Chinese Aid Brings Donor Tally to $690 Million

With a tally including Chinese aid for the first time, the government announced Wednesday that foreign assistance to Cambodia had swelled to well over two thirds of a billion dollars.

The total figure announced for 2007, $689.2 million, handily surpassed the $601 million pledged in 2006. However, the Chinese contribution of $91.54 million more than accounted for the difference, and other donor pledges were largely unchanged.

“The People’s Republic of China did not send a delegation to this first [Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum],” Finance Min­ister Keat Chhon told a press conference at the end of the two-day meeting. “We received a letter from the Chinese Embassy that they wouldn’t be able to attend this forum,” he said.

While governance and anticorruption reforms were a particular sore point, donor representatives said Wednesday that their reviews of Cambodian efforts had found the glass half full.

The government has performed well on poverty reduction, economic growth and in other areas, World Bank Country Director Ian Porter said. “All of the development partners had a frank discussion with the government on the areas where we think more progress needs to be made,” he said.

In private discussions with the government Tuesday, Michael Brown­ell, Southeast Asia director for the Canadian International De­velopment Agency, delivered an address on behalf of all donors.

Cambodia’s forest cover drop­ped below a 2003 target to 59 percent between 2002 and 2006, he said, according to a copy of the speech.

“The significant progress made in the management of agriculture and natural resources risks being overshadowed by the rapid increase of economic land concessions,” he said, adding that indigenous people were waiting for the government to recognize their rights.

Departing German Ambassador Pius Fischer said donors were frustrated by the lack of an anticorruption law, a donor benchmark since 2002 which has been languishing in government corridors since it was first drafted in 1994.

But there were positive signs, Fisher said.

“What we heard from the mouth of the prime minister was very en­couraging,” he said. “To combat corruption we have been informed that, pending the anticorruption law, a number of measures have been taken already against this cancer.”

The World Bank increased its 2007 grant by $6.7 million to a total of $62.6 million while the European Commission pledged $50.5 million, an increase of $16.7 million. Japan remained the largest donor, pledging $112.29 million, a decrease of $2.4 million, while France decreas­ed its contribution by $13 million to $25.12 million and Germany’s pledge dropped by $6.44 million to $21.75 million.

The US contribution was listed as $48.83 million, an apparent de­crease from the 2006 pledge of $61.79 million. However, US embas­sy spokes­man Jeff Daigle said that other US funding sources not included in the pledge would likely make up for the difference.

Between 1999 and 2002, donors disbursed only 77 percent of their pledges made at the donor meetings. However, Finance Ministry Sec­retary-General Hang Chuon Naron said this trend had reversed in recent years. Only about $150 million of this year’s pledge, including much of China’s contribution, was expected to be made in the form of loans, he added.

Calls to the Chinese Embassy were referred to First Secretary Ou Yang, who could not be reached.

China has in the past preferred to negotiate its assistance to Cam­bodia outside the donor meetings. The country’s premier Wen Jiabao pledged $600 million, mainly in the form of loans, on a visit in April last year.

This year Cambodia requested that China announce its pledge with the donors, Hang Chuon Naron said.

“We want to know how much we have in total,” he said.

 

 

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