Donor Nations Move Aid to Civil Society

The combo photo shows Political analyst Meas Ny (L), co​-founder of Cambodian Institute for Democracy, Ro Vanna (C) and the government's spokesperson Phay Siphan.

Change linked to government record on rights and democracy

PHNOM PENH--Some western countries have diverted aid from the Cambodian government to civil society groups and local communities in a move analysts see is caused by the government’s non-transparency and the decline in human rights and democracy.

Ro Vannak co​-founder of Cambodian Institute for Democracy, said this might be because democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia have not improved but are deteriorating.

He said foreign countries have linked aid to respect for human rights and democracy while the government has arrested and ​charged political, human rights and environmental activists, which went against these principles.

Lacking transparency and ineffective use of aid could also be major reasons for diverting aid from the government.

"NGOs always use aid funds in a transparent, accountable and efficient manner within the framework of the donor. It can be said that through civil society, aid reaches the affected people," he said.

"The other side is because of the influx of Chinese investment, aid,and large loans, which reduce the traditional power of western aid over the Cambodian government, so the good choice for western states is to turn their aid to civil society to maintain their image."

However, the government considers these foreign acts to be political competition for their power over Cambodia.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said donors have the right to provide funds to any party of their choice and the strategy of diverting aid to civil society is just to put pressure on the government.

Foreign-funded civil society groups were working for foreign interests and would only produce reports critical of the government.

"We see the diversion of aid as sanctions because Cambodia is close to China. This makes it a political interest. So, those civil societies are just foreign political agents," he said.

This diversion of aid has no consequences for the government because Cambodia is determined to rule its own country and not serve foreigners for any benefit.

Political analyst Meas Ny said that Cambodia's foreign policy is turning too much towards China. This is why western states, especially the United States, have to cut off or divert aid from the government.

Although China provides non-binding aid, transparency and accountability, China seems to be trying to use its ideological influence on the countries it has helped, he added.

"This ideology is the political character of the transition from democracy to dictatorship," he said.

Meas Ny said that Cambodia is said to be neutral, with the rule of law and democracy but things are not like that, based on the current detention and arrests of government critics.

In May, Prime Minister Hun Sen shrugged off concern over Cambodia’s overdependence on China, saying the country’s foreign policy is open to all.

“Honestly speaking, if not China, who else can I rely on. Let’s speak the truth,” Hun Sen said after being asked about concern that Cambodia relied on China too much at a virtual meeting of the 26th International Conference on the Future of Asia.

Cambodia attracted $860 million in foreign direct investment from China, in the first 11 months of last year, up 70 percent from the same period in 2019, according to the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

In 2019, the country attracted $3,706 million in foreign direct investment, of which $1,112 million or 30 percent came from China.

Cambodia had received $3,901 million in Chinese grants and loans as of 2020 China also promised to deliver $588 million in aid between 2019j and 2021.

Additional reporting by Phoung Vantha

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