Cambodia’s new government must quickly implement reforms or it will be unable to stop the country’s continuing slide into poverty, according to the executive director of the Cambodia Development Resource Institute.
“Time is running out for Cambodia to prevent the process of pauperization—human and physical—from becoming irreversible,” warned Eva Mysliwiec in the December issue of the Cambodia Development Review. “Its success will depend largely on the ability of the Cambodian administration to provide leadership and to regain the trust and confidence of its people.”
Mysliwiec, who has more than 16 years of experience in development work in Cambodia, wrote that Cambodia has “tremendous development potential,” including arable land, water and natural resources. Strong economic growth following the 1993 elections and organization of the 1998 polls show that “a poverty-free Cambodia is achievable.”
But she noted that there are also good reasons for a more somber view of development, such as Cambodia’s ranking as one of the world’s poorest countries on the UN Human Development Index.
While the government has publicly emphasized that it will focus on kick-starting the languishing economy in the next five years, Mysliwiec suggested that one of the main challenges for the government is changing attitudes “to build an environment where individuals take responsibility as stakeholders.”
Mysliwiec also wrote that the government needs to rethink the country’s economic models and priorities.
High economic growth based on cheap labor, over-exploitation of resources and lawless business activities, she stated, does not mean economic security.
Priority should be given to raising living standards in rural areas, she stated. Agricultural production must increase at a rate of
5 percent per year for an extended period of time, and agriculture-related industries need to develop.
Two of the highest priorities for both donors and the government should be health and education, she stated, but those areas receive slim funding.
“Efforts to increase allocations to the education and health sectors…are commendable, but do not go far enough.”
Other priorities for the government, she wrote, are job generation, land reform, creation of financially transparent health and education systems and tax collection reform.