Hun Sen Says Opposition and NGOs “Ignorant” to Ask About Aid Pledge

Prime minister says that asking questions about how aid money will be spent makes country lose face

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, a jump of $110 million from pledged assistance in 2008. The increase came in the face of complaints from NGOs, including Global Witness, that the government 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 any one, 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 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 Japan was, as in previous years, the largest benefactor, but declined to give 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 Japan aid money would be used.

“We would like to respect the minister’s response,” he wrote. (Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)


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