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Donors Continue to Give to Cambodia, But Corruption Concerns Remain


Cambodia's annual donor conference has ended with pledges of almost $700 million in aid, even though donors expressed frustration at continued corruption and poor governance in the country. Cambodia has enjoyed robust economic growth in recent years, but international aid still makes up about half its national budget. Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.

Cambodia was given a mixed review by donors at this year's annual gathering of governments, foreign donors and civic groups, who met in Phnom Penh to thrash out how much aid the country will receive.

The government was given credit for strengthening financial management and improving the country's education and health care systems.

Some human rights groups called on donors to tie aid to progress in combating corruption and ending abuses.

"We would like the donors to link the aid to the improvement of respect of human rights, rule of law, principle of democracy," said Kek Galabru, the president of the Cambodian human rights group Licadho. "You know like, we would like to see the result of the problem of land grabbing. How about the democratic space for Cambodian people - can they demonstrate peacefully? Can they have access to information and have freedom of expression?"

In the end, the aid was given without strings attached, and pledges totaled about $700 million, including a $100 million loan by China. But donors said the government must do more to curb corruption, and to strengthen human rights.

At the core of the concern is the government's failure to enact an anti-corruption law that has languished at the committee stage for years.

Transparency International, which ranks countries by their level of corruption, named Cambodia one of the world's worst - 151 out of 163.

While some progress in drafting the law has been made recently, certain points remain unresolved, including whether government officials must declare their assets, and guarantees that the law will be applied evenly.

Ian Porter, the World Bank's country director for Cambodia, says a strong anti-corruption law is seen as vital before Cambodia begins to pump the oil recently discovered off its southern coast.

"That law remains very important because we continue to think that governance issues are a critical issue that needs to be addressed to ensure that Cambodia continues to have a good record in terms of growth and poverty reduction," he said. "The fight against corruption in Cambodia must remain a very high priority for the government, and in that context, the passage of an anti-corruption law would be very important."

Prime Minister Hun Sen, addressing the conference Tuesday, acknowledged concerns about corruption. He says he is committed to introducing an anti-corruption law, but he gave no indication when the National Assembly would debate the long-awaited bill.

Despite the problems, the country's economy has been booming. Growth has averaged 11.4 percent for the last three years, and the International Monetary Fund predicts a further nine percent increase this year. The increases have come mainly in tourism, construction and garment manufacturing.

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