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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Foreign donors concerned about accountability in Cambodia

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's donor conference opened Wednesday with warnings that access to land, improved transparency, and accountability for use of natural resources will be essential for the country's development goals.

World Bank country head Annette Dixon noted that 4 million Cambodians - about 30 per cent of the population - live in poverty while many more 'live precariously near poverty.'

'Life continues to be extremely challenging for the majority of Cambodian rural families, who remain vulnerable to shocks,' she said.

Dixon applauded reforms in managing public finances, and said the government had strengthened social protections for the poor.

She said donors remained 'strongly committed' to development efforts help the poor, despite global financial woes, 'which in turn heightens the need to improve aid effectiveness and accountability for results.'

Cambodian officials, non-governmental groups and foreign donors are meeting for two days to discuss the country's most pressing issues. On Thursday, donors will announce how much money they will give to help the government for it development goals.

In 2009, donors provided 951 million dollars, around half the government's budget. The finance ministry said it expected pledges of more than 1 billion dollars this year.

Prime Minister Hun Sen told the conference that good governance was 'the most important prerequisite for a sustainable and equitable economic development and social justice.'

'In the context of this vision, the Royal Government considers the fight against corruption as a top priority,' he said, citing a new anti-corruption law, and an ongoing crackdown on illegal logging and fisheries, as evidence of the government's commitment.

Hun Sen said agriculture was the top development priority for the predominantly rural population, saying it could bolster economic growth and ensure food security.

He also pledged to pay more attention to granting land concessions to the poor. Land concessions are a highly contentious subject, with large investors in possession of more than a million hectares.

Non-governmental organizations said improvements in some health indicators showed similar gains could be made in governance, land use and natural resources. They called for reform of the judiciary, which is seen as corrupt and inefficient.

On Tuesday, the Britain-based organization Global Witness, called on donors to pressure the government to deliver meaningful reforms in the face of 'gross mismanagement' of its natural resources.

Global Witness is not participating in the conference.

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