Prime Minister Hun Sen told the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday that spectacular economic growth is evident in Cambodia, and accused donors of using aid money to benefit their own economies.
Hun Sen also told the assembly that democracy has taken strong roots, human rights are fully protected and Cambodia has made significant advances toward reaching its Millennium Development Goals, especially in education and combating HIV/ AIDS.
“Public order and rule of law have made steady and tangible progress, human rights are fully protected and spectacular economic growth is manifestly evident,” Hun Sen said, according to an English-language transcript of his speech.
The prime minister called for development issues to remain at the center of the international community’s agenda, and for shared responsibilities and transparency between rich and poor countries.
But he lashed out at donors for their aid policies, charging that a large amount of aid money has been spent on technical assistance, conducting studies and in sectors that don’t meet the development priorities of recipient countries.
“Aid has been given to meet the requirements of the donors, and at the end most of the aid money has been plowed back to benefit the economy of the donor countries or to benefit consultants from other countries even though they are incompetent,” he said.
“Politically driven hidden agendas and shifting ideologies to bring coercive influence on the recipients [of aid] must end. They serve only to punish the poor,” Hun Sen said.
Developing countries should take steps to reform, especially in strengthening governance and fighting corruption, he said, before calling for the root causes of terrorism to be addressed.
“We should remove the frustrations of the poor and excluded people living on our planet; restore dignity to those who feel they have lost it; and ensure that dialogue and cooperation prevail between civilizations, cultures and religions,” Hun Sen said.
One foreign diplomat in Phnom Penh described Hun Sen’s depiction of Cambodia on Friday as “quite a rosy picture to say the least,” but added that all delegates at the UN General Assembly will want to project positive images of their countries.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay blasted the premier’s speech, saying it was disingenuous to blame donors for ineffective aid.
“The money doesn’t reach the poor because of corruption,” he said.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, agreed that there have been improvements in education and combating HIV/ AIDS, and that people are more aware of their rights than previously.
However, he questioned other elements of the speech.
Political freedom has been narrowing since the July 2003 election, he said, adding: “There is a decline of political space this year, especially freedom of expression.”
He also asked who exactly was enjoying Cambodia’s economic development.
“Economic growth for whom?” Thun Saray asked.
“According to World Bank statistics, Cambodia is the slowest country in the region for translating economic growth into poverty reduction. Even slower than Laos.”