NGOs Offer Stark Portrait of Country’s Poor

Despite Cambodia’s improving economy, an NGO statement aimed at the major donor meeting that starts Wednesday offers a bleak picture of how the poor survive in Cambodia.

“People are being stripped of their land and their livelihood, offered next to nothing in terms of opportunities to improve themselves and denied access to forestry and fishery resources by indiscriminate and powerful lobbies,” said the statement.

NGO Forum on Cambodia, the Cooperation Committee for Cam­bodia and Medicam, all umbrella organizations for NGOs operating in Cambodia, collaborated on the statement. The groups represent a total of more than 240 NGOs. The NGOs said they are concerned that economic growth will not be shared equally and that wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a “small, yet powerful elite.”

The main challenge facing the government is not forming reform policies but implementing them, the statement said: “NGOs observe weaknesses in the government’s ability to implement policies and enforce laws.“

British Ambassador George Edgar said he thinks the NGOs have it about right.

“In many ways, I think the government would agree too,“ he said. “The road maps for reform require capacity in political will and in other areas.“

But Khieu Thavika, a government spokesman, disputed the statement’s findings, and said the government has proven it has the political will to carry out reforms.

“The government has done a lot in cracking down on corruption, illegal logging and land grabs,” he said. It’s true not all goals have been achieved, he said, but many reforms require long-term efforts.

The NGOs also said patronage politics, a lack of respect for law and a history of conducting public business in secret remain big obstacles to good governance. The report recommended that the government pass anti-corruption legislation, stalled at the Ministry of Inspections.

The government’s respect for human rights is also not up to standards, the report said. The NGOs recommended the establishment of an official donor working group on the rule of law and human rights.

In forestry, NGOs noted some success in cracking down on illegal logging, but “illegal activities are increasing with evidence of political, military and elite business involvement.“

The groups said the government should terminate concessions with a record of illegal activity, those on tribal lands and those that fail to ensure rural people’s access to forest resources.

On education, the NGOs said the government has promised over the last several years to raise the percentage spent on education to 15 percent of GDP, but education spending remains at 8 percent.

“It is time for the (government) to make hard choices about the allocation of scarce resources,“ the report said.

(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)




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