Government To Request $1.5 Billion

The government plans to ask donors for $1.5 billion in aid over three years at the next Consul­tative Group meeting, expected to take place a few months after the government is formed, Minister of Finance Keat Chhon said Thurs­day.

“We have prepared a lot of documents for the CG meeting in order to seek funds of $1.5 billion, from donor countries and the international community, to fight poverty in Cambodia,” Keat Chhon said at the ministry.

The Consultative Group meeting is where international donors announce their pledges for the country.

The $500 million-per-year aid request is in line with previous years. But at the past two meetings in 2001 and 2002, donors complained about the slow progress of reforms. No meeting took place in 2003 because of the general election and the ensuing political deadlock.

Despite the criticisms, however, the donor community proceeded to pledge more aid than the government requested.

Referring to the long list of reforms the government has committed to fulfilling, included military demobilization, adopting an anticorruption law and judicial reform, Keat Chhon said, “We are continuing all the work we’re supposed to do.”

In 2001, donors pledged $615 million in aid after the government requested $500 million.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the time: “We had requested assistance of $500 million…so in golfing terms, we are successful in achieving an eagle rather than par.”

In 2002, the government re­quested $485 million in aid and received donor pledges worth $635 million. Though donors criticized the government for a lack of progress in passing an anticorruption law and reforming the judicial system, they also said the country was “moving in the right direction.”

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said Thursday that this year’s meeting—the scheduling of which still depends on an end to the eight-month political deadlock—might be different.

“I think donors are fed up with the promises the government made in the past few years,” he said. “It will help if the new government has a very clear political platform and a mechanism to implement it. Otherwise, forget it.”

On a recent trip to Japan, the country’s largest foreign donor, Son Chhay said that Japanese lawmakers expressed to him their disappointment with the government’s reform efforts.

An official at the Japanese Embassy refused to comment on the CG meeting Thursday, saying it would wait to evaluate the government’s proposal.

“The results of the progress reports on the benchmarks set at the CG meetings are pretty horrible,” said a Western ambassador who asked not to be named. “It’s pretty clear that none of the benchmarks have been met.”

When donors met with the government in 2002, they told Hun Sen they were disappointed by the lack of progress made since the previous year’s Consultative Group meeting in Tokyo, except in the areas of military demobilization and the land law.

Since that meeting, the World Bank has declared misprocurement on a government contract to supply motorcycles to demobilized soldiers and has frozen funds for the multimillion-dollar project.

Nisha Agrawal, head of the World Bank office in Phnom Penh, said that while the World Bank links its aid to the benchmarks, she is not sure whether other donors specifically link their aid with progress on the benchmarks.

“Benchmarks are one way of measuring progress,” she said. “They were also set two years ago.”

Though Agrawal expects donors to take stock of the government’s actions during the past few years, she said the CG meeting, which the World Bank will co-chair, plans to be “more forward looking.”

“A new government is taking charge and we want to focus on the new agenda,” she said.

In 2002, donors wanted the government to pass an anticorruption law, reform the judicial system and increase funding for education and health care.

Two years on, an anticorruption law has not been adopted, the judicial system remains rife with corruption, and the education and health ministries continue to spend far less money than they are allocated, while the interior and finance ministries continue to overspend their allocated budget.

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