The government will redouble efforts to reduce Cambodia’s poverty rate to a level at or below seven per cent in the near future to continue the nation’s recent record of progress, from at least 50 per cent in the 1990s to below 10 per cent before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Meas Soksensan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said the government had strived to help the poor and vulnerable prior to Covid-19 and continued to do so during the pandemic to get them out of poverty. He was speaking at an August 2 press conference to highlight the ministry’s five-year achievements.
During the pandemic, around 700,000 households were provided with direct assistance, totalling about 2.7 million people. Over the past 25 months, the total budget provided to the poor and vulnerable has been $744 million, with some expenditures ongoing.
“What the government has been doing since the 1990s – when the poverty rate was over 50 per cent – brought the rate down to around 10 per cent by 2015, though it has soared again due to the pandemic.
“However, the [cash assistance and other support programmes] from the government have already contributed to poverty reduction and we are optimistic about the impacts of this support. Because we have experience in making the poverty rate drop in the past from over 50 to merely 10 per cent, we are optimistic that we can get the rate to drop to just seven per cent in the near future,” he said.
Soksensan also said that the relief package for the poor and vulnerable citizenry had also helped with economic growth of between 0.45 and 0.55 per cent while also reducing the poverty rate by 2.5 to three per cent.
The government, through the finance ministry, had to maintain its policy of providing financial aid packages to help small and medium enterprises for the vulnerable sectors along with continuing support for poor people, he said.
In April, Ministry of Planning secretary of state Tuon Thavoreak said Cambodia’s poverty rate had increased by four per cent to reach 17 per cent over the 2019-2020 period, due in large part to the global health crisis.
He said Cambodia’s poverty rate had dropped significantly – from 47 per cent in 2007 to 22 per cent in 2009 – and had continued to fall to 13 per cent in 2014, which raised the Kingdom up to lower-middle-income status in 2015.
Socio-economic study data from 2019-2020 showed that the poverty rate increased to 17.8 per cent, largely due to the worldwide economic slowdown and increase in poverty as a result of the pandemic, he added.
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said it was praiseworthy for the government to help the poor and vulnerable hit hard by the pandemic as many of them had fallen back below the poverty line.
However, to make the poverty rate drop to just seven per cent as the government wished, they need to focus their support on the correct targets and implement their measures transparently, or they will ultimately fail to reach their goals.
“The only way the government is going to achieve its goals is by helping those who have already fallen into poverty climb out of the hole the pandemic put them in as we move forward post-Covid. Then, perhaps, a poverty rate of seven per cent could be reached,” he said.
Finance ministry undersecretary of state Chan Narith, who also serves as secretary-general of the National Social Protection Council (NSPC), said the NSPC has four main goals in social protection: Ensuring income security; reducing the poverty and vulnerability rates; reducing social inequality; and supporting economic growth.