Experts, advisers, consultants and specialists litter the halls of government buildings across the country, studying inefficiencies and prescribing remedies—all while consuming a large chunk of the foreign aid given to Cambodia each year.
“Indeed, perhaps we have done enough studies,” Robert Hagemann, the International Monetary Fund’s resident representative, said recently. “And indeed…maybe we should be careful about another study, and consider something that more directly impacts…economic conditions.”
An IMF country assessment, released earlier this month, suggested that government and donors review the current allocation of aid given to Cambodia. About 40 percent to 50 percent of all aid has gone towards technical cooperation, the report said, which “may not be appropriate in the period ahead as Cambodia enters a new phase of reconstruction.”
Though most donors agree that Cambodia may have a consultant glut, they also suggest the nature of the nearly $600 million in foreign aid given to the country each year is unlikely to change soon.
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank invest in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, but bilateral donors tend to refrain from making large investments due to Cambodia’s high debt and low revenue generation.
Japan, the country’s largest bilateral donor, has nearly 50 experts stationed in various government bodies through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, its technical assistance arm. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation, which invests in large infrastructure projects,
could do a better job training local staff.
“There is always room to improve the transfer of both international and national consultants’ knowledge and skills to counterparts,” Elizabeth Smith, country head of the Department for International Development, Britain’s aid agency, wrote in a recent e-mail. “Donors could be doing more to learn from each others’ best practice and to develop common approaches.”
While the country’s roads and bridges crumble—and more reports are written about how to fix them—donors know that their aid must amount to more than just a mountain of paper.
As Smith put it, “Certainly the test of our effectiveness will not be measured in the numbers of reports produced, but in terms of the numbers of Cambodians no longer vulnerable to poverty.”