Top Cambodian government officials left Tuesday for a meeting of key foreign donors in Paris, optimistic that reform efforts would result in another $500 million being pledged to the struggling country.
“I think things are in order,” Cabinet Minister Sok An said when asked about his expectations for the meeting, which starts today.
But despite efforts praised by some international donors, the government has still come under heavy criticism for making only superficial attempts at reform while ignoring the larger problems of corruption and poverty.
A group of more than 240 NGOs released a statement this week painting a bleak picture of the lives of the Cambodian poor and pointing out inequitable wealth distribution in the country. The statement also detailed inadequacies in the government’s efforts on human rights and forestry reforms.
Suos Sameth, Cambodia’s former representative to the Asian Development Bank and now a close economic adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, acknowledged holes in the reform process, saying Tuesday, “We missed some things.”
“But we have a very firm commitment [to reform] and will better enforce what we promised. We try to improve step by step,” Suos Sameth said.
No mention was made of Cambodia’s plans for prosecuting former Khmer Rouge leaders—an issue that, while not publicly tied to aid money, is likely to be of high international interest. Support for a UN-backed Khmer Rouge trial was a major component of a statement released Tuesday by the US-based rights group Human Rights Watch.
The organization urged donors to use Cambodia’s progress in human rights, including the Khmer Rouge trial, as a gauge to judge how much aid should be granted to the country.
“Donors are one of the most important sources of pressure we have on Cambodia to strengthen protection of basic human rights,” director Mike Jendrzejczyk said in a statement.
The International Monetary Fund said last week that demobilization, banking reform and forestry reform all appear on track, but serious concerns remain about poor revenue collection and a bloated civil service payroll.
(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)