TO Cambodia, the spoils: $501 million in development aid for the next year, exactly
what it asked for.
For Finance Minister Keat Chhon in particular - and Cambodia as a whole - the Tokyo
Consultative Group meeting on July 11-12 was a triumph in cash.
For the first time, Cambodia gave donors a list of 219 projects to fund for the next
three years. ADB consultants were instrumental in helping compile the list, biased
toward large infrastucture such as road, bridge, telecommunication and water use
But bilateral donors balked at this, prefering to talk more generally of where they
wished to guide their money. Most saw that to be into human resources, education,
health and rural development, especially agriculture.
Not all specific aid pledges are available. Japan gave $91m; US $40.5m (including
$11m by the Department of Defense); Australia will be "somewhat less" than
the $29.5m it gave in 1995; ADB $107m; UN agencies $54m and the World Bank $75m.
Only around half the donors uttered a firm figure, most just privately jotted them
down on a piece of paper and handed it to their Japanese hosts.
Observers are now reflecting on how the change from emergency aid to development
aid is going to be pursued in the Cambodian context.
One delegate described the new project-by-project development blueprint as "a
hell of a big social experiment. Who's going to sustain this for three years?"
"This is a great opportunity, all the money is on the table," said UNDP/CARERE
consultant MS Shivakumar, "and if it is used usefully development will happen.
If not there will be a huge traffic jam.
"If you talk to donors and Cambodians, they will tell you that everything is
a Number One priority," said Shivakumar, adding that the more objectives one
has, the less important they become. "If everything is a priority, then nothing
It was up to the political leadership, and not donors, to say where development priorities
lay, and to guarantee equity and sustainability, he said.
The Australians, among others, noted that the "balance" of the Cambodian
development plan had increased toward big infrastructure projects, and less toward
According to one delegate, the only words spoken by the lone South Korean representative
were "if you want economic development, you have to pay attention to education
"The thing about infrastructure development is that it is attractive to investors,"
noted one delegate.
"The Japanese talked about building a super hospital. That's the problem. You
give the Cambodians something and expect them to run it with no training or resources.
You expect the [benefits to] trickle down, but that's not targeting rural poor."
Most experts interveiwed by the Post said the 1996 aid package would stimulate growth,
even if money was simply thrown at the first project that came to hand. The worry
was whether there would be enough emphasis on local training, and in logically selecting
the most important projects, to ensure that growth was not lost "when the experts
Donors even accepted at Tokyo that they were partly to blame for Cambodia's social
and economic problems.
World Bank co-chairman Javad Khalizadeh-Shirazi closed the meeting saying: "We
were gently prodded by some speakers on the need to recognize our own 'capacity-draining'
The self-criticism touched on the fact that of the $501 million pledged, only a fraction
- maybe 25 per cent or less - will actually be spent in Cambodia. Most will go to
foreign consultants and experts, or spent within the country of origin.
It also touched on other areas: the sheer number of donor missions and projects which
strain the Government's own limited capacity; the fact that donors often send conflicting
messages and are neither unified nor coordinated; that local staff are headhunted
from NGOs and the government for higher, topped-up salaries; and, most importantly,
that participation of local communities in designing and planning development projects
is underestimated or ignored completely.
"Let me urge all of you, as I did at the ICORC meeting in Paris in 1993, to
ensure that when short-term experts visit us and produce reports and recommendations,
they should also point out various options for implementing such recommendations
including the sources to access for financial and technical assistance," Finance
Minister Keat Chhon said.
The UNDP statement said: "To ensure scarce human capacities are used and developed
where most needed, donors - both official and NGOs - should support Cambodia's priority
objectives rather than following their own predilections."
The Cambodian Development Council - the body set up to coordinate aid but which has
been widely criticized, most particularly its investment arm - should be strengthened
and respected, donors including the UNDP and Australia said.
One expert said it was still unclear whether donors wanted to develop the country,
or train Cambodians to do it themselves. "Donors are likely to respond that
they try to do both. But probably Cambodians will [still be in a position of] 'witnessing'
implementation," he said.
Others said Cambodians' actual needs are no longer a condition for donors to give
aid. Previous Cambodian development plans had maintained a balance between the State
and the free-market. The latest Cambodian blueprint "affirmed its faith in the
market alone," said one, "and this was legitimized in Tokyo."
The Cambodian development plan was crafted by outsiders who consider that economic
growth had an automatic link with human development, he said.
Donors, by pledging for only one year to ensure the Royal Government's "discipline",
did not give Cambodia a sense of long-term security - even though donors talked much
about the need for long-term commitment. This was highlighted by NGO co-representative
Eva Mysliwiec, who also coined the term "capacity- draining" later taken
up by the World Bank.