Cambodia COVID-19 Drive Rests on Elite Charity Networks

The Cambodian government is presenting COVID-19 relief packages as a gift from the wealthy and well-connected.

On April 10, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen promised that families affected by COVID-19 and the latest lockdowns would, if needed, be eligible to receive 300,000 riels (around $75) from the government in a one-off cash handout. Ten days later, he retracted this promise and said that, instead, households would receive food donations, not money. According to Hun Sen, his volte-face is down to brass tacks. “If it was only 10,000 or 20,000 families, it is not difficult, but now we have tens of thousands of families,” Hun Sen stated on April 20. “If everyone demands money, everyone thinks only of demanding that the state find a solution, but not how to solve it?”

Hun Sen has a recent history with U-turns. In early 2020, he promised $114 per month for furloughed garment workers but then reduced that sum to $70. Moreover, when he made the cash handout promise on April 10, Hun Sen had every indication that things were going to get fundamentally worse, and (unless he made his promise blindly and without consulting any experts) he could have reasonably assumed that the number of people pleading for cash handouts would also rise. On April 10, there were 1,957 active COVID-19 cases in the country. On April 20, when he retracted his promise, there were 4,840. Yet on April 10, some 477 new cases were identified, while the previous day there were 576 new cases. Before that, the highest daily rise in new infections since the pandemic began was just 179 on March 27.

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