Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Five-Year Plan becomes law

Five-Year Plan becomes law

Five-Year Plan becomes law

The new Plan reflects the long-term vision of the Government. However, opponents

question whether it should be put into law.

LAST week, when Parliament expeditiously voted into Law a new plan for the development

of the country, a few dissenting voices rose from the Assembly's floor.

While no one questioned the content of the "First Socioeconomic Development

Plan, 1996-2000"- which focuses on rural development and poverty alleviation

programs - some MPs expressed concern about why it was adopted at all.

Critics argue against the rationale of voting into law a document which is intended

to be a mere guideline for development - one which even its more optimistic supporters

concede is overly ambitious and highly unlikely to be fully implemented within the

next quinquennium.

"The Plan must be flexible. If it is not flexible and the government cannot

implement it according to the law, then the government is breaking the law,"

says Funcinpec MP Ahmad Yahya.

Other MPs and some legal observers agree that the adoption of the five-year Plan

as law at best risks placing an unnecessary workload on the legislature, and at worst

threatens to seriously undermine efforts to establish the "rule of law"

in the country.

"They set up a big hurdle for themselves," says one legal expert. "If

the government is not able to do [what the Plan set out to achieve,] it will have

to go back to the National Assembly to amend the law."

But supporters of the motion to turn the Plan into Law say that its critics may have

distorted the spirit of the discussion at the National Assembly.

"The National Assembly thinks that the ministries need to take this document

more seriously, and that's why they have agreed to approve the new five-year Plan

by law," says Sum Sannisith, the director of the General Planning Department

at the Ministry of Planning - one of the agencies responsible for its drafting.

BLDP MP Pol Ham - one of 84 members of Parliament who voted to support the plan -

agrees. "Now if the plan is not implemented we can invite the co-Prime Ministers

to answer why."

As for the likelihood of Parliament having to amend the law in the future, Pol Ham

- like others - does not seem concerned. "I don't think it will be necessary;

this is not like the national budget," he says, adding that the vote was intended

more as a symbolic gesture.

"It is not too serious," he says, adding that no one expects the Government

to be able to implement the five-year plan fully.

Beyond the controversy surrounding its adoption, the plan was welcomed by all concerned

parties.

"I think it is a big progress compared to the two-year plan," says Sannisith

referring to the "Socio-Economic Rehabilitation Plan, 1994-5," which was

approved by the National Assembly in May 1994.

While the previous two-year rehabilitation Plan addressed some of the country's most

urgent needs after the elections - such as macro-economic stability, administrative

reform, physical reconstruction, and economic integration - the new Plan reflects

the long-term vision of the Government.

The document, which was jointly prepared by all concerned ministries, was drafted

in close consultation with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other international

organizations.

"The international community at the moment is very concerned with social development

in general and in particular in relation to poverty alleviation," says Sannisith.

While to laymen the name may evoke the ghost of centrally-planned economies, pundits

agree that the five-year Plan is in line with the government's declared commitment

to free-market reforms. "One shouldn't confuse the label with the content,"

said one economist.

The Ministry of Planning agrees that this kind of long-term planning document is

common among most developing countries.

"It is the wrong idea that the five-year plan is related only to socialist countries,"

says Sannisith, "They have one in Thailand, in the Philippines, Malaysia and

Indonesia, and even in France and in Japan."

The ADB has provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Planning on macro-economic

management and planning issues since 1992, according to Sannisith.

"We asked the ADB for assistance in drafting a development plan that was suitable

to the new conditions created by the transition from a centrally-planned to a free-market

economy," he says.

In its present form, the five-year Plan does not have a concrete timetable for program

implementation, admittedly because the success of the plan depends largely on external

factors such as foreign aid.

"Of the total [public] investment of $5 billion, almost three-quarters is expected

to be financed from foreign sources," reads the Plan's Executive Summary.

But officials at the Ministry of Planning emphasize the importance of the document.

"Having that kind of plan, all institutions have a clear idea of what the Government

would like to do," says Sannisith. "It is then up to each institution to

prepare their own concrete, operational plan to implement the five-year Plan."

The Ministry of Planning cites the Public Investment Program (PIP) - also drafted

with the help of the ADB - as its own operational plan.

"In the PIP it is clearly mentioned that roughly 60% of public investment funds

need to be allocated to rural areas, either by providing funds from the national

budget or by asking loan and assistance from the international community," Sannisith

explains.

But he reluctantly admits that even the PIP is not etched in stone.

"The PIP is still doubtful because it was prepared forecasting available resources

based on projections of external assistance loans and of internal capacity to mobilize

funds."

Despite this built-in uncertainty, Sannisith remains positive. "I'm very optimistic,

although a comprehensive fiscal reform needs to be done to implement any plan."

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