Aid Pledges Continue Despite CNRP Calls for Delay

Germany has pledged $64 million in aid donations to Cambodia for this year and next, amounting to a “substantial increase” over the past two years of official German assistance to the country, the German Embassy announced on Wednesday.

Germany’s new aid package, the majority of which—$54 million—will go toward health and rural development, was pledged Wednesday despite a call by the CNRP for donors to delay signing official agreements with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government until disputes over July’s national election are resolved.

The World Bank said late last month that it too was preparing a two-year strategy plan for Cambodia, also likely to come with more aid pledges for the government.

The CNRP’s 55 elected lawmakers are boycotting the 123-seat National Assembly to protest widespread voting irregularities during the election, which independent monitors say benefited Mr. Hun Sen’s long-ruling CPP.

According to an embassy statement that announced the new aid pledge, German Ambassador Joachim Baron von Marschall urged the government to “heed the call for reform which has emanated from the recent elections.”

The statement also cites Chhieng Yanara, secretary-general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), which takes the lead in the government’s relations with donors, saying that the government’s reform efforts would focus on good governance, “in particular the fight against corruption.”

On Tuesday, the day before Germany and Cambodia signed off on the aid agreement, Berlin-based Transparency International once again ranked Cambodia near the very bottom on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, a place it has consistently held for several years with no signs of significant improvement.

Sok Chenda and Suon Sothy, who are also secretary-generals at the CDC, declined to comment when contacted Thursday.

The opposition had called on foreign donors not to sign any more agreements with Mr. Hun Sen’s government even before the election, after the CPP-dominated National Assembly expelled their lawmakers from parliament in June.

“All Embassies, Diplomatic Missions and Multilateral Donors stationed in the Kingdom of Cambodia or stationed outside the Kingdom of Cambodia are advised to refrain from signing any agreement with the current Royal Government of Cambodia…until the new legitimate National Assembly is elected and a new Government is formed accordingly,” they said in a letter released on June 20.

Starting in the 1990s, the government and its main aid donors held a top-level aid meeting roughly every 18 months. Originally known as the Consultative Group meeting, the government renamed the meeting the Community Development Cooperation Forum, during which donors pledged their assistance for the coming year and the government would agree on governance reform targets and update donors on progress made. Similar but lower-level meetings between donor representatives and government officials were held every six months.

But the CDC has not called a Cooperation Forum since early 2010, or a meeting of the lower-level Government-Development Partner Coordinating Committee in more than a year.

The government first claimed that it had called off the donor meeting because of financial hardships in donor countries due to the global financial crisis, which struck in 2008 to 2009. Why the donor meetings have not been held since has not been explained, though donors have continued to pledge ever more aid regardless of the government’s cancellation of the aid forum.

The suspension of the donor meeting also coincided with the rise of China as the country’s principal benefactor, and regular criticism by Mr. Hun Sen that the country’s traditional donors tied too many conditions to their assistance while China gave money without seeking any reforms.

The German Embassy did not reply to a request for comment about its aid package.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said foreign donors should be careful about any aid pledged directly to the government.

“We request no money [go] to a corrupt government directly,” Mr. Chhay said.

“We do not ban any aid that supports the majority of the Cambodian poor population…regarding health care or education or social development. Money that goes to the pockets of the corrupt government is unacceptable. We hope the Germans are aware of that,” he said.

Peter Brimble, senior country economist for the Asian Development Bank, the current lead donor partner to Cambodia, said Thursday that the Bank’s charter demands that it “refrain from engaging in the political affairs of any member country.”

The ADB will be giving $525 million for national and regional projects from 2013 through 2015, Mr. Brimble said.

Through regular low-level and issue-specific working groups, the donors are now enjoying “unprecedented engagement” with the government on its next National Strategic Development Plan, he added.

(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap)

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