THE government looks set for a smooth ride when donors assemble for their annual
meeting in Paris from May 24 till 26 to discuss next year's development aid to Cambodia.
Prime Minister Hun Sen will be requesting more than $500 million, and diplomats and
observers indicate that he is likely to get it all. Also, the Paris meeting may generate
more praise for progress that the government has made in the past year than criticism
for issues that have not been dealt with satisfactorily.
"The past year we have seen real efforts by the government to make reforms in
all areas. Of course there are still areas of concern, but on a whole there has been
a move forward," says British ambassador George Edgar.
"The government will be congratulated on its progress and encouraged to move
on, and donors will point out areas where more efforts are needed," Edgar predicts.
Another diplomatic source concurs:
"Of course, everything is not perfect, but they are on the right track. The
overall picture will be a fairly positive meeting," says the source, who suggests
that issues where the government has not lived up to its promises will be discussed
informally away from the official meeting room.
However, there are still concerned voices, criticizing the government for not taking
enough concrete actions.
"There is some progress, but it is not enough. With real political will, much
more could be done. Most of the progress is in the building up of the legal and administrative
framework, which is badly needed. But the process is slow and while work on the framework
is ongoing, the political will to address urgent problems seems to be taking a back
seat," says one observer.
For example, the observer points to land issues, mob violence and corruption and
says that there is no reason to wait for proper legislation before cracking down
on land grabbings, lynchings and rampant bribery.
Also, the observer criticizes donors for giving the government too much leeway:
"[They] sit and largely acquiesce, commending the government with the progress
it is making and hoping that a step-by-step approach will make the problems go away.
Donors become willing accomplices of the government."
A number of areas where the government can immediately demonstrate its will to reform
at low cost is listed in a recent report on "Enhancing Governance for Sustainable
Development". The report was prepared by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute
(CDRI) with support and supervision from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
For instance, the report mentions a reform of the Supreme Council of Magistracy,
the country's top judicial body and today a highly politicized institution. By making
membership of the Council a fulltime job, giving it a separate budget and removing
any members who also hold posts in the executive or legislative branches, the Council
would become an important and much-needed guarantor of judicial independence.
Other steps that would enhance transparency and good governance are a list of state
assets and an open tendering system for sale or lease of state property, advance
notice and comment periods before approval of new laws and regulations and consultation
with non-government sectors before approval of laws and subdecrees.
The report also mentions areas or actions that the donors should pay extra
- The government should carry out concrete reforms that improve governance before
donors grant assistance to a given sector or institution.
- Donors should focus assistance on strengthening institutions with direct responsibility
for implementing reforms.
- All loans signed by the government must be approved by the National Assembly.
This is required by the Constitution, but does not always happen.
- Donors should coordinate their assistance to governance enhancing programs.