NGOs Want Better Oversight of Tonle Sap ADB-Funded Projects

Non-government groups and community representatives said yesterday that a lack of rules and oversight in local bidding for Asian Develo­p­ment Bank-funded projects were impeding efforts to help those who make their living off the Tonle Sap lake’s ever-dwindling resources.

The complaints came during a meeting in Phnom Penh organized by the Fisheries Action Coalition Team to raise their concerns with the government and ADB. Government and ADB officials who attended said measures were in place to keep bidding fair and honest, but conceded that they needed to do more.

According to the ADB, the Tonle Sap region remains one of the poorest in Cambodia, with nearly 40 percent of residents living on less than $1.25 a day.

In a report it released for yesterday’s meeting, FACT claims that Cambodians obtain as much as 75 percent of their protein from fish, much of it from the Tonle Sap. But with three million Cambodians living around the lake, and 1.2 million de­pendent on fishing, the report said, “the quality of fish catch and yields have declined.”

The group questions how much ADB projects have done to help the situation.

ADB grants for projects around the lake get funneled into commune funds. Commune councils then use those funds to select the contractors who carry the projects out.

Local NGOs vying for those projects complained that commune councils often conduct the bidding in private, against government rules, and that local officials sometimes set up their own NGOs to compete. Commune officials may only bid on projects outside their own communes.

“When we observe something in­appropriate, we don’t know what to do, whom to complain to,” said a fisherman from Pursat province who at­tended yesterday’s meeting.

Sor Vorin, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s local administration department, said officials skirt the rules by registering their NGOs under their relatives’ names.

“So it’s a game they play to be able to have the projects,” he said.

NGOs also complained that local authorities sometimes fail to limit how low contractors may go when bidding for projects, so that deals often go to firms and NGOs who cannot carry out the work for the price they offered.

Nao Ikemoto, senior natural re­source management specialist for the ADB in Cambodia, said the Bank has already barred some firms for abusing the bidding process.

She also said the Bank was starting out on “results-based monitoring” to make sure the projects meet its aims.

“So we are more rigorously looking at the baseline…and then measuring progress,” she said.


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