PM Calls for Rural Projects Accountability

Prime Minister Hun Sen Tuesday lauded efforts made by the Ministry of Rural Develop­ment, saying it had done a good job developing Cambodia’s infrastructure but called for greater accountability and budget transparency.

“There must be accountability and transparency in all projects,” Hun Sen said at the closing of a two-day workshop conducted by the Rural Devel­opment Ministry. “I have nothing to blame on the Ministry of Rural Development.”

The Rural Development Minis­try was under fire last year when it was discovered that some ministry officials had requested a disbursement from a Japanese aid account for several roads already completed or built for private use. Finance Minister Keat Chon ordered that officials involved be disciplined, but the only action to be taken so far is a reshuffling of assignments.

The Rural Development Minis­try is responsible for maintaining infrastructure such as roads, bridges, wells, dams and irrigation systems. But Hun Sen said the responsibility should also fall on NGOs and villagers.

Problems with the country’s infrastructure continue to plague the rural poor, especially under conditions of flooding or famine, officials said. Poor roads and bridges still isolate some areas, while poor irri­ga­tion makes Cam­bodia susceptible to floods and famine, officials said.

In a country where 85 percent of the people live in the countryside, 36 percent of them live below the poverty line and 20 percent suffer from food shortages, Hun Sen said.

“To sum up, our country is poor, and the gap between the rich and the poor is still big,” Hun Sen said.

Villagers are the ones who could do the most in maintaining the infrastructure, Hun Sen said, encouraging “decentralization.” He encouraged food for work programs, where villagers re­ceive rice and other goods in exchange for working on rural projects. Such programs could prevent migrations to the cities. Villagers would have work, “in­stead of coming into the city to be cyclo drivers and bringing back AIDS,” Hun Sen said.

Other officials agreed with the importance of villagers in maintaining an infrastructure.

“The creation and strengthening of village development systems could be vital to ensure the durability of programs,” said Ly Thuch, secretary of state for Rural Development, who noted that a lack of human resources, equipment and budget made it difficult to develop Cambodia’s rural sectors.

Even now, he said, some areas remain virtually inaccessible, making it difficult for those in the country to make it to the market, for example.


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