Failing to meet targets set in its last five-year socio-economic development plan, the government has drafted a new plan to reduce Cambodia’s poverty by 5 percent by 2005—a goal experts call attainable.
The second development plan, prepared by a government task force and the Asian Development Bank, lists a number of strategies to achieve 6 percent annual economic growth, a noticeable increase in people’s access to health and education, and a more sustainable use of natural resources.
By 2005, the number of people living below the poverty line will drop from the current 36 percent of the population to 31 percent, according to the plan.
“It’s a realistic target,” said Urooj Malik, the ADB’s country representative.
He said the goals will be met if the country’s political climate and economy remain stable, and if the government focuses on delivering services and resources to rural areas, especially in the agriculture sector.
To succeed in the future, Malik said, the country needs to learn lessons from the last five-year plan.
According to the new 283-page development plan, the previous strategy was too “ambitious,” resulting in Cambodia’s failure to meet many growth targets.
“The growth that actually was achieved is likely at best to have had only a negligible impact on poverty reduction,” the new plan states.
The failures are mainly attributed to the Asian financial crisis and 1997’s political turmoil in Cambodia, which led to a drop in international aid and foreign investment. Nearly one third of Cambodia’s national budget comes from foreign donors.
“A key lesson is the vital need for political and economic stability to sustain higher growth rates and to achieve durable poverty reduction efforts,” Malik said.
In the past five years, Cambodia achieved only an average 4 percent annual growth in the gross domestic product, falling 3.5 percent short of the growth target. The country’s economy grew by 3.7 percent in 1997 and 1.8 percent in 1998.
Social development did not meet expectations either.
The maternal, infant and child mortality rates remained the highest in Southeast Asia. Four in 10 children under 5 years old are malnourished, about the same level as in 1996.
Only 33 percent of 12 year olds, or half the original target, completed grade 6. Twenty-eight percent of the rural population and 70 percent of urban residents had access to safe water, figures also far below the targeted levels.
About 36 percent of the population—three percent less than the 1996 level—were still below the poverty line last year.
Malik blamed slow and unfair distribution of financial resources in public projects for such slow growth.
The government spent $978.1 million on public investment projects in the past five years. More than half of the 45 completed investment projects, totaling $257.3 million, went to the transport and communications sectors, while no projects were recorded in health and education sectors.
Although the government had planned to spend 65 percent of all the public investment expenditures in rural areas, it ended up allocating only 35 percent to rural development projects.
Malik said there should have been better policy coordination, planning and budgeting process in public services and development projects.
The new plan puts emphasis on improving the livelihoods of the rural poor, and delivering more public development projects in the agriculture sector and rural areas.
It also stresses preservation of natural resources and better land management.
The government wants per capita income to increase to $320 a year from the current $271 during the next five years. The plan projects the rate of infant mortality will fall to 65 deaths per 1,000 live births, 40 percent of rural families will have access to safe water, and 90 percent of 12 year olds will complete Grade 6 by 2005.
In order to achieve those goals, Malik said, good governance must be in place in all fields. Progress in implementation of the plan should be reported and reviewed regularly, he said.
The draft plan will be presented to the public for review on Thursday at the Hotel Cambodiana. Comments will be incorporated later into the final plan.
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