"Quick and dirty" or "pre-development"? The European Union's approach to aid to
Cambodia is a controversial topic among NGOs. Benjamin Quenelle
EUROPEAN Union (EU) Ambassador Gwyn Morgan isn't
diplomatic when asked about criticism of the EU from NGOs.
interested in the points of view of the NGOs. They are badly informed. NGOs have
got so many points of views which are all to do naturally with their own
interests," Morgan said in a recent Post interview. "I represent the European
Community. I don't represent NGOs. They are just part of a public opinion I
don't always respect."
The ambassador grew irate when questioned about
NGO relations with the 15-member EU, at one point threatening to end the
"We're not here to keep NGOs alive, we're here to help NGOs
who help us and help the people of Cambodia.
"For some of the NGOs,
Europe is a superbank. It will not be a superbank any longer for inefficient
NGOs, as it was before in some cases."
As Cambodia's largest aid donor -
and with an open policy of moving away from funding NGOs to providing direct
government support - the EU has inevitably upset some NGOs.
Even more so
given that the attitude behind its programs can be at direct odds with those of
EU officials speak of "pre-development" and "crash programs" to
give Cambodia a jump-start, while NGOs typically see themselves as working for
The EU's $87 million, 30-month European
Rehabilitation Program in Cambodia (PERC) was launched a year ago. As well as
the sheer amount of money involved, it is notable for the speed of its planning
The very same haste which is seen by the EU as the
best way not to waste time is viewed by some NGOs as the best way to waste
One NGO manager describes the EU approach as "quick and dirty",
while another says: "They wanted to do something quickly. They do not care about
Many EU staff in Cambodia - and even the Bangkok-based Gwyn
Morgan - acknowledge drawbacks to the EU's approach.
"But one year ago,
when all the other donors were talking, talking, talking and doing nothing on
the ground, the European Union decided to crash things into place and be active
on the ground as soon as possible," says Morgan.
"The whole concept of
the PERC program is to be a crash program to get things starting on the
The EU, active in Cambodia since 1991, previously concentrated
on funding NGOs, particularly in Pursat, Battambang and neighboring
Now, under the PERC, much of its money goes toward a national
primary education program and a rural development program in six provinces near
"Europe is muscling into provinces where it has never been
before," says one NGO critic. "It may walk over initiatives which have been
prepared over many years in provinces it does not know at all."
Battambang, Hervé Bernard, provincial director of French NGO Action Nord/Sud,
praises the EU's previous work in the province and wonders (why?) it withdrew
much of its aid.
"They should have stayed here to complete what they had
started. Here Europe had a good knowledge of the concrete situation.
EU stayed here two years, then pulled out. They cut the aid very suddenly...it
was not very elegant."
Others suggest that public relations played a
factor in the EU's choice of provinces - Takeo, Prey Veng, Kompong Speu, Svay
Rieng, Kompong Cham and Kompong Chhnang - for its rural development
"Here Europe can easily show it is active on the ground," says
one NGO worker, referring to the six provinces' close proximity to Phnom
Jean-Luc Rossier of Handicap International in Battambang says:
"Europe stopped its funding in Battambang because of the bad security
conditions, but also because Battambang is a long way from Phnom
"Its action here was not so visible...so it returned back to Phnom
Morgan hotly replies: "That is not true. We chose the regions in
consultation with the Cambodian government who probably should know more than
anybody else where are the needs for assistance."
Some NGOs worry that
the EU may duplicate, and even threaten, existing projects. They point to an
ambitious credit scheme planned for the six provinces as part of the rural
EU staff say the scheme should compliment and complete
local credit projects already underway, but NGOs worry it will cause more damage
"Credit schemes require time," says one NGO manager. "Time to
identify villages, time to train staff, time to assess the needs. Time, then, to
set up the system.
"Thirty months is not enough. It [the scheme] will
collapse, with bad impacts for the NGOs' work afterward."
EU's primary school education program - which, unlike the rural development
plan, is nationwide - is in some ways racing against the clock.
Renou, an EU technical expert on the program, acknowledges that "with so much
money to be spent in only 30 months, without any initial frame at the beginning,
there is of course the risk we will not have time to carry out the plan
completely before the expiry."
But he still sees advantages to the EU's
approach, including that "as we had the money before the details of the plan, we
have been able to adapt easier to realities on the ground."
meanwhile, says the PERC will at least build "a frame" to be expanded upon
later. Even if the whole PERC is not set up after 30 months, there is no
prospect of the EU leaving "overnight".
Perhaps the biggest cause of
contention about the EU, however, centers on how it works with
Since the 1993 elections, the EU has moved toward working with
government officials and bringing in outside technical experts rather than using
In Battambang, the EU pays someone from Action Nord/Sud to
liaise between the EU and NGOs.
"But how will the EU experts manage in
other provinces?" asks Hervé Bernard.
He says EU experts are skilled and
experienced but there are not enough of them; they will not be as closely
involved with individual projects as they should.
"If you take something
on, you must see it through to the end. But the EU has no means to," says
Morgan, for his part, sees the EU's job as to work with the
If outside advice is needed, he prefers to
sub-contract private experts "who have the expertise and the large degree of
professionalism that the NGOs don't have."
He refers to the "independence
of NGOs", saying he would rather have someone working full-time for him than
someone "who half works with me, half with NGOs".
"That doesn't mean to
say NGOs haven't got a place. They have. But NGOs have to make up their minds as
well you know, whether they really want their independence to the point they're
making a principle of it, or they want to fit in with our
The EU still funds, or sub-contracts, NGOs and international
agencies under both the PERC and other smaller programs. There are numerous
examples, including the EU's short-term funding of Handicap International's
artificial limb program and a proposed alliance with the World Food Program to
Morgan says NGOs are free to apply for
"Where the NGOs are valuable, where the NGOs have a good track
record, where the NGOs come up with projects that contribute to our overall
policy towards Cambodia, they will be strong contenders to continue to receive
All the NGOs the Post visited, even those most critical,
acknowledge they are hoping for funding from the EU.
Not all are
critical. For instance, Jean-Claude Prandy, head of Medecins du Monde in
Cambodia, says: "The EU is a kind of bank that's fine to work with. Compared to
many of the other donors, Europe has the advantage of keeping its promise. The
most difficult stage is to get a project accepted. Once it is, the collaboration
is usually very efficient."