Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday opened an annual meeting with Cambodia’s foreign aid donors by announcing a financial reform plan that he said is essential to other reforms that the donor community has sought for many years.
Hun Sen’s remarks prefaced the annual Cambodia Development Cooperation Forum, at which international donors announce pledges of aid for the coming year.
Last year, aid pledges amounted to $690 million—$90 million of it coming from China.
But in past meetings, donor representatives have complained about the slow pace of progress in areas including land reform, the passage of the anti-graft law and proper implementation of the land law.
Hun Sen claimed on Wednesday that his new financial reform plan, which is the second phase of a World Bank-backed program on reforming public finances, will boost the fight against corruption, aid land reforms, legal reform and decentralization.
The plan will also create more oversight over the budgetary process, Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen also said that more accountability is needed in how ministries create and spend their budgets, which must be more efficient.
As an example, he warned ministers not to request new government cars.
“Don’t make such a request; use that money to build infrastructure,” he said.
The first phase of the World Bank-backed reform plan had been successful and ended “chronic deficits,” Hun Sen added.
Speaking at a meeting with reporters in Phnom Penh last week, representatives of European Union governments said that Cambodia in the coming years needed to rely less on aid and more on private investment, and needed to make the necessary reforms to attract investors, such as tackling corruption.
“International aid should no longer be the sole engine of growth,” French Ambassador Jean-Francois Desmazieres told the meeting.
Speaking at a news conference at SRP headquarters Wednesday to coincide with the donor meeting, SRP President Sam Rainsy said that the government has been deceiving donors for years and doesn’t make necessary reforms while claiming it will do so.
“The international community has been cheated for too long,” he said.
Sam Rainsy called for donor countries to apply more pressure on the government to adopt an anti-corruption law and other long-asked-for reforms.
“I am hoping that donors will feel it is time and they should not be satisfied with the lip service provided by the government,” he said.
Still, he noted that with so many donors and so many agendas, the donor community does not “speak with a single voice,” which creates challenges in holding the government accountable.
Donations from China and Middle East countries make the donor community even less united, he said.
Sam Rainsy added that he hoped the world financial crisis would motivate donors to apply more pressure as they tighten their aid budgets, he said.
This year, the government will ask for $500 million from donors, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap reiterated Wednesday by telephone. He added that he hopes for more than that but would not specify how much more.
Despite complaints that the government was not committed to real reform, Cheam Yeap pointed to the amount of international donations last year as a sign of donor approval of the government’s efforts.
“In 2007, we requested $602 million and the donors gave $690 million,” he said.