Cambodia will no longer be a focus for Canadian international development funds, though a small amount of assistance will continue to be channeled to the country, Canadian officials said this week.
Canada’s Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda said in a news statement Monday that Canada would narrow its bilateral aid focus to 20 countries and regions, and that Cambodia would not be among the group.
“While continuing to provide assistance to the people in greatest need, focusing our bilateral assistance will make our aid dollars go further and make a greater difference for those we help,” the statement said.
Cambodia and 10 other countries were dropped as bilateral aid targets by the Canadian International Development Agency.
About 80 percent of Canada’s $1.2 billion annual budget for bilateral aid will reach the 20 targeted countries announced this week, which include only one Southeast Asian nation: Vietnam. The remaining $240 million in bilateral aid will be distributed to non-target countries, with much of it going to disaster aid and emergency relief.
In the most recent funding year, spanning 2006 and 2007, Canada provided about $10 million in assistance for projects in Cambodia, according to CIDA statistics. Until now, the focus of Canada’s aid has been to improve governance—including a $1 million grant to support the 2008 national election—and on promoting rural entrepreneurship.
Evelyne Coulombe, charge d’affaires for the Canadian Embassy in Phnom Penh, wrote in an e-mail Thursday that Cambodia has made great progress in recent years in establishing peace, democracy and promoting economic growth and poverty reduction.
Coulombe did not provide an exact dollar figure for the cut in Canadian assistance, but added that “Development activities in Cambodia focusing on land and rural development will continue.”
Bunleng Men, director of the Canadian Cooperation Office in Phnom Penh, which administers CIDA’s Cambodia projects, declined to comment Thursday on the magnitude of the cuts, or on which programs were likely to be affected.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia has survived on its own since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and will continue to survive without Canadian aid funding.
“Cambodia can live on its own, even though Canada has decreased its aid to Cambodia,” he said.
Canadian media reported some opposition party lawmakers suggested the new focus was motivated by trade: Two newly targeted countries, Colombia and Peru, signed free-trade agreements with Canada in 2008.
(Additional reporting by Phorn Bopha)