The chief of one of Cambodia’s biggest lenders ended a four-day visit Sunday during which he praised government leaders for delivering on promises to carry out reforms, but urged lawmakers to move quickly to pass two vital pieces of legislation.
Asian Development Bank President Tadao Chino urged Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh during meetings to push for the quick passage of land-rights and anti-corruption laws, ADB Country Director Urooj Malik said Sunday.
Chino also praised Hun Sen and Finance Minister Keat Chhon for keeping the country “on track” in terms of fiscal reform, but said Cambodia still falls short when it comes to spending on health care, education and poverty relief, while defense spending remains too high. Chino noted that defense spending remains high.
“We are not here to tell the government which law is to go first,” Malik said. “Nevertheless, we would like to the encourage the government to proceed forward with these issues.”
A draft land law, meant to reduce the number of land ownership disputes plaguing the country, was prepared with the help of the ADB and passed by the Council of Ministers in July.
The move was widely praised by donors, who have long called for land-rights legislation as a foundation for economic growth.
But despite promises by parliamentary leaders that they would make passing the legislation a priority, the land law does not appear on the agenda for the National Assembly’s new session, which starts today.
Another item on Chino’s wish-list is the swift appointment of an auditor-general and the establishment of an independent auditing office to monitor government finances.
When the audit law was passed by the Assembly last January, it was hailed by parliamentarians on all sides as a strike against official corruption.
But the Assembly has been sluggish about implementing the law. In July, parliamentary leaders failed to gather the two-thirds majority needed to appoint an auditor-general.
Kong Vibol, secretary of state for the ministry of finance and a spokesman for Prince Ranariddh, said Sunday the Prince assured Chino those items remain priorities.
“[Prince Ranariddh] will work with the government and the National Assembly to pass these laws as soon as he can,” Kong Vibol said. “[But] there are a lot of priorities that need to be passed.”
Chino did point to an increase in tax revenue, the introduction of the value-added tax and improvements in customs administration as signs the government is sincere about its willingness to carry out genuine reform.
The remarks followed a signing ceremony Thursday for a new $16-million ADB loan for poverty reduction, bringing total ADB loans to Cambodia to $410 million since 1992.
The bank is also considering an emergency rehabilitation loan of tens of millions of dollars following this year’s devastating floods.
“With a portfolio of nearly half a billion dollars, we are one of the largest—if not the largest—organizations working in Cambodia,” Malik said.
Russell Peterson of NGO Forum cautioned that such a mammoth organization risks overwhelming Cambodia’s poorly-trained civil service.
Peterson, whose organization represents the country’s vast infrastructure of non governmental organizations, raised his concerns at a meeting between Chino and NGO representatives on Friday.
“That was the issue discussed—the capacity of the region to absorb aid, the capacity of the ministries to implement projects,” he said Sunday.
Peterson said he worried ADB doesn’t have enough local staff to make sure that its projects are carried out effectively.
“Sometimes starting small is better,” he said.