The US Senate’s foreign appropriations committee hopes to keep US funding for Cambodia near 2006 and 2007 levels, reversing a proposed $14 million cut in aid, but committee staffers reiterated their commitment July 19 to a travel ban on Cambodian officials involved in illegal logging.
“A visa to travel to the US is a privilege, not a right. We do not want to reward corrupt officials with visas,” said Tim Rieser, who is the head of foreign policy staff for foreign appropriations committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy.
Corrupt officials named in the recent Global Witness report, Rieser wrote in an e-mail, “have abused their authority, squandered their country’s resources for personal gain, and there should be a price for corruption.
“We do not want them in this country,” he added.
Another senior congressional aide, commenting on condition of anonymity, wrote in an e-mail that the importance of the Global Witness report cannot be overstated.
“The challenge all donors face in the wake of the report is to act on the findings,” he wrote. “Congress is making sure the United States takes action,” he added.
National Assembly Deputy President Nguon Nhel on July 18 said the officials named by Global Witness are not guilty and decried the recommended travel ban, calling it foreign interference in domestic affairs.
“The case should be solved by the government,” Nguon Nhel said, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly both have power to act against officials guilty of malfeasance. “Another country should not interfere with Cambodian affairs,” he said.
In the same July 10 report in which the travel ban was called for, the Senate committee recommended $57 million in assistance for Cambodia, including $15 million for democracy programs.
The senior congressional aide said in his e-mail that the earlier proposed reductions in aid for Cambodia “essentially undercut the efforts of Cambodian reformers to bring about change.”
Nguon Nhel, who is also a CPP lawmaker, said the Cambodian government has done a fine job of fostering democracy on its own.
“We have had general elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003 and commune elections in 2002 and 2007,” he said. “We are working to promote democracy,” he added.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle declined to comment, saying that as a matter of policy the embassy does not comment on draft legislation.