the need for an anti-corruption law, reform of the justice

system, improved land rights, and better health access for the poor.

Proposals from the workshop, which was held May 28-29, are meant to set the agenda

for the government's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), a long-term program

that aims to combat Cambodia's most pernicious problem.

Minister of Economy and Finance, Keat Chhon, warned that the risks of not acting

were high.

"We are conscious that without implementing a poverty reduction strategy, we

will be engaging in a form of social upheaval, which will plunge us headlong into

a sea of instability," he said.

Attendees came from government, the private sector, multilateral agencies and NGOs.

Kim Saysamalen, under-secretary of state at the Ministry of Planning, told the gathering

that 90 percent of the population depends on agriculture.

He said rural poverty was running at 40 percent, and people were worst off in the

provinces of Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear and Siem Reap.

"Even though Siem Reap has Angkor Wat, and is a tourist destination, it is a

poor province because tourists spend money only at hotels, restaurants and on those

people living around the temple," said Saysamalen.

He added that the poor had insufficient access to health and education, and called

for that to change. The cost was yet to be determined, but Saysamalen felt money

could come from foreign donors as well as multilaterals such as the World Bank and

the International Monetary Fund.

He said the PRSP could take as long as 30 years, but said the government was determined

to follow it through.

"We will carry out the PRSP paper until people can escape from under the poverty

line," he concluded.

Sok Siphana, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, said his ministry had

an important role to play in alleviating poverty by attracting foreign investment.

He used the example of the garment industry, which employs nearly 200,000 and in

his estimation supported 10 percent of the population.

Others called for more money to be spent on combating HIV/AIDS, which disproportionately

afflicts the most economically active people. Upgrading the country's infrastructure,

fiscal reforms, and improving irrigation and drainage were also discussed.

The opposition senator Ou Bunlong called for the government to include an anti-corruption

law in the paper. Without it, he said, poverty could not be reduced.

The PRSP will be finalized in October this year and implemented in early 2003. The

paper will be reviewed every three years.

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