Donors have harshly criticized the government for not making adequate progress in key reform efforts since the Consultative Group meeting in June, when the international community pledged a total of $615 million to Cambodia.
The donors—which included members from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and various embassies—chastised the government for not making significant progress in judicial, anti-corruption and civil service reform, and reprimanded the government for not making improvements in the forestry sector, said Urooj Malik, country representative for the ADB.
The meeting was an internal donor meeting, and representatives from the Cambodian government were not invited, Malik said.
“In general, there was a lot of concern expressed by donors about the progress the government has made in the sector of reforms,” Malik said. “The government’s report card since the CG meeting does not look good.”
Malik said the government does not consider judicial reform and anti-corruption legislation a priority, and is concentrating instead on the commune elections in February. He said the government has been especially slow in pushing for reforms in both sectors, and added that the government‘s attempts at civil service reform have also been “extremely slow.”
This sentiment was also expressed by British ambassador Stephen Bridges, who wrote in a faxed statement: “There has been little or no progress to achieve reform of the judicial system or to implement anti-corruption legislation. These are key reform issues and are essential for the future development of the country.”
Both Malik and Bridges praised the National Assembly for passing the land law earlier this year. Malik added that now the government must look at “enforcement and implementation” of the land law.
The government has not received any reports or official responses from the donors regarding their disappointment in the government’s reform efforts, and Minister of Cabinet Sok An said Tuesday that he was unaware of any donor meeting.
Sum Manit, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, said the government has been working “very hard” on reform efforts, and they should be given more time to institute changes since the donor meeting was only four months ago.
“We are trying to solve one thousand and one problems at the same time,” Sum Manit said. “What kind of improvements can we make in four months? We need to study these problems and make strategies. We are waiting for an official response from the donors [regarding Thursday‘s donor meeting] so the Council of Ministers can respond.”
Malik said Bonaventure Mbida-Essama, head of the World Bank office in Cambodia and chair of Thursday’s donor meeting, met with officials from the Council of Ministers after that meeting to discuss these issues. Mbida-Essama could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
When asked if the alleged lack of progress will influence how much donors give at the next CG meeting, Malik said these were “pledges, not necessarily commitments.” The ADB—which pledged $90 million to Cambodia at the June CG meeting—is looking at performance-based allocations, meaning that it will fulfill its monetary pledges to government programs that are working and will “adjust” for the programs that are not producing reforms, Malik said.
Japanese ambassador Gotaro Ogawa said the Cambodian government has been engaged in “radical” reform efforts that are very difficult to carry out, so he understands the slow rate of progress.
“We have seen some delays, and some progress,” Gotaro said, who conceded that the rate of judicial and corruption reform have been slow. Japan, which pledged $118 million at the June meeting, is the largest single donor to Cambodia.
When asked if the current delays will affect the amount Japan pledges in the future, Gotaro said: “We have to judge from the overall situation, and if there is no progress it could influence how much we give.”
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)