Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Analysis: Foreign donors taken for granted?

Analysis: Foreign donors taken for granted?

Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh earler this week, during which he warned foreign donors against making aid threats. Facebook
Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh earler this week, during which he warned foreign donors against making aid threats. Facebook

Analysis: Foreign donors taken for granted?

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen took aim at unspecified international donors, mockingly daring them to follow through on their “threats” to withdraw their aid to Cambodia.

“You threaten to cut off aid; please cut it and the first people who will suffer will be the people who work with NGOs,” the premier said.

While much of the international community’s aid is indeed funnelled through Cambodia’s non-government sector, data from the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) show NGO staffers would be far from the only ones to suffer from a cut in foreign assistance.

According to the records, Cambodia received $2.03 billion in aid grants from international donors between 2013 and 2015, with more than $639 million of that going to projects ranging from road and railway construction to flood relief and emergency food assistance.

Including loans, the three-year figure jumps to $3.8 billion, more than $1 billion of which was provided by China, who the premier noted did not “make demands” in exchange for their support.

Development aid taken for granted?

Hun Sen’s remarks appeared to be squarely aimed at European Union parliamentarians, who last week called for the bloc’s aid contributions to Cambodia be made conditional on improvement in Cambodia’s human rights record.

The barbs were delivered to an audience of some 4,000 graduating students on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich – somewhat ironic given that the CDC data show that the European Union supplied some $17.4 million in grants for education in Cambodia in 2015 alone. A total of $120.2 million delivered to the sector from foreign development partners in the same year.

In another speech yesterday, the premier hit back at what he characterised as unfair criticism of the nation’s much-maligned health system.

However, the health sector in Cambodia has been the beneficiary of $176.3 million in international donor grants. The health sector was this year allocated an annual budget of $275 million by the government.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said Cambodia welcomed the contributions from its development partners but did not take kindly to meddling in “domestic affairs”.

“They should not use the money as aid to put pressure [on Cambodia] to do this or that; we don’t sell our sovereignty,” Siphan said.

The EU parliamentarians’ motion, passed last Thursday, cited the recent slew of “politically motivated” cases against government opponents as one of several grounds for re-evaluating its aid to the Kingdom.

But after years of threats to cut aid that rarely materialise, the prime minister has become adept at calling donors’ bluffs, enabling him to score political points while suffering minimal consequences, said long-time political analyst Chea Vannath.

“This is far from the first time he’s said this,” Vannath said. “This is just a game . . . based on many years of experience . . . There’s mutual benefits [for Hun Sen and donor countries]. It’s diplomacy . . . Donor countries want to maintain good, positive relationships with Cambodia too.”

Ear Sophal, author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy, said China’s “unsurpassed” influence on Cambodia had given the premier more leeway to challenge donors than in past years.

However, even in the years following the 1992 UN intervention, when a flood of aid money was directed to the Kingdom, Cambodia got more aid than it asked for despite many Western donors berating it for corruption, added Sophal, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

“It should be cut,” he said, via email. “I’ve been arguing for a long time now that too much aid spoils the child. Let’s instead truly redirect that aid from the government to NGOs for real.”

However, speaking under condition of anonymity, a Phnom Penh-based diplomat said the premier would be better served by trying to put himself in the shoes of the donors he criticised.

Western governments needed to justify their aid spending to taxpayers, who do not agree with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s rationale for locking up and harassing elected parliamentarians and human rights activists, he said.

“If the PM is too proud to discuss donors’ concerns about this in earnest, he should also muster the pride to refuse aid from countries taking a critical view of his policies,” they said, via email.

According to the CDC records, international donors plan to provide a total of $966 million in grants and $534 million in loans this year.

MOST VIEWED

  • Angkor lifetime pass, special Siem Reap travel offers planned

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to introduce a convenient, single lifetime pass for foreign travellers to visit Angkor Archaeological Park and potentially other areas. The move is designed to stimulate tourism to the culturally rich province of Siem Reap as the start of the “Visit

  • ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meet commences, Taiwan issue possibly on table

    The 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings hosted by Cambodia kicks off in Phnom Penh on August 3, with progress, challenges, and the way forward for the ASEAN Community-building on the table. Issues on Taiwan, sparked by the visit of US House Speaker

  • Pailin longan winery tries to break through to the big time

    Longan aren’t quite as glamorous as some fruits. They don’t have the star-power of mangos or generate the excitement of a pricey seasonal niche fruit like the pungent durian. Unlike bananas or oranges, which are known and loved everywhere, longan remains a decidedly

  • Recap of this year’s ASEAN FM meet and look ahead

    This year’s edition of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) hosted by Cambodia comes against the backdrop of heightened global tensions and increasing rivalry between major powers that have been compared to the animosity of the Cold War era. The following is The Post’

  • Debt restructuring over, time to tackle rising NPL ratio

    The Cambodian banking system has just completed a 26-month debt restructuring exercise where scores of loan accounts were revised, classified and provisioned as the rate of non-performing loans inched up, sparking a slight credit risk unease Implemented in April 2020, the Covid-19 debt restructuring measures came

  • Koh Slaket studio resort brings culture with style

    Davitra (Cambodia) Co Ltd’s multi-million-dollar 13ha Koh Slaket studio-cum-resort just east of the capital was inaugurated in the first phase on August 6, providing national and international tourists with a new travel option and job opportunities for locals. The man-made cultural and scenic lakefront getaway