On August 30, 2002, the Phnom Penh Post published "Time to put the brakes on
the gravy train" by Brad Adams. This was an excellent article, as it not merely
criticized and pointed out the facts to support his argument, but also provided the
empirical evidence followed by excellent suggestions and prudent recommendations
for the international community.
What Adams pointed out is very critical. It sets a light for me and others to understand
more in depth the attitude and level of commitment of the international donors/community
in assisting developing nations like Cambodia. I don't know how the international
donors/community responsible for managing the aid and loan to Cambodia feel, but
through a discussion with several friends, we find it insulting and offensive to
learn that as much as 57 percent of the aid to Cambodia is soaked up by the salaries
of foreign technical assistance.
Aid money belongs to the taxpayers of the donor countries and the poor people who
are its intended recipients. It is mainly intended to use for humanitarian purposes.
The people of Cambodia have passed through countless tragedies and the majority are
still living in miserable poverty. Therefore, whether the money for rehabilitating
Cambodia is a loan or grant, it deserves good care and wise expense. But when it
is a loan it is extremely unfair for Cambodians to have to pay it back when any of
it goes to pay the salaries of foreigners.
Some foreigners I know have faithfully devoted their time, energy, talent and comfort
for the good of Cambodia. For example, my dear friend Bob Matt of Coalition for Peace
and Reconciliation (CPR), a non-profit local NGO, receives small donations from generous
individuals. Bob has been doing volunteer work to promote peace in Cambodia for more
than two decades. His job includes, for many years, conducting a series of active
non-violent training of Cambodian youth by using the work and philosophy of the world
famous peacemakers including Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
Bob has been intensively and diligently teaching peace-promotion ideology five hours
a day seven days a week to Cambodian youth in Battambang province. Hundreds of youth
from elementary and high schools have graduated from his training courses. Many of
them become trainers. How much has Bob been paid per month? None. He only receives
a small per diem for daily food. His living standard is down to earth. This is one
way to help develop Cambodia in an inexpensive way. Thanks to the Buddhist monks
in Wat Kandal temple for allowing him to use a house to live and to conduct the training.
His sincere commitment for the people of Cambodia has earned him a lot of popular
No one expects all expatriate staff who work in Cambodia to work for free like Bob,
but if they can only apply Brad Adams' suggestions and recommendations it would be
great. One suggestion that makes sense is that so long as international consultants
and staff continue to be overpaid they should use some of their salary to make direct
donations to projects in Cambodia, including helping to build schools and dig wells
and giving money to victims of human rights violations. Only then would international
aid workers not be seen as exploiters and opportunists. But in the long run the solution
is to end these ridiculously high salaries. If you want to help Cambodia, come and
work for a reasonable salary. If not, please stay home.