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Residents applaud gov't aid initiative amid lockdown

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Residents in 'Red Zone' receive food aid on April 20. Phnom Penh Municipal Administration

Residents applaud gov't aid initiative amid lockdown

Phnom Penh residents and analysts welcomed the government’s shift from financial support to groceries for poor people in the lockdown area of Phnom Penh and Takmao after confusion.

Prime Minister Hun Sen made a change on April 20 to the government support programme during the lockdown.

The government was initially providing 300,000 riel ($75) payments to those affected, but now instead they are providing an increased amount of food assistance such as rice, canned fish, noodles and soy sauce.

A resident of Sen Sok district said on the condition of anonymity that the authorities had brought food assistance to her village on April 20, but she rejected it because she and many other people in the village expected a 300,000 riel payment like Prime Minister Hun Sen had announced recently.

“We didn’t accept the assistance because Samdech Hun Sen just announced that the government would give 300,000 riel. If we had known this earlier, we would have accepted the grocery assistance,” she said.

She said that now that people understood the matter clearly because Hun Sen clarified things on April 20 they would be happy to receive the offer of food assistance.

Another resident of Meanchey district who requested anonimity said he had not received any food aid as of April 21, a total of 10 days since his district was locked down in the first phase.

“I also supported the people who rejected the food offer yesterday when it came without money, because Samdech hadn’t mentioned the shift from cash to food assistance earlier,” he said.

But now he says he would be happy to accept the food assistance after Hun Sen explained the financial problems the state is facing. The lockdown has not affected him much, however, as he can work from home and is receiving the same salary.

Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia's International Relations Institute, said people should understand the situation and the budgetary constraints that the government must work within.

“Now, what the government has to take care of is the food security situation to make sure nobody is going hungry because of this lockdown,” he said.

Phea also noted that the government’s revenues drop when economic activity declines – which has been the case for the entire Covid-19 period, while the government’s expenses due to the pandemic were huge as they included everything from treatment facilities to this food assistance.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said that the problem with the grocery assistance was really just due to a lack of information and that the government should increase efforts to inform the public about its plans.

“I think we should apply an administrative practice in which the village and commune chiefs go and meet with residents living under their authority more often and try to understand what they really need,” he said.

He said in principle, the government has the duty to ensure the healthcare and livelihoods of the people during this difficult time as stated in the country’s constitution.

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