International donors are keen to see progress in promised government reforms, especially in good governance and poverty reduction, according to an official at the Asian Development Bank, which is coordinating Monday’s biannual donor-government meeting.
Urooj Malik, the ADB’s country representative, said donors will spend Monday reviewing progress on six topics, including public finance, demobilization and natural resource management.
While government officials headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen will give updates on reform efforts, donors will rate progress, raise remaining issues and make recommendations on additional reforms, Malik said.
“We will review all six areas but two main focuses will be given good governance and poverty reduction,” Malik said. “All [reforms] are inter-linked to good governance and that directly impacts poverty reduction.”
The donor meeting is the first follow-up since international aid agencies met last May with the government in Paris, where donors pledged $548 million for one year in aid in exchange for the government’s continuous efforts at reform.
Previously, the donor follow-up meeting was held quarterly. The Paris Consultative Group meeting reduced the gatherings to twice a year.
Donors are expected to see a good governance action plan being formulated by the government. Another five-year socio-economic development plan to eradicate poverty is scheduled to be reported at the meeting, Malik said.
While donors acknowledge that progress in the promised reforms areas have moved ahead, many voice concern over the slow pace of change.
“Donors appraise a number of steps taken by the government in reforms in all of sectors, but they are concerned that the pace of implementation has slowed down,” Malik said.
He pointed out, for example, the government’s crucial initiative to create the National Audit Authority—one of the measures in good governance—by pushing the audit law through the National Assembly last year. But the establishment of the authority has been stalled because legislators cannot agree on its membership.
“Real progress needs to be made this year, because some constraints will be expected in 2002 and 2003, when commune elections and national elections are coming up,” Malik said.
Guido Cornale, acting country representative of Unicef, which chairs the social development and poverty reduction working group, said he would like to look at all issues in the social services sector, particularly in health and education.
He applauded progress in budgetary reform on health and education, but said more efforts should be made to improve living conditions of the whole population.
“We appreciate the budget increase in the social sector, particularly health and education,” he said. “But we are still concerned by [some] social indicators,” which show many areas lacking noticeable improvements.
He said, for example, literacy rates remain low, according to a recent national survey, and many people still suffer from malnutrition.
“Only little has been done at operational levels,” he said. “[The government] should make double efforts to resolve social problems.”
He said prompt reform in public administration, meaning reorganization of public institutions and a wage hike for civil servants, is a key factor in poverty reduction.
“Public administration efforts should move ahead quickly,” Cornale said. “If working conditions of civil servants don’t improve, it will be difficult for reforms to take place.”
One diplomat said his country is critical of the government’s irregular procedures on timber concessions.
Environmental watchdog Global Witness, he noted, recently criticized the government for considering a request that a 60 percent share of the Colexim logging concession be given to Malaysian-based GAT, which was found guilty of illegal logging and road building in the Cardamom mountains.
“There are some indications that the government is tightening up the forestry crime monitoring unit….But I’m not convinced by that,” the diplomat said, adding that activities outside the forestry guidelines and regulations are often seen taking place.
Judicial reform is another issue donors are looking at, especially given recent developments in the draft law to try former Khmer Rouge leaders, which was passed by the National Assembly and Senate and is now being considered by the Constitutional Council.
The diplomat said he expects the culture of impunity and the development of an independent judicial system will be debated during the donor meeting.
Yasunari Ueda, economic attache with the Japanese Embassy, said his country will especially pay attention to the political will needed for the reforms.
Donors have criticized the government lack of will to lead reforms by itself, paying only lip service to the international community without making substantive changes.
“It is getting more difficult and complicated to pursue reforms in many areas,” he said. Demobilization, fore example, will become a full-fledged project this year, requiring more resources and the cooperation of more ministries and agencies.
He also said the government needs to reorganize its institutional structure to move public administration reform ahead.
The private meeting will start at 8 am and is scheduled to end at 8 pm.