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Govt critics question use of donor aid at annual meeting

Govt critics question use of donor aid at annual meeting

081205_02.jpg
081205_02.jpg

With Cambodia expected to reap a windfall in foreign assistance, the opposition says ‘beggar mentality' will persist

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The French, British  and Japanese ambassadors (from right to left) at the opening of a donor meeting on Wednesday.

EARLY reports that Cambodia will receive nearly US$1 billion in foreign aid for this coming year add a new imperative to the annual debate on the real impact of donor contributions that typically make up half of the government budget.

"Cambodia still needs aid, but they way it is used is the real problem," said political veteran Prince Sisowath Thomico.

"It should be used just to improve certain key sectors like education and health. So far, since 1993, I haven't seen it done this way. It has been given according to the requests of the government."

The government has used  this week's donor forum as an opportunity to lay out a new vision for management of the country's resources and to defend itself from criticism from watchdogs and NGOs, releasing a report during the session rebutting a string of recent attacks on land rights and resource extraction.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday the government would not grant any new land concessions for logging, saying the government would instead focus on collecting revenue from taxes.

"We are better off to keep the forests as a national reserve, and not try to get money from logging."

Cambodia still needs aid, but the way it is used is the real problem.

He blamed his previous  coalition government "partner", Prince Norodom Ranariddh, for "allowing the government to fall into anarchy" with profit-making schemes such as logging.
But he proclaimed that the years of unscrupulous government were over.

Aiding and abetting?  

Despite the government's assertions, opposition leader Sam Rainsy expressed concern that the potential aid windfall next year would only further "a beggar mentality that makes Cambodia remain irresponsible and corrupt".

"A real friend who cares helps a country help itself. It's not about giving money to a country to spend however it wants. I think [donors] don't see that a lot of assistance has not been effectively used. How can the country be improving if it requires more assistance?"

Yet, neither questions of the efficiency of aid nor a looming global recession that is hitting many of Cambodia's key donors hard are likely to spark a drop-off in aid, said independent economist Sok Sina.

For Rafael Dochao Moreno, head of the European Commission in Cambodia, donor contributions stand for more than financial support.

"The EC presence here in Cambodia shows one of the European values and principles: solidarity."

He said that despite financial pressures European governments were facing given their own dire economic troubles, "We are here to stay." 

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