In Need of Aid: Cambodia's Corruption Troubles

Article excerpt

Cambodian officials pocketed money designated for specific aid programs, the World Bank alleges. Though Prime Minister Hun Sen denies there is any reason for suspicion, denials are not enough. He must actively prove his government's innocence. Only when Cambodia has agreed to let an impartial international commission investigate the way the nation spends all of its aid money can the government exonerate itself.

Cambodia's recent history is notoriously fraught with corruption and violence. Despite the creation in 1990 of a republican government with a parliament and a constitution, Cambodia's violent past begot dependence on foreign aid money. Per capita income is increasing, but the country's economy is still weaker than its neighbors'. In 2003 the economy further declined when the World Bank first found the Cambodian government guilty of corruption. Money was being siphoned from funds intended to support a project for the demobilization of about 30,000 soldiers, and the Cambodian government agreed to pay back US$2.8 million after the World Bank threatened to withhold further aid. Since then, the World Bank and the rest of Cambodia's donors have kept a close eye on their aid money. In December 2004, official donors promised to give the nation US$504 million in 2005 if it attempted to eradicate corruption and could show its progress.

According to the World Bank, Cambodia failed. In June 2006, the Bank again cited corruption and money grafting as the reasons for its withdrawal of funds from three key programs. It cancelled 43 contracts worth US$11.9 million, US$7.6 million of which was earmarked for major projects on infrastructure, water and sanitation, and government bureaucracy. The loss of these contracts is a devastating blow for the country. The programs would have provided employment and aid for thousands of impoverished people, as the World Bank acknowledged. But World Bank officials claimed they could not risk having the aid money end up in the hands of wealthy government officials, who apparently did not heed their lesson in 2003. As Khem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Commission, explained, "The money received from the World Bank was intended for the many poor who lack sufficient food, water, shelter, and other most basic needs, not for the villas, land cruisers, and mistresses of some officials." The corruption of a few has led to a national crisis, and Cambodia's economic state is continuing to decline at a dangerous rate. …