Cambodia and foreign donors have agreed to adopt joint benchmarks for channeling international aid more efficiently in the country, an official said Wednesday after talks between the two sides.
The joint indicators, which aim at ensuring government transparency in aid distribution and will put conditions in place to achieve development goals, will be implemented by 2013, said Ros Salin, director of the Cambodian Rehabilitation and Development Board’s policy department.
Cambodian officials convened Wednesday with foreign aid donors in Phnom Penh for the 19th meeting of the Government-Development Partner Coordinating Committee (GDCC), chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon. Some 80 donors and stakeholders participated in the talks.
The meeting was closed to the press, but three nongovernmental organizations—part of a group of more than 100 local NGOs who had submitted 22 recommendations for strengthening democracy in Cambodia to the donors on Tuesday—were permitted to attend.
The last GDCC meeting was held in 2010 when donors pledged U.S. $1.1 billion—or half of Cambodia’s annual budget—in assistance to the government. NGOs have called on donors to use their financial pull to sway policy in Phnom Penh.
“We didn’t discuss financial aid from development partners during the meeting. Instead, we worked on new policies for the future,” Ros Salin said.
“We have shown a commitment from all relevant ministries and state institutions to achieve our development goals.”
Ros Salin added that the joint indicators for distribution of foreign aid in Cambodia would also be used to determine what can be accomplished within a certain time frame.
Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, which monitors economic aid to Cambodia, said the government had accepted the list of 22 recommendations submitted by the group of more than 100 NGOs.
The NGOs met Tuesday in the capital and had called on donor countries to make further aid conditional on government reforms for a more transparent electoral process and efficient judicial system.
He added that he hopes the government and foreign aid partners will continue to work with NGOs on the country’s development goals.
“We hope that the government will give NGOs more access so that they can participate in any discussions on bettering development through transparency,” he said.
The NGOs on Tuesday had also called on the government to reform its national land policy and devise a plan to better manage revenues derived from the country’s natural resources.
As donors and government officials met at the Council for the Development of Cambodia, around 100 villagers from the Borei Keila and Boeung Kak Lake development sites in Phnom Penh gathered in protest outside of the building to urge donors to intervene in their cases.
The group called specifically for the release of Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony, two prominent female land rights activists who were arrested on Sept. 4 and 5, respectively, after taking part in protests against forced evictions in the capital related to the two sites.
Boeung Kak Lake representative Tep Vanny said the residents of the two sites had turned to the donors because they had no other recourse after the government “abandoned” them.
“The authorities have a duty to protect us, but they have abandoned us now. They abuse us every day,” she said, adding that the children of the two detained women have faced difficulties since their mothers were taken into custody.
The protests followed a joint open letter issued by a group of eight international NGOs to donor countries on Tuesday urging that they push the government to withdraw all charges against the two women and release them before providing further international assistance to Cambodia.
Council of Ministers Spokesman Phay Siphan said that neither donor countries nor NGOs have the right to interfere in Cambodia’s sovereign affairs, adding that the villagers should use the courts to resolve their dispute.
“No countries or NGOs can help the villagers. Only the court can,” he said.
Members of the Borei Keila community have opposed the demolition of their homes to make way for a commercial real estate project, culminating in a standoff in January, when riot police were called in to evict hundreds of residents.
Boeung Kak Lake activists have been protesting evictions since 2008, when a private developer given land concession by the government began draining the lake to make way for a luxury residential development.
The two groups of residents are amongst many petitioning the government over disputes with companies they say have been granted concessions that include land they have lived on for years.
According to Cambodian rights group Licadho, the government has given away nearly 4 million hectares (15,000 square miles), or 22 percent of the country’s land area, in mining or economic land concessions, in some cases pitting residents against developers and sparking protests.
About 400,000 people have been affected by the concessions, Licadho says.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.