Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the coming year will be another good one for the Cambodian economy, which he said is expected to grow by 7.3 percent.
Speaking to an economic outlook conference held jointly by the Cambodian Development Resource Institute and the ANZ Royal Bank, Hun Sen also reiterated that the government will use any future oil revenues responsibly and that fears of resource squandering were both premature and illogical.
Hun Sen said that in meetings World Bank and International Monetary Fund leaders had expressed concern that a potential oil windfall could be squandered.
“This is such a stupid question,” he said. “Whenever oil revenues are in hand, we will use them to fulfill the needs of the projects we have planned.”
Pointing to a Nigerian graduate student sitting near the front row of the audience, Hun Sen said the experiences of countries that have suffered despite their oil wealth are less important than Cambodia’s actually securing the wealth itself.
“You can give some experience from Nigeria to this conference,” Hun Sen said, “but I am requesting a way to find [Cambodia’s oil] money.”
An official at the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority declined to answer questions Thursday on when announcements may be made about potential oil reserves in the Gulf of Thailand.
In November, both Hun Sen and Cabinet Minister Sok An tried to dampen expectations regarding the country’s oil reserves.
Departing World Bank Country Manager Nisha Agrawal said at the conference that it was not too early to make plans for future oil wealth.
“Given that oil and gas revenues and mineral wealth will start to flow in a few years, it’s not too early in that sense to put in place the legal and regulatory aspects to make sure that, when this money does reach Cambodia, it will be used well,” she said.
Agrawal, who moderated a round table on natural resources also warned against granting land concessions to the wrong people.
“It has become another way of illegally logging Cambodia’s forests or holding land for speculation,” she said. “Cambodia cannot afford to tie up land in that manner when 20 percent of your people are already landless and poor.”
Hun Sen acknowledged in his speech that “the fruits of growth have not been distributed equitably.” However, he added that he expects the percentage of the population living in poverty now at around 30 percent to drop by one percent each year.
The world economy is itself expected to slow significantly in 2008 and economists have projected that external forces, including a slowing US economy and turmoil in credit markets, will reduce the country’s GDP growth, which has averaged 9.5 percent per year since 2000, according to the IMF.