Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - USAID says it's not the forum to pressure change

USAID says it's not the forum to pressure change

USAID says it's not the forum to pressure change

U SAID'S "democracy" project - including its training programs within the

Cambodian justice system

- is likely to escape a hefty funding cut for the next financial year.

However, there would be a "shift in emphasis" within the legal training

area, USAID democracy initiative project manager Ron Briggs said.

USAID committed $6.8 million of its $41 million budget into areas such as Parliamentary

and court training, and human rights and defenders groups "and I think the level

overall will be much the same," Briggs said.

USAID director Joe Goodwin said that though the fiscal year ended on Sept 30, it

was unlikely that USAID's FY96 Cambodia budget would be known for another couple

of months.

"Democracy and governance projects are a priority and this area is generally

one least prone to cuts," he said, though "ball-park" figures had

already been given to individual projects so they could plan for the next year.

Goodwin said that Justice Minister Chem Sgnoun was interested in moving away from

"non-lawyer public defenders" in favor of trained lawyers. USAID funds

a stable of such "non-lawyer public defenders", including the Cambodia

Defenders Project, ADHOC and CADEDAS.

"We can be committed to both... we can't just make a 180 degree change,"

he said.

Goodwin said defenders projects could be sustained "at least as a concept".

When asked how USAID could fund the training of officers working within a judiciary

that was widely criticized as not being independent from the government, USAID Democracy

and Governance Office director Ned Greeley talked of a "really long time"

to "get the system functioning".

Goodwin said: "We feel that there are objectives that can be achieved within

the present activities we are doing."

"In terms of holding off [giving] money till the government puts in place a

set of activities we judge 'correct' or 'perfect' is not something I can see [happening],"

he said.

US Information Service director Frank Huffman said: "Conditioning of aid is

a really false issue because we don't give aid to the government."

"Ask yourself who would it hurt if we stop giving aid to the NGOs... we are

trying to support, shore up and build good judicial practices, human rights, public

defenders and freedom of the press," Huffman said.

Greeley said it was very important "just getting the courts back on their feet"

and that there was a lot of interest in the court training projects from judges and

prosecutors.

Goodwin said the problem of the independence of the judiciary was important "and

needs to be addressed", however it was not in the scope of USAID.

"It's something you raise at ICORC... it's a macro, very serious, overarching

problem. It's not something you make adjustments for at project level," he said.

"It's at ICORC that the United States and the World Bank [and other donors]

express that [sort of] concern."

Greeley and Huffman said that "you can be sure there's dialogue going on [among

the donors]... it's behind the scenes, not on the front pages of a newspaper".

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