Minister Defends Against US Official’s Stance

Because it does not contribute direct aid to Cambodia, the US has no right to criticize the government’s efforts to curb corruption, a senior official said Thursday.

“If the US does not give direct aid to the government, maybe they are not in a good place to criticize the government,” said Sum Manit, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers.

Sum Manit was reacting to comments made Wednesday by US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann, who said the pace of reform in Cambodia was too slow and could cost the government donor support. Donors and the Cambodian people are tired of seeing no pro­gress in the government’s anti-corruption efforts, Wiedemann said.

“The government receives no direct aid from the US. So the government cannot steal money from the US,” Sum Manit said.

If donors were displeased, as Wiedemann hinted, they would have said something, he said.

“Japan is the first donor. They never accuse us of corruption, fraud or misuse of aid,” he said.

Japan pledged $118 million to Cambodia this year and has been Cambodia’s largest donor.

But a Japanese diplomat disputed Sum Manit’s contentions.

“I basically share the feeling on what the ambassador [Wiede­mann] said about this important issue. Japan is interested in seeing corruption being reduced as much as possible and as soon as pos­sible,” Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa said.

Japan recognizes that Cambo­dia cannot complete reforms all at once. “It is not practically possible to reduce the thing in such a short period of time,” Ogawa said.

Wiedemann made his comments Wednesday at a conference “To Build a Coalition for Trans­parency,” which was organized by the Center for Social Development and the Asia Development Bank. He called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to order a review of the wealth of all his senior ministers.

Wiedemann said Thursday he stood by his statements, calling the US a “major contributor” to or­ganizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the UN, as well as do­nating to demining, the health sector and disaster relief.

“The US definitely has very much the right and the responsibility…to comment as appropriate,” the US ambassador said. “What I said was appropriate, and it is a view shared by many.”

But donor suspicions have not been reflected in their aid pledges, said Senaka Fernando, an economic analyst at the firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

“For the last two [CG] meetings, the government got more than it asked for,” he said.

So the criticisms are undermined by the actions at the donor meetings, the analyst said.

“It might give the wrong im­pression to the government that the donors are not serious,” Fer­nando said.

Cambodia should not be concerned about the models provided by supposedly more developed countries, Fernando said.

“Cambodia should have its own model,” he said, which would include the government, private sector and the donors working together “in the same direction.”

Wiedemann said Wednesday that government claims it needs more time and money to combat the problem was a “bad excuse.”

The government wants to tackle corruption properly, starting with reform of the judiciary and ending with the proper implementation of stricter laws against corruption, Sum Manit said in his reply.

Asked to respond to Wiede­mann’s comments, Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh said law and reform will stop corruption.

“The anti-corruption law hopefully will be discussed at the National Assembly soon,” he said. “We can [pass] it.”



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