World Bank Readies 2-Year Strategy for Cambodia

The World Bank on Monday announced that it is preparing a two-year strategic plan for Cambodia, but offered no details as to whether it would mean an end to the freeze on lending it imposed on the country in 2011 in the aftermath of the Boeng Kak land evictions.

In a statement, the World Bank said it had started work on a new Interim Strategy Note “aiming at providing assistance to support the people of Cambodia in addressing their development challenges and reducing poverty.”

The Bank offered no other information about the plan.

According to Bank documents, interim strategies are employed in countries that are “not ready” for a full Country Assistance Strategy, the go-to document the World Bank typically uses to align its assistance with a government’s development goals.

Interim strategies are used in much the same way, but in countries either going through an uncertain period because of elections, social crisis or natural disasters, or in countries moving out of conflict, or when the Bank is re-engaging with a country after a long break.

Countries with recently approved interim strategy notes include Sudan, Turkmenistan, Mali and Zimbabwe.

In Cambodia, the World Bank confirmed in mid-2011 that it had quietly decided to freeze all new lending to the country in protest

over the thousands of families the government was forcing out of their homes in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood. The Bank said that lending would not resume until the government had reached an agreement to make amends to the evicted families, who had been unfairly denied the right to apply for land titles.

It was also in 2011 that the Bank’s last Country Assistance Strategy for Cambodia expired.

In Monday’s statement, the Bank said that financing to Cambodia from its International Development Association—a World Bank fund reserved for the poorest countries, including Cambodia—had not resumed since the freeze took effect.

But the statement did not say whether the new interim strategy the Bank was working on for Cambodia would change that.

Bou Saroeun, a spokesman for the World Bank’s Cambodia country team, declined to answer any questions.

“The statement speaks for itself,” he said in a brief email.

The Bank also did not say in the statement when the interim strategy might be finished or when it might take effect, though it did say it is working on the plan with the government.

Officials at the Finance Ministry and the Council for the Development of Cambodia, which takes the lead in the government’s dealings with its foreign donors, declined to comment on the World Bank announcement.

Though the Bank has not resumed what it considers “new lending,” it has approved additional funds for Cambodia since the 2011 freeze, paid for with trust funds held by the Bank on behalf of other donors.

Because many of the Boeng Kak families still believe the government has not addressed their concerns as demanded by the World Bank in 2011, some of those families who lost their homes and the NGOs helping them say the Bank has broken its promise.

David Pred, managing associate of Inclusive Development International, urged the World Bank to make sure its interim strategy finally took care of those families. An independent review of the Bank’s work in Cambodia found that its land-titling project here, suspended in 2009, had helped strip the Boeng Kak families of their land rights.

“The Bank has an obligation to ensure that the Interim Strategy Note addresses the situation of thousands of Boeng Kak families who were impoverished because of the Bank’s failure to follow and enforce its safeguard policies,” Mr. Pred said.

“If it does not, then the Bank will be reneging on a key public commitment that it made to the community in 2011, not to mention undermining its new strategy to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity.”

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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