The UN in Cambodia expressed support for the government’s efforts to effect economic, environment and social transformation, to be detailed in the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) which will be signed after a new government has been formed, according to a senior official.

Prime Minter Hun Sen met with a UN in Cambodia delegation, led by UN resident coordinator Joseph Scheuer, at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on March 28.

Hun Sen’s personal assistant Eang Sophalleth said after the meeting that the two sides touched on several main topics, including creating a resilient health system towards providing universal health coverage and strengthening social protection systems, both priority objectives of the government.

A social media post by the prime minister said the UN in Cambodia had assumed a gentle and flexible attitude to the implementation of the UNDAF.

“Both sides regard the strengthening of healthcare and social protection systems as foundations of human resource development. Hun Sen appreciated the UN’s support for the government’s development of the national economy, resilience, sustainability and inclusiveness,” said the post.

During the meeting, Scheuer briefed Hun Sen on the ongoing achievements of the implementation of the current UNDAF 2019-2023.

“Through this framework, many accomplishments have been made in all five areas – social opportunity, expanding economic opportunities, supporting sustainable living, strengthening participation and accountability, and managing urbanisation – as well as combating Covid-19,” the post quoted Scheuer as saying.

Scheuer also informed Hun Sen on the progress of preparation for the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF 2024-2028) to support the government’s national strategic development plan within which no one is left behind.

He said the new framework will focus on four expected outcomes: social development, economic development, the environment, and social transformation.

“We will support the long-term national goals of expanded social protection, universal health coverage, improved protection against all forms of malnutrition, and better-quality education and skills development, consistent with the goal of life-long learning,” he said, referring to the expected outcome of social development.

“This year’s dialogue is significant as we jointly prepare the 2024-2028 cooperation framework, which will fully align with Cambodia’s development objectives,” he said.

According to Scheuer, a draft of the UNSDCF will be available by May. Both sides jointly agreed to formally sign the document once a new government has been formed after this upcoming July general election.

Hun Sen advised that the UNSDCF 2024-2028 be discussed further with relevant stakeholders, while the government supports the document as the basis for more discussion and approval.

Scheuer said there would be room for improvement and his team would welcome not only Hun Sen’s support, but also his candid feedback, views and advice.

“In return, we reiterate our full commitment to be an honest partner, offer advice where it may be useful, voice concern where it is appropriate, and remain steadfast in our support of a long and trusted partnership that is built on leveraging our respective strengths in the service of a greater good – the prosperity, safety, and dignity of all people in Cambodia,” he added.

San Chey, executive director of the NGO Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said this is necessary as Covid-19 had far-reaching impacts on the economy and public health.

“Therefore, strengthening public health systems is a prerequisite for all nations. The countries that were severely affected by the pandemic have started to strengthen the accountability of governments to their people, especially the most vulnerable groups,” he said.

He urged the government to pay close attention to public health, as recommended by the UN in the next framework, along with the informal economic sector.

“The government must respond to the needs of the people, in terms of healthcare and social protection issues,” he said.

Meas Ny, an analyst and social development observer, was of the view that Cambodia’s public health system and social protection is not yet strong, as they do not cover all parts of the country.

“Our healthcare system remains weak, which means some people spend a lot of money to get treatment abroad; rich and middle income individuals have limited trust in our health system,” he said.

He urged the government to improve the quality of state hospitals in all provinces, rather than focusing their attention on those in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

According to the UN, as of 2022, around 3.2 million Health Equity Fund (HEF) and 2.6 million National Social Security Fund (NSSF) members benefited from improved health and administrative services.