At the Consultative Group meeting on Monday, International donors stressed that the government must display greater political will and hasten crucial reforms if it expects continued support, while some participants said the meeting had a foregone conclusion—continued aid for Cambodia.
The opening session of the annual CG meeting, a two-day conference where foreign nations and international institutions state their expectations of the government and make promises of aid, revolved around the need to curb rampant corruption and dwelt briefly on gains made since the last meeting in 2002.
Although donors will not announce their aid pledges until this afternoon, several delegates said those decisions had been made long ago, and the events of this week’s meeting would have little effect on the amount of money the government would receive.
In his opening remarks, Ian Porter, World Bank country director, said total support from donor countries was expected to remain at levels similar to the last CG meeting. But, he added that international institutions like the World Bank, which link their support directly to the government’s past performance, will be giving less.
At the 2002 CG meeting, donors announced $635 million in grants and loans—the government is expected to ask for a similar amount this year.
The conference was delayed in 2003 due to a political deadlock resulting from the national election.
Directly addressing Prime Minister Hun Sen, Porter cautioned against a show of empty promises. By way of example, he described the routines of “some countries,” where “Governments pretend to reform and their development partners pretend to support such reforms while everyone pursues their own private agenda.”
“Few people are fooled by this, and very few of them are fooled for long,” he warned.
Hun Sen, who left after the meeting’s opening remarks, used the occasion to unfurl a long list of goals, most of which matched the meeting’s main agenda points and some of which were unachieved goals from the 2002 meeting.
After a recent flurry of reports condemning the country’s institutionalized graft, the prime minister assured participants that the government was committed to fighting corruption.
Bloated bureaucracy will be streamlined, the tax system will be revised and the government will motivate “public servants in order to reduce the opportunities for corruption,” he said.
Hun Sen also updated donors on the status of the Anti-Corruption Law, which remains under review in parliament and was an unmet “benchmark” set at the last CG meeting in 2002.
Although he did not set a specific timetable, Hun Sen did say the law would remain a priority.
In a statement on behalf of the donors, US Ambassador Charles Ray noted the gulf between government rhetoric and government action, referring specifically to a recent scandal in which rice donated by the World Food Program was diverted and sold for private gain.
“Since the Prime Minister declared war on corruption and pledged to hold accountable those responsible for this diversion, there have been no arrests, no charges filed and no court cases,” he said. “Without doubt, the misuse of donor resources undermines the effectiveness of assistance and puts the prospects for future contributions in jeopardy.”
Criticism was not reserved solely for the government. Donors and development agencies need to recognize that they also contribute to the corruption problem, Porter said.
The relationship between the international community and the government often encourages an atmosphere of patronage that must be addressed, he added.
The massive amount of aid spent on technical experts from abroad was also identified as an obstacle to the country’s development. Hun Sen noted that despite enormous amounts of money funneled to foreign experts—which by some estimates is one-fifth of all government spending—“the country’s capacity has not yet appeared adequate to meet the challenges of reforms and development.”
He suggested that donors could better spend the money on bolstering the government’s human resources.
While the sluggish pace of reform was a large part of Monday’s remarks, some also touched on the progress made during the last year and a half.
Among other areas, the government made significant headway in the fight against HIV/AIDS, increased school enrollment, proposed financial reform initiatives and increased decentralization, donors said.
But donors cautioned that much needs to be done.
Seizing on the desire for meaningful reform, Hun Sen called for everyone’s cooperation in the achievement of proposed goals and asked that no one stand in the way.
“We urge those who oppose us, both inside and outside of the country including prominent pseudo Cambodians, not to try to disturb the hard-gained peace and stability to the detriment of the people at large, especially for petty political reasons, when we implement the necessary reforms,” he said.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, reached Monday night, welcomed the prime minister’s remarks and said that his party was done butting heads with the government just for the sake of being contradictory.
“We are strengthening our party to be responsive, so that we can help the government and the people implement reforms,” he explained.
He added that the government, the opposition, the international community and civil society all agree on the changes necessary for the country’s development.
“I think now is a fortunate time for Cambodians and the nation, because all the different partners share a similar view,” he said.