Backroom talks between aid agencies and the government have resulted in a far-reaching
plan to better coordinate aid efforts to be launched at the Consultative Group (CG)
meeting on December 6 and 7.
A government document-which has been dubbed a "harmonization and alignment"
plan-was approved by the cabinet of the Council of Ministers on November 19 and will
see donors and the government working closer together under a single development
It was followed up on December 2 with the signing of a set of "partnership principles"
between 12 key donors and the government, committing all parties to carrying out
the harmonization plan.
The agreements are a sneak preview of how donors might live up to the tough talk
of the past few months after a series of scathing reports from organizations such
as USAID and the World Bank put an unprecedented amount of pressure on the Cambodian
government to achieve more with foreign loans and grants.
But donors say they are not considering cutting aid money to Cambodia despite admitting
that too little has been achieved from the estimated $3 billion in assistance contributed
over the last decade.
"There is no talk of cutting aid," said Nisha Agrawal, country manager
for the World Bank, which co-chairs the CG forum. "We are in this together."
The future of that partnership is explained in a draft copy of the Royal Government
of Cambodia's Action Plan for Harmonization and Alignment 2004-2008, obtained by
the Post from the World Bank.
Some of the major points of the harmonization plan include:
* Consolidating the existing National Poverty Reduction Scheme (NPRS) and Socio-Economic
Development Plan (SEDP) into one development blueprint that matches with the Millenium
Development Goals - to be called the National Strategic Development Plan 2006-2010
and approved by the National Assembly by December 2005
* Guidelines to be drafted on the payment of local and international project consultants
* Ministries and technical working groups (TWG) will review and make recommendations
for adjusting the mandate of government ministries
* All new donor activities to be peer reviewed by TWG to avoid duplication or gaps
* A phasing out of salary supplements to government employees by April 2005
The plan is part of a large push for increased donor-government cooperation agreed
upon by 47 major funding agencies and 28 partner countries, including Cambodia, at
a meeting in Rome in early 2003.
About 200 NGO representatives met on November 30 in Phnom Penh to present their recommendations
to the CG meeting on issues covering corruption, judicial reform, good governance
and rural livelihoods.
"Now the ball is in the donors' hands," said Kek Galabru, president of
human rights group Licadho. "If the donors want to help Cambodia, they need
to change their strategy,"
"They must have one voice and clear benchmarks," said Galabru, who outlined
her own set of benchmarks calling for the passing of many draft laws in the next
Oxfam Great Britain made a strong push for full disclosure of information about economic
land concessions, with many observers seeing this as a looming flash point for the
government if donors set it as a benchmark.
Both donors and the government appeared to be taking notice of the NGO input, with
Ich Sarou, deputy secretary general at the ministry of interior, and Agrawal, sitting
in the front row.
"We are going into this CG meeting wanting to 'transform promises and commitments
into actions and concrete outcomes'", said Agrawal, referring to the NGO meeting's
slogan for the day.
The civil society forum told Agrawal that the passage of a draft NGO law was less
other legislation and would benefit from more consultation with NGOs.
The donor community remains tight-lipped about this year's benchmarks, saying only
that they will be similar in number and format to what they were in 2002.
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) weighed into the debate on December 2, fully
supporting the World Bank's stance and releasing its own recommendations to the CG
SRP called for the election of village chiefs, the inclusion of the opposition in
the National Assembly's parliamentary committees, the overhaul of the National Audit
Authority and National Election Committee and the creation of a Governance Council
to oversee aid efforts.
Under the SRP proposal, the Governance Council would be made up of representatives
of the government, legislative, judiciary, private sector, civil society and donors.
In a tongue-in-cheek show that little had changed after years of donor assistance,
Sam Rainsy re-released his 1995 "Appeal to the Public Opinion of the Donor Countries",
saying 90 percent of it still held true.
The CG meeting will be held on December 6 and 7 at the Government Palace on Sisowath
Boulevard, with proceedings broadcast on television.