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ICORC books no easy read

ICORC books no easy read

Agroup of expatriate Khmers in France had this to say about Cambodia's

interpretation of its pledges of cash following the third ICORC meeting: "they

do not correspond to reality."

After all the hype of ICORC, that may just

be the wisest comment anyone has yet made in trying to make send of the figures

that have poured out.

Said one Western analyst: "Remember, pledges are

just intentions. It can't be assumed that they will equal actual

disbursements."

When asked to give some more help, in that the Post could

not reconcile many of the figures presented, he responded: "Join the

club."

Most countries have linked pledges to development

projects-immediately raising the probability that the money they have "promised"

might be unable to be absorbed into a shattered infrastructure.

Other

countries have had cash pledges published when there is still debate within

their own capitals about the future scope of overseas aid-the United States

being a case in point.

Still others have upcoming fiscal deadlines,

therefore any money they had "pledged" may well be subject to

change.

"There will have to be immediate adjustments in those cases,"

said one bemused government official.

Not one person could review the

figures and pretend to know what were "old" pledges, from previous meetings, and

those that may be new.

Some of the money might indeed have already been

spent.

Lastly, and most bizarre, was the Cambodian government's presentation of a

raft of pledges that spun out from 1996 "and beyond." Said one financial analyst

present at the Paris meeting: "I didn't think anyone was asked (about future

pledging)."

The day after ICORC, Finance Minister Keat Chhon-who had gone on the record

pre-ICORC saying Cambodia was after an "extra" $295 million-welcomed donor

pledges of $700 million.

No official figures were released on that first

day.

Chhon-whose own ministerial position has been the subject to flying,

unsubstantiated rumors around town in recent days-returned to Phnom Penh two

days later trumpeting a $918 million package from Cambodia's international

friends.

Chhon was basing that guess on apparent pledges for 1995 ($473

million) and 1996 ($440 million).

One Western analyst said Cambodia was

"trying to talk the figures up" and that the "couldn't see the figures being

that high."

The Post understands that for some time during the

conference the figures were "skewed" because some countries had recorded their

pledges in their own local currencies.

For the Kingdom though ICORC was a

victory.

Chhon had a catchy line in naming the ICORCs to date - the first

ICORC meeting being "renaissance"; the second "recovery"; the latest one in

Paris "responsibility"; and the fourth - and probably the last - in Phnom Penh

the "take-off".

"The conference was a great success for Cambodia and its

people, not for two Prime Ministers," Prime Norodom Ranariddh said on March

20.

Keat Chhon admitted that some of the figures might be overlapping due to

donors' different fiscal years.

Chhon said: "The importance is not the

figure, which was achieved as we wanted. What is important is our creation of

partnerships with donor countries. They more than understand our

needs."

Donor officials spoken to by the Post were less convinced. One

said: "There is a great deal of confusion across the board."

"People

don't just go around putting up their hands giving away money at these meetings.

But these figures involve previous pledges. (ICORC) means different things to

different countries."

He said some countries would have no trouble

spending their money, whereas others - linked to big-ticket projects - could be

affected by the slowness of programs, design and planning blueprints, security

and the incapacity of Cambodia to absorb the money. "Some countries just don't

have the flexibility to move."

Other financial experts spoken to by the

Post believed that the figures were "sleight of hand" and, in one case, "a

whitewash."

Another drawback was that there is no coordinating body to

monitor the ICORC money "so the way the process goes is confusing to

everybody."

Ranariddh that Cambodia asked for separate aid for domestic

problems. "We are committed to solving them because they are in our interest. We

don't need advice."

Chhon said the government was accountable to its

voters and taxpayers "but we cannot address all our problems at

once."

According to the figures, the biggest donors for 1995 are: 1)

Japan ($79.6 million); 2) World Bank ($75 million); 3) France ($50 million); 4)

Asian Development Bank ($48.5 million); 5) International Monetary Fund ($40

million); 6) United States ($36.5 million); 7) UNDP ($26 million); 8) Australia

($21.1 million); 9) Germany ($19.3 million); 10) Sweden ($16 million).

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