Hun Sen Rejects ‘Ignorant’ Queries on Aid Funds

Asking officials how money will be spent causes country to lose face, premier says

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called opposition parties and NGOs “ignorant” for asking what the government will do with $1.1 billion in recently pledged aid, saying they should ask the foreign do­nor government themselves about the money.

“I want to be clear here about the $1,100 million,” Mr Hun Sen said in a speech in the capital. “We learned only the figure. Others who accuse [the government] should ask the other countries on their own. They have an embassy in Phnom Penh, like the ambassador of Japan, who gave us the most. Go and ask Ja­pan,” the prime minister said.

“They don’t give this money for us to hold it; they have their plan,” he added.

Mr Hun Sen also said by asking questions about how the $1.1 billion will be used, Cambodia loses face in front of development partners.

“How can you act just like you don’t know anything?” Mr Hun Sen asked. “But it is quite good if they ask more often. It means they are ignorant. But I don’t want anyone to be too ignorant. It is a shame. Working as the party lead­er or working as an NGO but acting ignorant.

“It makes the foreigner look down on [us]. Though it is the op­position party, I feel shame too since it is the same Khmer nation.”

Foreign donors pledged $1.1 billion in assistance for the year at a two-day meeting last week, an increase of $110 million from the pledged assistance in 2008. The increase came in the face of complaints from NGOs, including Global Witness, that the government had achieved too few re­forms after past donor meetings.

Mr Hun Sen said yesterday that the government is working to fulfill its commitments.

“Our friends place their trust in us and support us,” he said. “We have to do our duty. It is not to satisfy anyone, but it is to satisfy the people and also as a response to the re­quirements of our development partners.”

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the government and donor countries are ob­liged to answer questions on the use of donor aid.

“We ask both the donors and the government, since they work to­gether,” he said.

Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho, said the role of NGOs is “to work in cooperation with the government in order to de­velop the country.”

“These requests are part of the normal and legitimate dialogue be­tween the government and civil so­ciety,” she wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

“Without this dialogue, which, of course, is essential, the normal trust existing between the government and the citizens may be very quickly replaced by suspicion, leading to potential instability.”

At the end of last’s week’s do­nor forum, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said that Japan was, as in previous years, Cambodia’s lar­gest single benefactor, but he de­clined to specify the amounts pledged by individual countries.

Japanese Embassy First Secre­tary Yasuhiko Kamada yesterday also declined to release this information and did not respond to e-mailed questions about how Japan­ese aid money would be used.

“We would like to respect the minister’s response,” Mr Kamada wrote.

(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)

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