Transparency Needed to Follow Aid Money

The aid sector needs more transparency to ensure that the public knows exactly where and how money is being spent, a consortium of NGOs said Tuesday.

Tek Vannara, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, said at a workshop in Phnom Penh that while the Council for the Development of Cambodia managed an aid database, which breaks down the origin and amount of aid money received by the government, more should be done to inform the public about where and how that cash is eventually spent.

“Aid transparency remains an un­finished agenda in Cambodia and other countries,” he said.

Mr. Vannara gave the example of aid money being given either as a concessional loan, which comes with an interest rate that must be paid by tax payers, or a grant, which does not incur interest.

“Do they [the public] know that the road project is financed by foreign loans? Do they know that they have to pay back the debt through tax collection to the state? Civilians have a right to know how aid money is going to be used,” he said.

According to NGO Forum’s executive director Chhith Sam Ath, transparency could be improved if the government disseminates information on aid money at a commune and village level.

Fiona Ramsey, first secretary of the European Union delegation to Cambodia, said that while there is a “good existing database” of aid-related funds and projects in Cambodia, “the difference between loans and grant aid should be clearer.”

“It’s important to start mapping how aid is flowing into sectors and geographic areas—there are some geographic inequalities, and less aid as a result,” she said.

“We have a focus on the budget. Following the money is a key way to follow the policies. Promoting domestic accountability.”

The national budget for 2014 is still under wraps, but last year, gov­ernment officials said they aimed to eliminate foreign aid by 2030. In recent years, however, Cambodia has taken on large loans from China, whose interest rates are traditionally higher than do­nors such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

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