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Caretaker government authority questioned

Caretaker government authority questioned

Questions about the current government's authority to run the nation's affairs were dismissed by government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on October 15. He said Prime Minister Hun Sen retained his authority to represent the country and the current government would continue working "as long as necessary".

However, according to Son Soubert, a member of the Constitutional Council, the government is authorized only to keep the government operating, not enter new legal agreements with foreign countries, until a new government convenes.

"During the political crisis, the current government cannot sign any agreement with ASEAN or the international community," said Soubert. He added that even if the government were to sign a treaty, it would have to be ratified by the National Assembly, which has yet to formally convene.

Thun Saray, president of local human rights group ADHOC, agreed that the current administration could only administer the country's day-to-day affairs, but not sign agreements with donors like the World Bank (WB). He said donors ultimately had to decide for themselves whether they would risk signing agreements with the current administration.

He speculated that most would not due to worries about the new government's recognition of any contracts.

One donor representative, Urooj Malik, country director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), said that he did not expect loans requiring government authorization in the immediate future.

He said that if such agreements came up and a new government was not yet in place, the bank would consult its lawyers for a solution. Among the projects under consideration for Cambodia are $54 million in national project loans and another $45 million in regional infrastructure assistance pending approval from bank officials and the government.

However, some civil society leaders were concerned that the political stalemate could drag on long enough to jeopardize projects that benefit the country's poor. Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development, said if the ADB or WB postpones signing aid packages for too long, it would harm the health and security of the poor.

Government officials have already accepted at least two aid packages since the previous government was dissolved after the election in July, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Minister Hor Namhong of the ministry signed an aid package with Japan for about $3,950,000 to fund infection disease control projects on August 18. The ministry also finalized an agreement with the US on September 11 for HIV/AIDS prevention and health care worth about $45 million.

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