Prime Minister Hun Sen defended his economic policies Wednesday and said the government was spreading Cambodia’s growing wealth equally and devoting more of its resources to rural areas.
In a speech broadcast on Apsara radio, Hun Sen said that critics who say Cambodia is not addressing the question of poverty alleviation in rural areas should think again.
“If the government didn’t have the right policies, could we develop the country like this?” he said at a ceremony in Kratie province. “City development is city development. It doesn’t mean that all money goes to the city. More money goes to rural areas,” he said.
“But people who criticize us are just waiting to criticize us,” Hun Sen said, adding that the government’s spending on rural infrastructure was “sharing the fruits of economic growth.”
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said that the prime minister’s building projects do not address the crucial characteristics of Cambodia’s poverty: lack of access to healthcare and education.
“Rehabilitation and development in a country like Cambodia is not about constructions,” Mu Sochua said. “It’s about access to education, access to health,” she said.
“Living conditions have improved, but not equally improved. This is the point. Why is the gap between rich and poor so wide?”
According to the most recent Asian Development Bank Country Strategy for Cambodia, poverty in the nation is “overwhelmingly rural,” with as much 70 to 80 percent of the population in some areas of the Tonle Sap basin living in poverty.
In the speech, Hun Sen again lauded China’s economic aid to Cambodia, which comes with no strings attached, he said.
“The Chinese prime minister never ordered us to build this road or that road. It is up to Cambodia,” he added. “Chinese leaders have worked with all partners [equally] regardless of [whether they are] big or rich or poor.”
Western countries, as well as Japan and Australia, provide development aid with the request that, in return, Cambodia meets specific development and reform goals. Contentious reform issues in Cambodia include anti-corruption laws and judicial and administrative reform.
Commenting on Hun Sen’s speech, a Chinese Embassy official who declined to be named, said that it reflected China’s strategy of engagement with its neighbors.
“Helping Cambodia to develop as quickly as possible is good for China, it’s good for Cambodia,” the official said, adding that matters such as judicial and administrative reform or combating corruption are not a Chinese concern. “China cannot interfere in the internal matters of this country,” the official said.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said that no country “gives aid with no strings attached.”
“Some countries give aid in exchange for land and mineral concessions or for infrastructure projects that support the donor in exploiting new economic markets,” he said.
The US expects recipients of its development assistance to tackle corruption, respect the rule of law and uphold political rights and civil liberties, Daigle said.
“It’s up to the people of Cambodia to decide which strings they prefer,” he added.