The international media, carefully following the recent meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and foreign donors, exploded in disdain this week over an “annual ritual” repeated yet again: Hun Sen promised to purge his government of corrupt officials, pleaded for more aid, and was granted his wish, without question, by the international donor community. The decision comes directly after a slew of charges against the Cambodian government, which includes evidence of illegal logging and severe human rights violations.
Dissident blog KI Media, citing a recent article in The Economist, noted Hun Sen’s insistence that he can receive aid from donor behemoth China, regardless of what other governments request.
Mr Hun Sen reminds Western donors that if they get too demanding, he can always rely on China to provide soft loans without strings. The big oil revenues that Cambodia will start earning in the next few years will also reduce foreign donors’ leverage, laments Mr Illes.
Time Magazine ran a similar piece critical of both the Cambodian government and its donors. It, too, was cited on KI Media. And, similarly, oil was a key concern.
Further diluting international influence is the potential of oil and gas revenues to transform Cambodia's still largely agrarian economy. Two years ago, Chevron announced the discovery of offshore oil reserves in Cambodia. If natural-resources dollars do start flowing in 2010, as some expect, the country may for the first time enjoy a major revenue source that could help it stand on its own feet. Yet, in countries like Nigeria, oil money has only served to enrich a tiny minority while leaving the rest of the country impoverished. And the alternate source of income may only make it more difficult for Western efforts to tie aid to improved Cambodian governance.
Details are Sketchy cited the same article, but emphasized donors’ tendency to “save face” and stroke their egos when delegating funds. International aid to Cambodia has little to do with helping people, the blogger protests, but rather with big politics.
The spring of this cruel fate, it seems, is as simple as it is cynical: ego. Rich countries like to make themselves feel good by giving money to poor countries. Whether that money actually makes it into the hands of people who need it, or just gets pocketed by corrupt politicians and their corporate cronies, appears to make little difference. It’s the thought that counts.
The Cambodian blogosphere, strangely silent on politics, did not have much else to say recently. KI Media and Details are Sketchy—two of Cambodia’s most heavily charged political blogs—continued to follow suit this week with their sharp commentary.