Aid has not helped Cambodia reform

In Foreign Aid, Government, Poverty on March 11, 2009 by viCheth

March 11, 2009

by: A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years.


Learning is an essential part of life. Eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope writes, "Some people will never learn anything … because they understand everything too soon."

A saying goes, "The greatest ignorance is to reject something you know nothing about." Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. lamented, "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

And American futurist Alvin Toffler warns, "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."

But it’s not enough just to learn, we must apply. That’s how we develop and grow, avoid others’ pitfalls, prepare and build a better future. In a globalized world, what occurs in one area will affect other areas, sooner or later, directly or indirectly.

So, when the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific posits, "Bad governance is being increasingly regarded as one of the root causes of all evil within our societies," it behooves all of us to take notice.

"Major donors and international financial institutions are increasingly basing their aid and loans on the condition that reforms that ensure ‘good governance’ are undertaken," ESCAP says, but the reality is "reforms" are lacking, though aid and loans continue to flow in.

The London-based environmental watchdog Global Witness charged in its report, "Country for Sale," for "more than a decade now" international donors gave the Cambodian regime over 50 percent of the country’s national budget, and pledged nearly ($1 billion) in development aid for 2009, "yet (donors) failed to use this opportunity to demand new governance measures."

"Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered," Global Witness says.

It quotes a statement by the U.N. Special Representative in Cambodia: "With aid-giving comes the responsibility to ensure that it helps the people. … It is not sufficient to … emphasize adherence to human rights treaties and protocols (useful as they are). Nor are new laws or suddenly created institutions the panacea, for the (Cambodian) government has disregarded laws, or through abuse, turned them to its own partisan advantage," the statement reads.

The Special Representative and Global Witness were booted out of Cambodia.

Hun Sen can be blamed for bad behavior and bad governance, which continue because there is no consequence. But enablers of bad behavior and bad governance are not excused from responsibilities for the situation.

Cambodia’s current governance began as a result of the failure of the world community to implement the 1991 Paris Peace Accords that stipulate Cambodia’s adherence to "the rights and freedoms embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant international human rights instruments" — which, in turn, are incorporated in Cambodia’s constitution. Enablers conceded to Sen’s demand for co-premiership, though he lost the election, and closed their eyes to unconstitutional power grabs that ended with the 1997 coup d’etat, in which many were killed.

Donors praised political stability — attained through blatant grabs for power. Donors praised economic development — attained through forced evictions of citizens, sale of natural resources, institution of a regime of kleptocracy.

Gone are what’s necessary for good governance: the rule of law that requires the promotion of human rights and freedom; legal impartiality; separation of powers; checks and balances; the accountability (to the public and institutional stakeholders) that requires the existence of the rule of law and transparency; equity; inclusiveness; and responsiveness.

Asia Times Online’s Bertil Lintner’s "One big happy family in Cambodia" referenced the Phnom Penh Post’s compilation of how "arranged marriages" produced "growing family ties (that) run all the way to the top of Cambodia’s political pyramid. … These new family ties between the children of (cabinet) ministers and top officials potentially set the stage for the (Cambodian People’s Party’s) grip on power to continue for generations."

It is a picture of grotesque concentration of powers, a family hall for distributing political and economic resources, a stadium for job seekers, a true Hun Sen Inc. within a larger People’s Party Ltd.

Said to be a U.N. "success story," Cambodia is a story of bad governance, a sad story written with the help of international donors, apparently more impressed with the Monivong Boulevard’s "gleaming new" Kentucky Fried Chicken, or the 27-story Canadia Bank Tower with health club and restaurant, than with the health and welfare of the people, 30 percent of whom, Sen says, live below the poverty level today.

Stanford journalism professor Joel Brinkley writes in the March-April Foreign Affairs Magazine’s "Cambodia’s Curse" that the 2004 and 2005 comprehensive studies funded by the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh "showed in stunning detail that Cambodian government officials steal between $300 million and $500 million a year (most years, the state’s annual budget is about $1 billion)."


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