Prime Minister Hun Sen slammed the UN Development Program on Monday, accusing it of wasting donor money on foreign experts who write ineffectual reports rather than building infrastructure or developing Cambodians’ skills toward self-sufficiency, leaving the nation dependent and vulnerable.
Speaking at a seminar at the InterContinental Hotel, Hun Sen demonstrated his point by wondering aloud what happened to the 2002 budget for capacity building.
“The question that must be asked is where the $115 million has gone,” Hun Sen said at the National Seminar on the Human Resources Development Master Plan.
“Did it reach the Khmer people, or was it reabsorbed by the foreign experts?”
The prime minister added that the money was not used to hire local labor to strengthen local capacity.
“It is money that our foreign friends gave us and then took back through the ways of holding seminars to strengthen capacity, walking around explaining this and that, and writing this little thing and that little thing,” he said. “With $115 million, if it was taken to dig canals and build roads, it would be a lot.”
Rather than improving infrastructure, the money flowed back into foreign hands and was wasted on plane tickets and five-star hotels, Hun Sen said.
UNDP Country Representative Douglas Gardner said by telephone Monday that a lot has changed since 2002, the year Hun Sen used as an example, but added that the UNDP has room to improve.
“I have found the comments from the prime minister very useful, because we need to be continually reflecting on what we’re doing,” Gardner said. “Are we being as effective and efficient as we can be?” he asked.
Gardner added that the UNDP, which collaborates closely with the government, tries to hire qualified Cambodians.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for free and Fair Elections, said there is no shortage of local talent.
“I think the current government has human resources,” he said. “They studied outside: Japan, the US, European states, some of them Russia, East Europe.”
However, Koul Panha said, educated Cambodians are powerless because the government operates as a patronage system rather than a meritocracy.
“A lot of educated people are not given responsibility,” he said. “They are kept outside the system.”
Hun Sen said that government ministers who are dependent on foreign technical assistance should resign, because foreigners simply do their work for them rather than teaching needed skills.
“Nowadays, we are building [the country] like a boat on the water,” the Prime Minister said. “The water rises, the boat rises….if the donor countries still come, we can still survive,” he said. “If those countries stopped providing aid, we would die.”
Hun Sen added that his “win-win” policy and leadership, rather than foreign involvement, would bring peace and reconciliation to the country.