Cambodia’s foreign donors yesterday pledged $1.1 billion in assistance to the government, despite concerns that the regular meetings they attend to discuss development targets are not keeping track of some key issues.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon announced the $1.1 billion figure, $110 million more than donors pledged in 2008, during a news conference at the close of the two-day Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum yesterday.
Asked for specifics on the aid pledges, Mr Chhon would only say that Japan was—as in previous years—the largest donor. He declined to specify how much Japan pledged, however, or to rank any of the other donors.
UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick said on Wednesday that the UN would pledge approximately $100 million. European Union charge d’affaires Rafael Dochao Moreno said the European Union would pledge between 30 million and 50 million euros, or approximately $37 million to $61 million.
The forum was a chance for the government and its donors to discuss how far Cambodia has come to meeting development targets—on everything from enrolment rates at schools to anti-corruption reform. The last development targets were agreed to in December 2008, and this week’s meeting set new targets for the next year-and-a-half.
In a prepared statement delivered on behalf of the donors yesterday, UN Development Program Country Director Elena Tischenko said the latest report by the government on aid effectiveness showed “positive progress towards achieving the 2008…targets.”
But she also noted some key issues that either cut across ministries or “do not fit” the focus of any of the 19 working groups the government and donors regularly use to discuss specific topics.
“As a result, areas such as extractive industries, economic land concessions, protection of indigenous people’s land prior to registration…for instance are not effectively covered or supported by the current architecture,” the statement reads.
Local and international NGO groups have long complained about the lack of progress in all three areas.
“These issues that are not captured by the routine monitoring of [development targets] do not have a structure to ensure maintained focus and effort on achieving development results,” Ms Tischenko added in the statement.
“There is currently no home in the [working groups] for maintained dialogue on economic land concessions,” she said.
The bi-annual meetings the government and donors hold ought to tackle what the working groups cannot, but even that, Ms Tischenko added, “does not allow for a comprehensive joint monitoring mechanism to track progress and take decisions on critical action.”
On behalf of the donors, Ms Tischenko suggested in her statement that a “short exercise” be conducted with the government “to review current dialogue processes and progress on identified issues, and agree on how monitoring can be strengthened with a report back on progress at the next CDCF.”
Asked at yesterday’s new conference how exactly donors hoped to better monitor those reforms, World Bank Country Manager Qimiao Fan said they would be taken up by the biannual meetings and the full donor-government forum.
Mr Chhon, the finance minister, downplayed the importance of the development targets at yesterday’s news conference, calling them “just a skeleton” to achieving Cambodia’s 2009-2013 National Strategic Development Plan. The National Assembly approved the 300-page national development plan last week, which outlines the government’s goals and priorities. Mr Chhon yesterday summarized those goals as “roads, water, human resources and electricity.”
In the lead-up to this week’s forum, NGOs urged donors to hold the government more accountable for development targets, including the interim protection of indigenous land. The protection, however, had been dropped from the list of targets approved yesterday at the forum.
“Overall there is a linkage” between what donors pledge and how much progress the government makes on meeting the targets, the UN’s Mr Broderick said Wednesday during a break in the forum. “There is an expectation for good results with a positive outcome,” he said.
The Cambodian Embassy in London issued a statement yesterday lauding the latest donors’ pledge as a clear stamp of approval for the government.
“Cambodia received $1.1 billion…in pledges for 2010 and [was] praised for its commitment to implement a sustainable and equitable economic development and social justice,” the embassy said.
The statement also goes after London-based environment rights group Global Witness, a long-time critic of corruption in Cambodia.
According to the statement, Ambassador Hor Nambora said the group “should not be allowed to continue peddling persistent lies and misleading information about the reforms implemented by [the] lawfully elected government of Prime Minister Hun Sen…. It was those countries providing financial backing to Global Witness which should cut their funding to the organization with immediate effect.”